Thursday, March 28, 2013

Diets Debunked + Healthy Chicken Salad

This semester has been a whirlwind! It's my final semester before I graduate in May, and I am now knee deep in writing my senior thesis on nutritional therapy for anxiety and depression. That's where most of my time is going into now, and although I still have some time to cook and write for fun, it's not as much as I would like!

This week I thought I would focus on different well-known diets, as there always seems to be a new popular craze that's supposedly the miracle cure. I have also been thinking a lot about diets in general, as it is the focus of my thesis. I've broken down the pros and the cons for you of some of the most recent diet fads, and I also have included a really easy chicken salad recipe that has no mayo or bad fats in it.

What is it: No gluten is allowed in this diet, which means no wheat, barley, rye etc., as well as some oats.

Pros: Less carbohydrates, better digestion for some, more stable moods for some, emphasis on protein and produce

Cons: Lacking in fiber and certain nutrients, inconvenient, expensive

Should you do it? Only if you have a gluten intolerance or Celiac's disease. It's not healthy to completely cut out gluten if you have no reason to. It's okay to simply cut down on wheat products, but consult a doctor before giving up gluten entirely.

What is it: The diet of our ancestors, which includes fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, funghi roots and nuts. You cannot have legumes (beans, etc.), dairy products, potatoes, refined salts or sugars, processed oils and alcohol.

Pros: Weight loss, improved mood, clean eating, lots of protein and Omega-3s

Cons: Loss of important nutrients from legumes and whole grains, which have been proven to reduce risk of disease, too much animal protein, eliminates whole food groups, the life expectancy of our ancestors was only 35 years

Should you do it? The Paleo diet isn't considered a healthy, balanced diet by nutritionists because it takes out the nutrients from certain key food groups. However, if you are overweight or feeling depressed, the Paleo diet has been known to help people with losing weight and greatly improve their mood. This diet might be better for the short term to get you started with healthy eating, as the diet encourages many healthy habits.

What is it: Low carbohydrates, high protein.

Pros: Eliminates refined carbs, weight loss, don't feel hungry,

Cons: Toxin overload due to speed of fat burning, not enough energy (causes fatigue), dehydration

Should you do it? If you eat poorly, eat a lot of refined carbs or need to lose a significant amount of weight, then Atkins may work for you. Everyone else needs a balanced amount of carbohydrates for fiber and enough energy during the day.

Juice Cleanse:
What is it: Exactly what it sounds...replacing meals with juices! Some cleanses are healthier than others, like ones primarily made from greens or nuts, and others are not as good, such as ones that are mainly fruit, or honey and water.

Pros: Reduces acidity in the body, lose a few pounds, easy on digestive system, increased energy for some

Cons: Improper nutrients, lack of crucial fats and proteins, mood swings, hunger, irritability, loss of focus

Should you do it? If it is only for a day or two, a juice cleanse is okay as it cleans out your system. However, you aren't eating a proper, balanced diet, and people who do the cleanse often have a hard time focusing or feel cranky and starved. If you're looking to lose weight, skip it, as the weight will undoubtedly come back once you return to solid foods.

What is it: The typical diet in Mediterranean countries, which includes fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, olive oils, cereals and fish, with minimal intake of dairy products and meat, and a moderate intake of alcohol, usually red wine.

Pros: Decreased risk of depression, better heart health, weight loss, low blood pressure and cholesterol,  protection against diabetes and Alzheimers, can still drink alcohol

Cons: Too much fish can equal too much mercury, high in fats (albeit healthy ones), alcohol can adversely affect some

Should you do it? Generally, yes! The Mediterranean diet has been proven to be the healthiest overall diet, for both your mind and your body. However, if you have problems with portion control, you have to be careful with your intakes of foods like nuts and olive oils, as they are high in fat.

Spicy Avocado Chicken Salad

1 boneless skinless chicken breast
1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado, depending on size
Handful of arugula
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
1/4-1/2 cup salsa
1/2 Lemon
Sriracha, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook chicken for about 15-20 minutes, or until cooked thoroughly.

