Thursday, January 25, 2007

No Trans Fat, Now What?

I realize that writing about fat might disgust you but the issue of trans fats is a a big deal. New York City just banned them in restaurants. The food industry has now switched from partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) to interesterified fats which are totally hydrogenated fats. This can be confusing.

Recent research has shown that not only do this new fats lower your good cholesterol and raise your bad cholesterol but also raise your blood sugar. Not very good news, is it?

My recommendation is to stick with regular oil as an ingredient or to avoid added oils whenever you can.

This goes back to my vision of eating mostly whole foods which don't contain trans fats or interesterified fats. They contain what came in them naturally.

In a meeting this morning with a fellow Registered Dietitian she said that she went to a meeting at Oxford University and the take away message was for people to eat more greens, grains and beans. Now, that is easy, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Veggie Queen Revamps Kaiser Permanente Cafeteria

For just over 7 months in 2006 I worked as a consultant on the Healthy Cafeteria Innovation Project at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, CA. It was an exciting challenge to take a mostly burgers, fries and grilled cheese type cafeteria and turn it into a place where I could actually go to eat.

Working with a small group of Kaiser employees, we implemented changes that will hopefully change the state of health of the hospital and medical center staff. It will not as greatly effect the health of patients' families and other hospital visitors but hopefully the changes will not go unnoticed.

Our first step was upgrading the salad bar to contain local, organic and sustainable greens such as spring mix, romaine lettuce and spinach. Gone was the iceberg lettuce. Other local, organic veggies were also included when in season. We switched the salad dressings from commercial to lower fat and fat-free made in-house. New toppings such as ground flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, nutritional yeast and more appeared. Unfortunately, these changes resulted in a price increase but not so much that people stopped eating salad. Still, this created a bit of an uproar because we removed the cheese and bacon bits --uh oh.

The next phase was when most of the change occured. The cafeteria started offering vegan hot specials three days each week. The soup base was switched to a clean product which was often vegetarian. The bread went from white to organic whole grain (Alvarado Street Bakery) and the tortillas for wraps are whole grain, too. Sandwich fillings changed to the "healthiest" turkey, lower fat cheese, tofu salad and other veggie fillings. Burger buns went whole wheat, and the burgers (while still there -- sigh) got an upgrade to organic and grass-fed. This time the changes and their resulting waves (or is that a riptide?), were felt and heard about far and wide. There was an audible buzz.

And as usual, those who make the most noise appear to be in the majority but that's only because they are louder. We heard lots of comments, both positive and negative. And I felt really good about the changes that we made.

Although I am no longer doing this work, I hope to resume later this year. Just imagine healthy food in a cafeteria. Or if you happen to be in Santa Rosa, stop by the Kaiser cafeteria and you can experience it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cooking at SOMA Mushroom Camp

I cannot imagine having much more fun than slaving away in the kitchen with some of the most interesting people that I know -- mushroom hunters. I am a member of the Sonoma County Mycological Association and every year they put on a camp. This year, and last, I had the privilege of working in the kitchen, producing a gourmet meal for the 200 or so campers. This year the theme was Mexican. (More about that later.)

I was the sous chef (same as last year) to Patrick Hamilton, the Mycochef.
We were assisted in the kitchen by a great cast of characters, including Mark Todd, a.k.a. The Cheese Dude. Add in me, The Veggie Queen, and you realize that it's good to have a special name in the kitchen. Fellow family camp head chef, Dee Dumont, was of great assistance. But special name or not, we had lots of help and it was needed.

Prior to camp, our idea of a Mexican-themed meal drew complaints. While in the kitchen, making mini-candy cap tamales, all hand-tied, I was wondering who thought that up? (It wasn't me.)

Our meal was way beyond rice and beans, and in my opinion, the slaw with candied pumpkin seeds and oranges along with the roasted veggies and chard, saved the day. There was far too much meat for my liking but it must have been good because people loved the food, and said that there was too much of it. And there was but what's wrong with that? We had leftovers to go which many of us liked.

It must have been the Lagunitas Brewing beer donation that had the bunch of us working so hard.

