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Monday, April 25, 2011

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (Low Carb/Gluten Free)

When you think of the word "diet," what comes to mind? Some people think that diet refers to what we eat, while others assume the word diet is all about "dieting." The distinction shows how we feel about  food in general and that most people look at diets as a means to an end: weight loss, better health and in some cases, an attempt to have a beneficial impact on climate change. But when most people refer to their diet, what they actually mean is the specific diet they follow. Unless, of course, they "don't do diets." This usually means that they don't restrict what they eat, in terms of calories, carbs and fat, but it can also refer to the attitude that nothing is off limits (with the unspoken message that people who do follow specific dietary guidelines, for whatever reason, are being ridiculous) for any reason. But everyone who eats has a diet, simply in terms of what they use for fuel on an everyday basis.

One of the words most frequently associated with diets is "salad". I'm not talking about potato and ambrosia salad here; I'm talking about green, leafy vegetables, for the most part. But green salads aren't necessarily healthy - the lightest, freshest ingredients can be overwhelmed by adding too many toppings and/or too much dressing. Even lettuce and other "low carb"vegetables, which are considered to be  standard "diet" food, are only as nourishing as the soil in which they're grown. You can wash away the dirt, but if they've been sprayed with pesticides, chances are that those chemicals are embedded in their DNA. And if you use salad dressing, even in responsible amounts, you are adding more to your meals besides oil, vingar and spices. I'm referring to the bottled salad dressing you find in the grocery store - When was the last time you read the nutritional labels of store-bought dressings? Even products that purport to be "healthy" have ingredients like corn starch, high fructose corn syrup and MSG. While it is true that many companies are now manufacturing products that don't have harmful additives like those just mentioned, I'd still rather make my own. Not only because I can  control what kinds of ingredients (and how much) go into the mix; if I make it myself, I can cut down on the resources and energy that go into manufacturing and transporting pre-packaged food. I can also make a little bit at a time, rather than being forced to throw out the portion of manufactured dressing I didn't get to use before it went rancid.

The best thing about salads, in my opinion, is that you can just throw ingredients together, without any cooking involved, and create a balanced meal in a relatively short amount of time. Strawberry spinach salad is my favorite and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to whomever first suggested this particular combination - I would never have considered adding strawberries on my own. This recipe also contains my favorite nuts, cheese and salad dressing and I can eat it all spring and summer without getting bored. It tastes wonderful, looks gorgeous, and even if the dressing isn't made beforehand, takes little time to prepare.

Salad Ingredients:

2 oz baby spinach
14 g / 1/2 oz pecans(about 2 T)
14 g /  1/2 oz feta cheese(about 2 T)
42 g / 1 1/2 oz fresh strawberries, sliced


*Combine ingredients in a bowl and toss with balsamic vinaigrette.

Has 186.85 cal, 4.7 net carbs, 15 g fat, 2.58 g fiber and 3.33 g protein.

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 T crushed garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C extra virgen olive oil


*Whisk all ingredients together. Store in a closed container in the refrigerator.

Makes 5 - 1 T servings and each has 100.06 cal, .8 net carbs and 10.8 g fat

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How To Keep Track Of It All -Diet Diaries, Food Portions and Your Bathroom Scale

There are people who will tell you that weighing yourself everyday is obsessive and unhealthy. I used to feel that way myself. In fact, I once threw my scale away; I had decided that I was comfortable being a size 10/12, that I loved my body and was happy with the way I looked. That was before I developed insulin resistance and all of a sudden my clothes were too tight and I looked frightful in photographs. So I started a low carb diet , bought a new scale and went through the long and tedious process of losing the weight.

While I do think that you can be obsessive about weighing yourself, I also think that it is perfectly OK to weigh yourself once a day, in the morning.  It will give you a sense of how you're doing in ongoing weight loss and will signal if you start losing or gaining at an alarming rate, allowing you to make whatever adjustments are needed. I know that a healthy relationship with your bathroom scale can be a challenge, especially if you have an eating disorder or other major food issues. But if you can find a way to keep it all in balance (and that means not freaking out when you gain a pound), the scale can become, if not your friend then your partner.

There are also people who will tell you that it's obsessive to keep a diet diary. Writing down everything you eat, every day? Sounds like madness! But I must say that, especially for someone who has trouble remembering whether or not she's already taken her meds and supplements, writing it all down helps me keep track of everything.  Each page looks something like this:

                     Protein     Fiber     Calories   Net/Effective Carbs   Fat
Smoothie                      27.5                 5.5                180.75                           2.5                                  5

I also write down all the medications, supplements and oz of water per day.  It's great - I don't have to keep track of everything in my head, I know exactly what I've consumed and chances are, if I don't want to write it down, I shouldn't be eating it. And that's the promise you must make to yourself - you must write everything down, no cheating. Once you start keeping track, you begin to realize that you need to make adjustments here and there.

Another thing to keep an eye on is portion control.  The best way I've found is to weigh your food rather than measuring it out in cups and tablespoons. It's far more accurate, and it gives you a much better idea in terms of what a portion of any given thing actually looks like. Our brains try to fool us when it comes to how much, our eyes tell us lies when we look at a portion of food. "Surely, it must be bigger", our eyes tell us. "You really don't need to measure", says our brain.  Now, there are people who will tell you that weighing your food is another act of unhealthy, compulsive behavior. And they may be right, in some circumstances. Be that as it may, you may want to tell all those people who think you're obsessing about your health to mind their own damn business.

Having said all that, I do realize that all of these practices can become obsessive. Anything can. The trick is not to freak out about weight fluctuations  or to spend all day poring over your diary in angst. There are more than enough things in life to make you crazy - try not to add to them.