Friday, February 27, 2009

Next Week is Diet Week

I am addicted to celebrity gossip.  I love reading about their troubles and seeing the fashion.  This week, my fascination with all things celebrity turns to photoshop.  Most celebrities keep a personal photoshop technician on their staff and make sure that any photos that are released are first 'touched up' by their photoshop technician.  Below, you can see an example of Faith Hill on the cover of the July 2007 Redbook.

In the before picture, Faith is a beautiful, thin, (then) 39 year-old woman.  In the photoshopped cover picture, she is much thinner and younger looking.  Look at the headlines, Redbook wants to tell us about "The New Skinny Pills".  Have you ever heard of a pill that was healthy and provided long-term weight-lost?  I haven't.  How are we, who don't have personal trainers and photoshop technicians, supposed to achieve what the media tells us is beauty?

We can't.  All that we can hope for is maintaining a healthy weight for our height by eating healthy foods.  Now comes the tricky part; what are healthy foods and what diet do we follow?  The New England Journal of Medicine published a study yesterday (here) which focused on comparing three major diets, Atkins (low carbs), Dean Ornish (low-fat) and Mediterranean (low animal protein).  The diets were randomly assigned to the study participants and all reduced calorie consumption but none of the diets had less than 1,200 calories per day.  After two years, all of the participants lost and regained the same of weight regardless of the diet they were on (13 pounds after six months and 9 pounds after two years).  The lesson is that the best way to lose weight and to keep it off is to reduce your calorie consumption by following a diet that you enjoy.

Next week, we hope to shed some light on all this diet stuff for all of you.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vitamins 2.0

As a continuation of my last post on vitamins, I decided to focus on the health affects of Vitamin D. For those of you out there who don't know, Vitamin D is an important vitamin found in a variety of foods including milk and certain fish species such as salmon, tuna, and herring. The cool thing about vitamin D is that we can also make it in our own bodies- all we need is to be exposed to sunlight. In our bodies, vitamin D is responsible for helping the body absorb its required calcium, regulates certain hormones and also plays a role in the immune response. Deficiency can lead to rickets, a condition in which the bones become soft and brittle.

In a article I read recently (which may or may not have been from the Science Times), researchers have demonstrated on various occasions that consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin D is linked to good health outcomes. Researchers also noted that many Americans feel that they are consuming enough Vitamin D, but few actually do. These studies have shown that consuming high levels of Vitamin D is associated with fewer colds, decreased incidence of cancer, decreased bone fractures, to name a few. Also, researchers noted that individuals with Type I diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis tended to have lower levels of Vitamin D. From this data, it truly seems like Vitamin D is the superman of vitamins.

While I admit that these results are pretty convincing, it is important to realize that everything can be bad if taken in large enough quantity. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that the body has a harder time removing it than other vitamins. Furthermore, consuming too much Vitamin D will cause the intestines to absorb too much calcium, which leads to deposits in places like the heart and lungs. The moral of this story, like my post last week, is to strive to maintain a well-rounded diet. Fish like salmon have many health benefits outside of their ability to contribute vitamin D. Consuming low-fat milk or even skim milk, an important source of vitamin d and it provides lean protein. Finally, if anyone wanted to further research this stuff, the NY Times has their own Vitamin D page. Here's the link:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dear Keen Society:

Every once in awhile, people write to us asking for advice on nutrition and their health. We'd like to share with you one such letter:

Dear Keen Society,
I am a 45-year-old woman and about 10-15 lbs over my goal weight. I have tried everything – SlimFast, Atkins, and not eating. Nothing’s working! My doctor keeps telling me to continue a healthy diet and exercise but I don’t think my body responds to that. What should I do?
Wants to look good for high school reunion
Nyc, NY

Dear Wants to look good,
First, you need to figure out whether your goal weight is a reasonable weight. There is a healthy range for weight – you may be on the heavier side but still be in the healthy range. That’s completely fine! Secondly, muscle weighs more than fat, so more important that weight is WAIST size. According to some doctors, the ideal waist size can be calculated as half your height in inches. Thirdly, your doctor was right; diet and exercise is the best way to lose weight. Try getting an RMR test to see if you and your doctor can design a weight-loss plan specifically for you.
Best of Luck,
Keen Society

Keep the questions coming!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Grade "A" Snacks

My glamorous life as a full-time student is stunningly predictable. If I’m not studying, then I’m probably worrying about where I’m going to be getting my next meal. But during exam season, the last thing on my mind is what to cook for dinner or how I can track down something healthy to eat. Suffice it to say, when I’m hungry and crunched for time, all I want to do is to reach for a greasy burger or a tub of ice-cream. Recently, during another one of my All-You-Can-Cram & Eat sessions, I resolved to give this whole “snacking healthy” thing a try and compiled a list of my favorite snacks that are fast, simple, affordable, and of course, healthy and yummy too. Whether you’re a student, working professional, jet-setter, rockstar, or simply a hungry, hungry, hippo, hopefully these ideas will help get through the day and leave you feeling healthy and happy!