2. While chicken is cooking, finely chop the cilantro and arugula.

3. When chicken is ready, shred into pieces. Top with avocado, Greek yogurt and salsa. Mix in thoroughly. 

4. Sprinkle cilantro and arugula on top. Squeeze lemon over mixture. Add Sriracha to attain desired spiciness. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Good Foods with Bad Raps + Linguine with Clams

Overtime, new studies find that some foods we thought were bad for us are actually more beneficial than harmful, but sometimes it's hard to shake the negative stigma attached to these foods. These 5 foods have been studied extensively, and new research is showing that there are more positive health benefits than negative, and it is encouraged to eat them.

1. Eggs: Eggs were shunned for a long time because of their high amount of cholesterol, but recent research has shown that eggs have no effect on heart disease for those with normal cholesterol levels. Eggs are high in protein and other essential vitamins and are extremely versatile to cook with.

When to avoid: If you're someone who already has high cholesterol, than you should watch your intake of eggs. If you don't have any cholesterol issues, than there's no need to worry, and you can even have more than one egg a day.

2. Avocados: Avocados are a source of good fat that actually help you lose weight. They are filled with vitamins and are good for your skin, and they help you absorb more of the carotenoids in salsas and salads.

When to avoid: Unless you are making it yourself, steer clear of most guacamoles, as many are made with heavy sour creams or oils.

3. Chocolate: Some of the benefits of cocoa: source of antioxidants, cuts down risk of heart disease, helps you lose weight, and boosts mood.

When to avoid: Try to go for dark chocolate 70% or higher to get the full benefits from the cocoa. Milk chocolate is filled with sugar and cream, and that's the kind of chocolate you should limit.

4. Nuts/Coconut: Nuts and coconuts are known for being fatty, but like avocados, the fat in nuts and coconuts is good fat and will help you lose weight. Nuts and coconuts also help your heart and provide you with omega 3s and other important nutrients.

When to avoid: If you're eating something like coconut oil, only get unrefined virgin coconut oil. For nuts, avoid nut butter brands like Jiff's and Skippys because they contain ingredients like hydrogenated oils and corn syrup. Your ingredients should be pure, but for both butters and nuts, enjoy in moderation.

5. Coffee: Recent studies are now showing that coffee lowers your risk of many diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

When to avoid: Those who are prone to nervousness and anxiety should avoid coffee, as it is a stimulant that can exacerbate anxiety. Also avoid specialty drinks that are filled with cream and sugar. 

Healthy Linguine with Clams

I made this dish the other day when I was really stressed out. Although it may seem counterintuitive, cooking when I'm really overwhelmed calms me down. I set out to the grocery store unsure what I wanted to purchase, but I knew I wanted to make something I don't normally cook. I picked up some fresh basil and some sun-dried tomatoes, and then I thought "Why not make a fancy Italian pasta dish?" So, I added some canned clams to my grocery basket and set home to cook my meal.

 This dish came out way better than I expected. In fact, it was probably one of the best pasta dishes I have ever cooked, and I have cooked a lot of pasta before. I posted my picture on Instagram and got a lot of attention for it, so I figured I would post the recipe here. It's a good start for beginners, but it will be sure to impress. 

Whole Grain Linguine (about 1/6 of the box)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5 leaves of basil, chopped
1/4 medium onion, chopped
4 large sun-dried tomato pieces, cut smaller
1/2 small can of clams
Olive oil to cook with and to drizzle on top (your discretion, use minimally)
Shredded parmesan cheese, to taste

(and remember, my measurements are always approximate, since I just throw things in when I cook)

1. Start boiling the water for your linguine. In the meantime, chop your garlic, basil, onions and sun-dried tomatoes.

2. Once the water is boiling, put in your pasta and cook for about 8 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat up a pan with olive oil and sauté all the ingredients except the basil.  Once the onions are almost translucent, toss in the basil.

3. Drain pasta when ready. Add the linguine to the pan with the rest of your ingredients. Add a small amount of olive oil and the clams and toss together. Top with parmesan cheese as desired.