Archive for April, 2010

Gourmet Ginger Ale

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I love ginger ale.  I hate that a good diet ginger ale is so hard to find.

Tonight I had a ginger ale craving, and realized I had a hunk of ginger in the freezer and diet lemon-lime soda in the pantry.  Maybe I could improvise.

I keep ginger in the freezer, because I don’t use it often enough to use it before it shrivels.  I just use a microplane grater (no need to peel the ginger).  I don’t remember where I read the tip, but I think it was in a fancy food magazine.

I just poured the soda over ice, and grated a bit of ginger into the glass using a fine microplane grater.  I tasted it and although it was awesome, I decided I wanted a little more ginger, so I grated a little more.

If you mind the little flecks (looks like orange-ish, tan pepper), you could use ginger juice or maybe slice a piece of of the ginger and toss it in the glass with the ice cubes before pouring in the soda.

If I did that, I think I’d score the ginger slice with a knife several times in perpendicular directions, so that the piece of ginger would leach more flavor into the drink. 

Really though the grated ginger is the simplest, most economical, least wasteful and super yummy.  The fresh ginger flavor reminds me of gourmet (full-sugar)  ginger ales I’ve had.  One was from a bottled ginger ale I found in a health food store  and the other (best ginger ale ever) was from a local restaurant/microbrewery.  They make the syrup and then add plain soda water.  You can order it to taste, so I usually order it extra-light on the syrup.  Now I don’t have to.  I’ll order a diet sprite and make my own (I’m not above stashing a mini-grater and a chunk of fresh ginger in my purse – maybe they’ll get the hint and make sf versions of their rootbeer and ginger ale).

I think I’m going to try other flavors of clear soda.   Aldi and Walmart both have very good sugar free carbonated, flavored waters.  Don’t be fooled, these are really are just diet sodas without artificial colorings (but that’s at least a small bonus).  I’m thinking white grape, lime, raspberry, tangerine all might be good. 

For the lemon-lime soda, I used a cheap store brand lemon-lime soda. “Big Chill,” the IGA store brand.  I think their sugar free sodas are every bit as good as popular brands.  In fact, I think the Big Chill diet orange is the best diet orange soda on the market (better than Crush and Sunkist, I think).

You could also use club soda and sweeten to your taste, with your sweetener of choice.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.




Going back in time, and what is moderation anyway?

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Comments on my post reviewing “Refuse to Regain,” has gotten me thinking on the subject of nutritional history and anthropology and the  notion of moderation.

I’ve always defined moderation as “the least restrictive method that yields the intended results.”

I’ve used that exact definition for the last 20 years.  I even used it when I taught basic nutrition in community college childhood development classes.

So what is the least restrictive method that is effective?

Ah, if only there were a single correct answer to that question.  It certainly would save us all a whole lot of grief and trouble.

I think one effective strategy is to try to recreate in our lives a bit of the past.  We weren’t always the fattest nation (only getting fatter).

To a certain degree, I think most weight loss does follow the model of time-travel.  Some of us may only have to go back a few years – when there were just few fewer labor-saving devices, people got just a little more sleep, and people ate out just a little less.

But how far do you have to go back?  Five years; 10; 50; 100; 500; 2000; 5000; 10,000; 15,000 years?

As Barbara Berkely says in her book Refuse to Regain (I believe quoting another source, because I heard it long before her book came out) that if all of human existence were to be considered one day – we’ve only been eating modern foods (like grains and dairy) for about 6 minutes.

When humans switched from hunting/gathering to farming – average height fell dramatically and new or rare diseases became common in the fossil record (diseases such as tooth decay and arthritis).  As farming techniques advanced, those diseases become even more common).

But who wants to eat a “caveman diet,” even if it were proven to be the “best” diet for humans?  150 grams of fiber instead of 20 or even the 35 (which is sometimes seen as extreme advice).

There are few hunter-gatherer societies left in the world.  Not many, but a few.  Barbara Berkely references a study of New Guinea or Australian aboriginal tribesmen (born into the hunter-gathering tribes) living a modern lifestlye and suffering modern lifestyle diseases.  All the subjects had some modern illness diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure.  They were asked to return to their tribal culture for a period of time (it wasn’t terribly long, but I don’t remember if it was 6 weeks or 6 months)- and their health improved dramatically.

Does that mean that we can’t get healthier unless we live like triable peoples have for millions of years.

I don’t think so.  But I do think that “time travel backwards” is a concept that almost anyone could follow with success.  Someone with 10 lbs to lose, or someone who is at a healthy weight but has some risk factors may only have to go back to 1980, whereas someone with allergies, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, thin tooth enamel, autoimmune joint and connective tissue disease, arthritis and morbid obesity (like myself) may need to go back to the Stone Age.