• Low-fat yogurt with cut fruit (my personal favorite are banana slices or cantaloupe) or with granola sprinkled on top.

• Whole wheat/grain bread with cheese sandwich. Be sure to look for the whole wheat or whole grain label on the package.

• Rice cakes topped with natural peanut butter and banana slices.

• Edamame steamed with a bit of salt and lemon juice.

• Chocolate dipped strawberries. I have a terrible sweet tooth, so this is one of my personal favorites. But don’t forget, everything in moderation!

• Fruit salad. The key to this snack is to make it in bulk and have it already prepared so that it’s waiting in the fridge when you want it. Drizzle a bit of lemon juice as a natural preservative and it will stay fresh for longer.

• Lettuce wraps with ham, turkey, or chicken breast slices, tomato slices, and string cheese. Or cut the string cheese in half, so that way you can enjoy another wrap!

• Low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk. This is absolutely one snack that I can’t live without. Sometimes cereal can be the best meal of the day!

So the next time, you’re low on time and on brain fuel, go for a healthy snack instead of a greasy bag of chips, and you’ll be well on your way to earning that “A”. Go get ‘em, Tiger!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

For Optimum Health Buy and Eat Local

Have you ever thought about how long it takes your food to get from the field to your table? If you buy produce from across the country, do you factor in the time for packaging, shipment, and eventual consumption? Not only is purchasing food that has traveled a long distance unsustainable in practice, but fresh produce loses nutritional value sitting on the shelf or in your refrigerator waiting to be consumed. Buying locally can be easy and inexpensive when you’re armed with the right information. A great site for information on where to buy locally is Food Routes. Another resource, and local advocate of fresh and healthy eating, is the the Urban Nutrition Initiative, a Philadelphia based organization.

A great dish to make with local produce that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare is this Creamy Vegetable Combo. Try out the recipe below!

Creamy Vegetable Combo
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's Healthy Request Condensed Cream of Celery Soup
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups chopped vegetable combination, such as: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots

Heat the soup, milk, lemon juice, black pepper and vegetables in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Calories: 65
Total Fat: 1g

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Easy Peppers

A friend just made me this for dinner, so delicious! She paired it with an argula salad and a king cake in honor of New Orleans...both of which I agree with:


6 med. green peppers2 c. cooked rice1 lg. egg, slightly beaten or 1/4 c. Eggbeaters1 c. chopped onion1 sm. can tomatoes or 1 (10 oz.) can Rotel tomatoes1 tbsp. vegetable oil1 c. bread crumbs or wheat germ1 1/4 c. grated Cheddar cheese
Cut off tops of peppers and remove and discard seeds. Dice tops, discarding stems, and mix all ingredients, reserving 1/2 cup cheese. Stuff peppers and place in a round microwave casserole. Put extra filling around peppers. Peppers should fit tightly. Cover with plastic wrap, piercing 4-5 times for vents. Microwave on High 15 minutes. Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Cover; let stand 2-3 minutes. Then serve. This dish can be made ahead and frozen for later use. Do not cook until after thawed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vitamins: The Secret to a... Shorter Life?

As I went through the grocery store the other day, every product seemed to be fortified with one vitamin or another. Some touted "extra anti-oxidants," others had "B vitamins for energy" and some had "calcium for strong bones." Vitamins are indeed important substances, many of them essential for human life, but is this fortification necessary? Is it possible that all these vitamins could actually be dangerous?

To shed some light on these issues, I did a quick search online and came across a NY Times article from Tuesday (see bottom of post for link.) The Times cited a few recent studies in which increased intake of multivitamins in women had no appreciable health benefits. Another study reviewed the results of several studies on antioxidants and found that in the population taking the extra antioxidants, deaths were actually higher than in the control group. Even more alarming was a study completed at UNC in which mice given a vitamin depleted diet actually had smaller tumors than control mice.