In the few moments that I had outside the kitchen, I did get to speak to people. An interesting discussion ensued with Jeanne Porcini (her official mushroom title) about avocado toast. What? you might ask. It's toast that has avocado on it. I eat it for breakfast. She gave it to her kids to eat, years ago, and wonders why it's not more popular. I do, too, since it's what I eat at least 3 days a week, as long as I have avocado around. (I only eat one a week for my waist's sake.)

Now that they say that a large part of the avocado crop was frozen, and the price will skyrocket, I will likely switch to my other favorite morning meals-- either Bob's Right Stuff Cereal made my special way in the pressure cooker or my pressure-cooked 3 minute veggie tofu conglomeration served over grains, or not. I usually eat a savory breakfast for it makes me feel better.

Mushrooms for breakfast anyone?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Veggie Queen Says: Healthy Food is NOT Expensive

I don't often go to the "regular" supermarket but when I do, I often learn something. Yesterday, while standing at the checkout line, the woman standing 2 people in front of me put her package of asparagus and red grapes on the conveyor belt. I overheard her comment about how expensive the asparagus was. The cashier looked at the register and said, "It's $6.99 a pound."

The woman looked at the cashier with a serious expression and remarked, "It's expensive to eat healthy food." The cashier concurred. I wanted to launch into my whole talk about how eating food in season isn't expensive and if you would just think about what grows here now, you wouldn't find it expensive, but I kept my mouth closed. It was really tough for me.

Observing a usual supermarket shopper gives me a good perspective on why people think that healthy eating is expensive. The woman probably spent upwards of $10 just for her grapes and asparagus. She could be eating avocadoes, cauliflower, greens, citrus and other winter crops now, and far more of them than she procured for far less money.

Eating packaged foods is expensive, compared to almost any fresh food, possibly even out-of-season asparagus. PLEASE eat food as close to its natural state as possible and in-season. Or if you can't do that because you live in a harsh climate, then eat frozen fruits and vegetables. You only get one body, and it needs care.

Repeat after me: Eating Healthy Food is NOT Expensive if you make good choices. And I hope that you do. If you have any questions about this, please send me an email at

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Coupons as Sociology

My mother always looked at the store coupons that came in the newspaper on Sunday. And I do the same. She looked to see what she could save money on. While I attempt to do that, there are very few items featured in the circulars that contain items that I actually use. Since my diet is based on whole, not processed foods, I don't buy much of what I see featured but I look at what's advertised as a reflection of others and what they may or may not be buying.

What I noticed today is that there is a proliferation of portion-controlled items such as chocolates and cookies in smaller packages. The 100-calorie packs are very popular and I think that's good, especially if it keeps one from eating the whole darn package of whatever it is. (This is not necessary with most vegetables, especially the green ones [avocado being an exception].)

I read about The Goodness of Quaker, something to smile about for 130 years, in an ad for chewy or crunchy granola bars. I'm not sure that people ought to be smiling about granola bars although they certainly beat out candy and lots of other items featured therein. I guess that I am still a bit astounded that Quaker has made a business selling branded oats which to me are just a commodity and bulk item. I don't need to see someone's smiling face to have it in my bowl in the morning. But once again, these circulars and coupons are not aimed at me.

Tropicana boasts 2 servings of fruit in every bottle of their 10 ounce juices, sold in a 6-pack. What happened to eating fruit? It would be far better to eat 2 apples and feel full rather than swig down a small bottle of juice. I mean, look at the size of sodas and other drinks these days. Somehow the calories consumed in beverage form don't seem to count, at least in our heads but certainly it matters to our bodies.

Did you know that the beverage area is one of the fastest growing areas to make money in the food business? Other than tea, they are losing money on me. I avoid consuming my calories as drinks whenever I can, which is often.

I could go on and on about clipping coupons to save money buying items that one hardly needs but would good would that do? Instead, visit your local store that sells in bulk and cook up a batch up of unbranded oats or beans, buy a hundred calorie handful of nuts, and forget the packaging.

Read the coupons for their social value to see how we can save our society and health.