Monday, September 12, 2011

Why I use real mayo

Yeah, I said it – real mayo.  Open my fridge and you’ll find a small jar of original Hellman’s.  Not “light.”  Not Miracle Whip.  I’m talking the good stuff.

Does this surprise you?  After all, mayo is, like, pure fat, amiright?  (I am!  I am so smart.)

Seriously though, poor fat.  It’s been so maligned over the years.  But the fact is, we need a certain amount of dietary fat for energy, vitamin transport, and other important functions.  In fact, some types of fat may actually reduce the risk of heart disease.  The key is knowing which fats to choose:

Trans Fat: Public enemy #1 of the nutrition world.  Trans fats are added to foods during hydrogenation, a process in which fats are made more shelf-stable by switching the position of hydrogen atoms.  Trans fats are uniquely bad because they raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and also lower HDL (good) cholesterol.  Try not to eat anything that lists hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient.  (Note: the FDA does not require products to be labeled as containing trans fat if they have less than 0.5 g/serving.  For more information, visit the FDA website on trans fat labeling.)

Before hydrogenation
After hydrogenation -- note diagonal hydrogens


Saturated Fat: The majority of research to date demonstrates that high intakes of saturated fat, which is mostly found in animal products like steak, bacon, cheese, eggs, and whole milk, raises LDL (bad) cholesterol.  High levels of LDL cholesterol cause plaque to accumulate in your arteries, raising your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.  Some lucky folks don’t appear to be affected by high sat-fat intakes, but some have exaggerated responses to the stuff.  If you don’t know what kind of person you are (your parents generally serve as a pretty good reference point), it’s probably best to assume you’re somewhere in the middle.  At least until you get your cholesterol tested at the doc’s office.  (Really, go do it.)

The USDA recommends getting no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat.  Gosh, that’s helpful. 


In plain terms, if you eat about 2000 calories a day, try to keep your sat fat intake under 22.2 g. (Math: 0.1 x 2000 = 200 cals; 200 cals x [1g fat/9 cals per g] = 22.2 g fat)

Bottom line:  Don’t swear off steak.  Just choose a leaner cut, keep your portion reasonable, and don’t get it topped with cheese and/or eggs and/or bacon.

(And from the Dept. of Interesting but Practically Useless Information: Crisco consists of trans fats; lard consists of saturated fats.  Lard, therefore, is the healthier choice.)

Mono- and Polyunsaturated Fats: Yay, these fats are good for us!  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs, and yes you can pronounce it like that) occur naturally in some animal products but mostly in nuts and high-fat fruits like olives and avocados (MUFAs), and salmon, eggs, soybean oil, flax seeds, and walnuts (PUFAs). 

So what the heck are these things?  Quick chem lesson (quick, I promise!):

1 double bond in the chain

A MUFA is a fatty acid with only one double bond.  If a fatty acid doesn’t have any double bonds, it is saturated with hydrogen atoms.  This makes the molecule stiff, which is why butter is solid at room temperature.  With a double bond, fatty acids become unsaturated because they lose some hydrogen atoms (2 per double bond, to be exact).  Double bonds add kinks to a fatty acid chain, which makes the molecule more fluid.  This is why oil is a liquid at room temperature.

more than 1 double bond in the chain

A PUFA is a fatty acid with two or more double bonds.  PUFAs include omega-3s, omega-6s, and omega-9s.  These three PUFAs are called essential fatty acids because our bodies cannot synthesize them; we must obtain them from the diet.  Like MUFAs, PUFAs are liquid at room temperature. 

Generally speaking, we all could use some more omega-3s in our diet.  These guys are so awesome because they lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.  Omega-3s are like the opposite of trans fats.

As for omega-6s and 9s, don’t worry too much about them.  Chances are you’re getting plenty without even trying.  Definitely don’t buy omega-9 supplements -- biggest waste of money ever!


So where were we?  Oh, yes – mayo. 

Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise contains: soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, calcium disodium EDTA (used to protect quality), and natural flavors.

Soybean oil is a healthy PUFA.  Egg yolks contain omega-3s.  The other ingredients are nutritionally negligible.  Of the 10g of fat per tablespoon serving, only 1.5g are saturated.  6g are PUFAs and 2.5g are MUFAs.

For comparison’s sake, Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise contains: water, soybean oil, vinegar, modified corn starch, whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar, salt, xanthan gum, lemon and lime peel fibers (thickeners), (sorbic acid, calcium disodium EDTA) used to protect quality, lemon juice concentrate, phosphoric acid, dl alpha tocopheryl acetate (vitamin e), natural flavors, beta carotene.

That’s a lot of ingredients there.  Most of the additions are thickening agents used to make up for the loss of texture from fat.  Not bad, but you might have to use twice the amount of light mayo to achieve the same mouthfeel as regular.

Best bet?  Buy mayo with the least amount of ingredients you can find (or, if you’re superhuman, make your own).  Then, use half as much as you would of the light stuff.  And enjoy, for God’s sake – the real stuff is so much better!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome Home Chicken

In case you missed it, I moved.

I hate moving.  I’ve done it so many times that you think I’d be used to it by now, but the week before every move still finds me up all night, crippled by thoughts of worst-case scenarios.  What if my movers don’t show up?  What if the keys to my new apartment don’t work?  What if I can’t figure out how to drive the U-Haul?  I get tension headaches.  My entire body becomes stiff with dread.

But happily, my movers arrived right on time, the keys worked, and I successfully piloted the truck through some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen (did you know that the entire city of Boston moves on September 1st?).  In fact, everything went as smoothly as I had never imagined.

And now my life looks like this:

It’s hard to say which is worse, packing or unpacking.  Packing, you realize how much useless crap you’ve accumulated; unpacking, you realize how much useful stuff you’ve either lost or misplaced.  Either way your hands get ragged and covered in newspaper ink.  Either way, you’ll probably suffer through a week or so without internet.

Which is how, stumbling out of a [wifi-equipped] café several nights ago, I realized that I hadn’t really eaten a proper, home-cooked meal in a long time.  I suddenly hungered for one, desperately, down to the bones.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

every good dish starts with garlic and onion.

 I made a variation of this dish several weeks ago.  It was the first week of our annual family vacation to the Outer Banks.  We always drive -- a venerable feat in and of itself -- but this trip was made extra special by the fact that our van's A/C went on the fritz a few days before we left.  Although I'm usually the designated meal planner, all of my mental energy was spent thinking how best to maximize ventilation to the back seat.  Having thus dropped the ball, we simply picked up a family pack of chicken breasts and 5 lbs of ground beef—a package so grotesquely large that my brother Sam promptly deemed it the “meat pillow”—and hoped for the best.

(I still shudder at the the thought of that much ground beef.)

I don’t have much experience with improvisational cooking, but that night I produced one of the most delicious dinners I’ve ever made.  (Never mind the fact that I found myself in front of a hot stove not three hours after a 14-hour car ride in what was essentially an encapsulated rainforest.)  Not knowing where things would go, I started with a base of garlic and onion.  I added the chicken and opened a bottle of white wine to take the edge off.  The wine inspired me, and I added a good splash to the pan.  Cooking with wine is très French, I thought to myself proudly.  And then it came to me – thyme!  It’s the quintessential French herb.  I rifled through the cabinets and pulled out a bottle of dried thyme, triumphant.  It wasn’t long before my travel-weary family started to take notice.  There's something about the scent of these ingredients simmering together that whets the appetite.  Around the dinner table, we ate heartily and spoke little – the happy silence that comes from a good meal at the end of a long day.

This moving business -- not unlike a family road trip -- is one of the most exhausting things you can do.  Last week I relied far too heavily on my parents' goodwill and crashed in various friends’ apartments, availing myself of their patience, generosity, and couches while I gathered my belongings and bit my nails in preparation and fear of the blessed day.  To everyone who helped me, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I hope that one day, when I acquire a table and chairs, you will all come over and let me make you dinner.