How could this all be? Does this mean that we should all try to avoid vitamins? While these studies are definitely thought provoking, it is important to realize that avoiding vitamins is a bad idea. Without vitamin c, we can develop scurvy, without folic acid in the womb, babies develop a serious birth defect known as spina bifida, just to name a few serious conditions associated with inadequate vitamin intake. I feel the most important thing to take away from these studies is realizing that simply taking more vitamins will not solve our health problems. Vitamins are important and should be taken in with a balanced diet. Many foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc are rich in essential vitamins and will more than supplement our needs. Therefore, like many of the previous posts have said, healthy living can be accomplished by eating a diet low in processed food, high in vegetables and lean protein sources. Easier said than done.

NY Times article:

Really? Chicken Soup Cure for Colds


Like ice for a burn or a lozenge for a cough, a cup of hot tea is an age-old balm for sniffles, sneezing and stuffiness.

Hot liquids, it is said, help loosen secretions in the chest and sinuses, making them easier to expel and ultimately clearing up congestion.

The fluids are also meant to reverse dehydration.

But only recently have scientists examined whether the effect is real. In December, researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University in Britain looked at whether hot beverages relieved the symptoms of 30 people suffering from the flu or common cold any better than drinks at room temperature. The found that the contrast was marked.

"The hot drink provided immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness," they reported, "whereas the same drink at room temperature only provided relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough and sneezing."

While this was the first study to look specifically at the effects of hot drinks on cold and flu symptoms, others have looked at hot foods like chicken soup and had similar results.

Chicken soup also contains cold-fighting compounds that help dissolve mucus in the lungs and suppress inflammation.


Research confirms that a hot beverage can reduce congestion and other cold and flu symptoms.

From The New York Times, "REALLY?; Hot liquids can ease symptoms of a cold or flu.", Anahad O'Connor, January 27, 2009.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To be or not to be...vegetarian, that is.

We haven’t seen this big of a rise in vegetarianism since the 60s, when everyone chanted peace, love, and harmony. Today, in our fast-paced, financially-driven society (a far cry away from Woodstock), about 4.7 million American adults are vegetarian, says the Vegetarian Resource Group.

There are four main categories of vegetarians:
• Ovo-Lacto vegetarians don’t eat meat but eat eggs and diary products
• Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy
• Lacto-vegetarians eat diary but no eggs
• Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all

Yet, as healthy as it may seem, many vegetarians miss out on essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Vegetarians also run the risk of protein deficiency.

Ovo-lacto vegetarians can get their protein from eggs and dairy products. Other vegetarians can get protein from great sources such as, legumes (lentils, beans, etc.), nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy products.

Green, leafy vegetables are a vegetarian’s best friends. They have calcium, vitamin B, and iron. Despite having options to get the macro- and micro- nutrients that vegetarians may miss out on normally, many medical specialists recommend vegetarians, especially, to take a multi-vitamin daily.

So the moral of the story is if you want to embark on a meat-free journey, make sure youre aware of the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs so everything works in tip top shape!

Enjoy your life and eat well while youre doing it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Healthy Valentine's Day?

Valentine's Day can be a pretty fat filled holiday what with all the chocolate and eating out and possibly drowning your sorrows with a big tub of ice cream. Here is a quick recipe for some healthy heart cookies to replace the usual sugar overload:
Sugarless Heart Cookies
by Becky Jones
To make these cookies, you will need the following ingredients:3/4 cup margarine, softened1 package (0.3 ounces) mixed fruit sugar-free gelatinEgg substitute equivalent to 1 egg1 teaspoon vanilla extract1 3/4 cups all purpose flour1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Directions:In a mixing bowl, cream together the margarine and gelatin. Beat in the egg subsitiute and vanilla. Mix together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, mixing well. Chill for 1 hour.Preheat your oven to 400. Roll the dough mixture out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out cookies with heart-shaped cookie cutters (or any shape you desire). Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 6 to 7 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned and the cookies are set. Cool on wire racks.
Yields about 6 dozen
Diabetic Exchanges: One serving (2 cookies) equals 1/2 starch, 1/2 fat, 59 calories, 49 mg sodium, trace cholesterol, 5 gm carbohydrate, 1 gm protein, 4 gm fatNote: You can change the taste of these cookies by trying different flavors of gelatin.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Last Meeting

Now that we've gotten this blog rolling a little bit, I feel like it's a good idea to explain a little about what we do. As stated in the title, we are two groups of students working together to increase our understanding about food and the effects of proper nutrition on our overall health.

In the age of fast food, eating an unhealthy diet of cheeseburgers and pizza is far and away the easiest way to consume our calories. The convenience of strolling into the local McDonalds and ordering off the value menu is quick, satisfying, and instantly gratifying. Going out to the grocery and spending time buying veggies and fruits and other "healthy stuff" is challenging and downright time consuming. Finding the time to make those trips (especially with the current school environment I find myself in) is some times a futile effort.

As the American trend of obesity and other diet related health issues continue to rise, I think the overall perception of the public is going to change. People are starting to see the effects of those Big Macs on their waist lines, and they want to do something about it. That's where our groups come in to play.

I think our groups are particularly cool because we span a broad range of ages. We have students from middle school to med school who are all interested in gaining awareness about the current situation, and making adjustments in our own lives to be healthier and happier.

As an example, I want to share some pics from our latest meeting. During the last interaction between the Keen Society and the Urban Tree Connection, we did a little bit of schooling on the anatomy of digestion. What did we look at? Well, we checked out the digestive track, the brain that controls it, and the skeletal system that supports it. Going in order, here are some pictures that detail some of our adventures:

This is a picture of Ben doing some teaching on the finer points of the digestive track.

Here you see the awe inspiring power of the brain!

And here you can see Brian giving a little lesson on endochondral ossification. OK, just kidding. But he did confirm that bones are cool for the body :)

As you can see, our two groups are making some progress and moving in the right direction. This was one of many meetings we have planned with the Urban Tree Connection, and I'm looking forward to working with this enthusiastic group of like-minded individuals in the future. Thanks guys for a fun meeting, and I look forward to the next one!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fried Plantains (Platanos Maduros)

Plantains are larger, starcher cousins of bananas and are the staple food in parts of West Africa and the Caribbean.  Plantains are uglier, longer and have tougher, thicker skins than bananas.  Above on the left, are bananas and on the right is a plantain.  Plantains can be bought at most grocery stores.  Many smaller corner stores that cater to Caribbean or West African residents sell plantains too.  

When they're green and under-ripe, they have a similar taste and be cooked like potatoes.  As they become riper, they become sweeter .  Over-ripe (black), they can be fried or baked into a delicious dessert.  

To fry plantains, peel the plantain and cut into one inch slices.  Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium heat.  Once the oil is warm, add the plantains.  When the edges of the plantains brown (like on the left) they're done!  You can season with lime juice, pepper or salt if you'd like.

To bake plantains, heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Peel and slice plantains in half length-wise.  Place in a greased pan and sprinkle with oil and a little salt if you'd like.  Bake for 10 minutes.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's the deal with High Fructose Corn Syrup?

As I was watching tv the other night with the spare time i don't have, I witnessed the following commercial from the corn refiners of america (see bottom of page for link.) Basically, they believe (and desperately want us to believe) that HFCS is "made from corn, has the same calories as sugar, and like sugar is fine in moderation." In other words, we shouldn't worry about the fact that HFCS is in everything everything we eat these days. Obviously, I was a bit skeptical and decided research this bold claim a bit more.

According to wikipedia, HFCS is simply corn syrup that has undergone enzymatic reactions to increase the fructose content and then this is mixed with pure glucose. Typically, the HFCS found in soft drinks is 55% fructose, 45% glucose. HFCS is found in many products, ranging from soft drinks, certain types of juice, salad dressings and even bread. HFCS is also used in low fat snacks in order to make them taste better. Now that we know that HFCS is everywhere, what does this mean for our health?

This past tuesday in Science Times, Jane Brody wrote a piece enititled "America's Diet: Too Sweet by the Spoonful" in which she analyzed the potential contribution of sugar and HFCS to America's obesity epidemic. I will post the link at the end of this, but to sum up her story, humans should take in (at maximum) 8 teaspoons of sugar a day. (By comparison, a 20 oz soda has 9-10 teaspoons). She argues that all of America's weight problems can be explained by our massive intake of sweetened products. In this way, she views sugar and HFCS as simliar enemies, with both causing equal destruction. Does this mean the Corn Refiners Association is the correct in its assertion? I will let you all decide.

HFCS Commercial:

Jane's Article:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5 Foods That Get a Bad Rep

Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan aren’t the only ones getting a bad rep.

Here are a few foods that may have gotten a bad reputation in the past, but new studies have shown how beneficial they are:

“Negatives”: high in fat and calories
Positives: peanuts have been shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease and lower total and “bad” cholesterol. Also, a little fat before meals or for a snack will help control your hunger.

“Negatives”: high in cholesterol
Positives: eggs have the highest concentration of choline, a nutrient critical for healthy brain function. Recent studies have shown that eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that keep eyes healthy, prevent blindness and muscular degeneration. In summary, eggs are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food that makes a great contribution to any menu.