Welcome Home Chicken

ed. note: the beauty of improvisational cooking is that you’re not using a recipe; you’re free to use as much or as little ingredient as you wish.  This recipe doesn’t give exact amounts or cooking times.  If it makes you nervous, I suggest a glass of wine.

1 package bone-in chicken thighs, between 2-2.5 lbs (or about 1.25 lbs boneless skinless breasts)
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Dried thyme -- a couple teaspoons?
1 bottle light to medium bodied white wine, for cooking and drinking.  Extra points if it’s French.

Heat [new] stove to medium-high.  Add oil.  Add onion and garlic.

Turn heat down to medium.  Cook until onions are soft and translucent.  Add chicken to pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Pour about ¼ cup of wine over chicken.

the wine lived up to its name

Cook chicken 10-15 minutes, then flip.  Add more wine and seasoning as needed.  Cook another 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Serve with steamed rice and sautéed spinach, and be sure to scoop up some of the pan juices.

Eat wherever you can find space among the boxes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Eating well while crazy-busy: an iphone picture story

A lot of people are very busy.  Too busy, they say, to eat healthy.  What they mean is that they're often on the go and may not have consistent access to a kitchen or even a fridge.  From August 30 to September 1, I fit these criteria.  I slept on friends' couches and ate grab-'n-go meals for 2 days straight while packing and moving.  Throughout it all, I took pictures of everything I ate to show you that it is possible to make healthy choices when you have no time or means to cook!  So without further ado, here is everything I ate:

Breakfast: plain lowfat yogurt with granola, fruit and coffee -- Crema Cafe in Harvard Square

Lunch/snacks: I picked up these items at a Russian market to have on hand while packing.  I didn't really know what the pastry would turn out to be...

It was a sour cherry danish - delish, but definitely a splurge!  I rounded it out with an apple, some almonds, and plenty of water.

I crashed at Jeanine's that night.  Before we went out to dinner, I snacked on some black grapes she had set out.  I was famished!
Dinner was shabu-shabu, or Asian hot pot.  It's kind of like fondue!  I ordered beef, veggies, and vermicelli rice noodles.  I ate half of the beef but everything else.
I also required a beer.  Packing is hard work!
Later on I had to go back to my previous night's residence to pick up some odds and ends.  I couldn't resist cuddling with Rebecca and Alex's dog!
Moving day!  Breakfast was a yogurt parfait with granola and coffee at Blue State Coffee.  The yogurt was not reduced fat, but it sure was good!  Plus, I knew the higher fat content would keep me full for a while.  I ate about 3/4 of it.
Snack: my other apple and a handful of almonds.
Lunch, finally!  I knew I needed some good fuel for moving later on, so I got a chicken burrito with cheese, salsa, rice, black beans, and guacamole, all in a whole wheat flour tortilla -- at Anna's Taqueria.  It was so big I could only eat about 2/3 of it.
Victory dinner!  After the move, I took my hungry movers out to Sunset Grill and Tap in Brighton, where I ordered some nachos for us to split as an appetizer.  Even though it was only a half portion, it was so huge that we only put away about 1/3 of it -- come on, guys!
My portion of nachos (multiply it by 2), and a Sierra Nevada
Kyle and Willy thought it was hilarious that I, an [almost!] nutrition expert, was chowing down on a burger the size of my head.  I ate about half, plus a few chips, before throwing in the towel.
Thanks, guys!
So there you have it!  While this is not how I would like to eat all of the time, I managed to keep my energy levels high by snacking wisely, making reasonable menu choices, and stopping when full.

Want to health-ify your crazy-busy days?  Be sure to stock up on healthy snacks to have on hand (like fruit and nuts), replace sugary drinks with water, and choose lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains whenever possible.

What are your secrets for eating healthy on the go?