“Negatives”: coffee is only a caffeine source
Positives: coffee has hundreds of chemicals in it, which may be the reason for its negative press in the past. But newer studies have shown that coffee has many benefits, such as improving memory, and decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Just avoid multiple cups at one time to prevent the caffeine jitters!
“Negatives”: too high in fat
Positives: avocados are high in monounsaturated fats (the heart-healthy kind). Initial studies have shown that avocados have cancer-preventing properties. This is most likely due to the overwhelming amounts of antioxidants present in avocados.

“Negatives”: no nutritional benefits
Positives: mushrooms boost immune system function, suppress breast and prostate cancer, and have a high concentration of antioxidants, studies show. Interestingly, one medium Portobello mushroom has more potassium than a glass of OJ. Who would have thunk?!?

Information comes from's article "5 foods that should have a place in your diet"

Monday, February 9, 2009

Digesting Digestion

For me (and perhaps many of us out there), learning about nutrition is fun and exciting, but even the smallest attempt to learn about digestion leaves my stomach tossing and turning. But to really understand nutrition means knowing about all the microscopic events that occur. I’m well into my first year of medical school, well into memorizing pages after pages of textbooks, and well into many late nights of deciphering the different paths that fats, proteins, and carbohydrates take in the human body. And with all these facts, I’m left feeling a little disoriented, unsatisfied, and with my stomach in knots.

I’m a visual learner, avoid details like the plague, and crave to see the “big picture”. So for all of you visual learners, I’d like to bring the big picture to motion picture, and suggest my personal remedy for making digestion fun and exciting again: the digestion episode of the Magic School Bus! I remember watching this in elementary school and thinking it was coolest thing ever (and I haven’t changed much). From time to time, I like to revisit this video just to feel good about how much I know … and remind myself of how much I don’t know.

Below is the For Lunch episode of the Magic School Bus. (Leave it to YouTube to have everything!) Parts 2 and 3 of the episode will automatically upload from the playlist. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Bread Hero

I am a very big bread eater. I would rather have a well-baked roll and some rich olive oil to dip it in than pie or cake for desert. I started baking when I was about 14, but only recently discovered the underlying chemistry of bread making through Peter Reinhart, an awesome baker and a great teacher.
I first heard Peter Reinhart speak at TED. TED is a very cool conference that features the most interesting/creative/successful/far-out people in the world giving 18 minute talks. Of course, most of these talks are available online for free. Here is the talk Chef Reinhart gave at the TED conference in the summer of 2008 that inspired my new bread baking perspective:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Comfort Food Upgraded

I love to cook. I love to eat. And I love food that tastes good, which to me usually means swimming in fat and oil. So, this is a problem. And in an effort to be healthy, I have looked into upgrading some of my favorite comfort foods so they are still delicious, but have a healthier aspect to them. I think it is a great way to ease into eating healthier foods if the thought of it makes you cringe.
Since I will be posting on here regularly, I might as well make a confession up front: I love the magazine Real Simple. It is a bible of sorts to me and this recipe is from there. You will be hearing about this magazine a lot I am sure (next week, I am thinking of cheap healthy recipes...send suggestions, if you have any!), so I thought I would just be up front about my obsession from the beginning.
This recipe is for crispy chicken and collard greens. To me, the recipe is not only healthier, but also makes cooking the chicken a lot easier than frying it (which, to me, is a nightmare and I always manage to get hot oil all over my hands and never get quite the amount of crispiness I want). And actually, this recipe is relatively cheap too as most of this food would probably already be in your house. And, then you have some leftover healthy cereal in your cupboard too.
Alright, I'll stop blabbering. Nutrition info follows the recipe.

Crispy Chicken and Garlicky Collards

Improve on the cornflake-coating trick (my mom used to do this!!) by using multigrain cereal to increase the fiber. Baking rather than frying the chicken eliminates a whopping 24 grams of fat per serving.
1 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces and skin removed 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups multigrain cereal flakes, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
2 bunches collard greens, thick stems removed and leaves cut into 1-inch strips
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Heat oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, toss the chicken and mustard to coat. In a separate bowl, mix the cereal, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the cereal mixture and bake on a baking sheet until golden and cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the collards in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and squeeze out the excess water.Heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, collards, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with the chicken and lemon.
Yield: Makes 4 servings


Friday, February 6, 2009

First Post!

Hi Folks. First post here. I'm excited to get this blog rolling, as I think it will be an interesting source of info and a fun stop to visit on the interweb. To get things started off here, I have a little YouTube video of some interesting things you can do with food. As a blog on nutrition, we are interested in ALL things food and health related. I look forward to sharing more interesting finds, and I hope this will be a fun project for the folks of the Keen Society and Urban Tree Connection. Thanks for checking us out.