Even as I’m more and more intrigued by primitive diets, I know that I cannot replicate an ancient diet in much detail.  I cannot and will not go back 15,000 years.

I could start from either end (modern foods working backward or stoneage working forward) or I could start in the middle.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s my strong belief that moderation will be whichever point allows me to reach a healthy state (in weight and symptoms).

When will I end up?  1965?  1800?  20,000 BC

I don’t know yet, but I do know that 2010 is killing a lot of us.  If we don’t make some retro-style changes 2050 will be worse.

Ultimately, we can’t ever truly replicate any year.  I am not going to eat insects, so whatever humans have gained gained from eating insects I’ll have to replicate in a modified “modern” way.  Some ancestor diets recommend low-fat dairy (not a paleolithic food, but if you can digest it, it’s more palatable than eating bugs).

I’m not going to go into the wilderness and chase a deer (or let a bear chase me), but I am going to swim and walk and bicycle.

It’s not about replicating the past, it’s about recreating the results.  For the most part, eating more foods that ancestor’s would recognize and the further back the better. 

I think it boils down to making changes that are “older” in spirit, using some fairly easy basic principles.

Higher fiber is better than lower fiber (we’ve bred the fiber out of foods). 

Lower sugar is better than higher sugar (because we’ve bred sugar into our foods).

More omega 3 fats 

Less high fat dairy and other “concentrated” foods (dried fruits have more in common with candy than with fruit). 

Eating fewer processed carbohydrates.

If you have autoimmune disease, consider the possibility that you may have to “go back” further than someone without AI conditions.

Ultimately, it can all be reduced to “moderation,” if you define moderation as “the least restrictive method that is effective in achieving the results you want.”











Bananas: big bananas, little bananas,

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Bananas are one of the most common fruits sold in America, and in the world (some sources call it the most popular, and others say it’s as far down on the list as the third place).   They are rich in B vitamins and are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium.


 Bananas are not my favorite fruit (or even my third favorite), but I do like them, but I don’t like that the most common varieties bananas (in the USA) generally are so large that they contain two (and even sometimes three)  servings of fruit per banana.  I like to spread my fruit servings throughout the day, so that usually means eating only half a banana. 

It’s not a terrible inconvenience to cut a banana and half and put the uneaten half in the refrigeratior, and that’s usually what I do.  I just set the banana on a shelf in the fridge and when I take it out, I cut a very thin slice off the end (just because I don’t like the darkened appearance of  the cut end.   Sometimes you’ll read or hear that bananas should never be stored in the refrigeratior – that’s just not true.  Unripe bananas shouldn’t be refrigerated, because the cold stops the ripening process, but ripe bananas can be refrigerated.  The skins will turn black very quickly, but the inside will still be nice and firm for a long time in the fridge ( says up to 2 weeks, but I’ve had bananas last even a longer). 

Bananas are very cheap where I live.  The Kwik Trip gas stations and convenience stores in our area sell bananas for 39 cents a pound.  According to Wikipedia, “Kwik Trip is also the only company in the region to carry Darien  bananas which have a somewhat softer/smoother texture than the conventional Dole bananas commonly found in supermarkets.”  I knew I liked the Kwik Trip’s bananas better than supermarket bananas, but until I read the wikipedia article, I didn’t know why.

I love miniature bananas (some of the miniature varieties, I really do think taste better), but I don’t love the price (up to 5 times the cost of larger bananas).  The oriental groceries in our area sell the tiny bananas at much better prices than the larger grocery stores, but I’ve never found them cheaper than $1 per pound.  I buy them occasionally as a treat, because they do taste a little different, and they’re so darned cute. 

The short and fat bananas have about 55 calories (1 fruit exchange), and the short, thin bananas are usually about 25 to 30 calories each (2 bananas = 1 fruit exchange).

When it comes to eating a banana, I usually just peel and eat.  I also slice them and put them in the freezer to add to smoothies (I love the texture frozen fruits create – almost like ice-cream). 

If you’re interested in banana recipes, I’d suggest looking online.  I have to admit that the Green Banana (plantain) and Potato salad recipe looks really good.

Plaintains are a starch/bread servings, not fruit.  They’re almost potato-like in flavor.  Like the tiny bananas, I’ve found them to be of better quality and price in asian markets, compared to supermarkets.

Also on is an interesting page on the medicinal uses for a banana from anemia to warts (and morning sickness, pms, high blood pressure, hangover, depression and other disorders in between).

So perhaps it’s actually a banana a day that will keep the doctor away.  Or maybe not, but they’re still good eatin’.


Book review: Refuse to Regain not just for maintenance

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

I’ve become increasingly interested in nurtritional anthropology and “ancestor diets” and research.  It’s been on my “to read” list for quite some time.  However, as the subject matter is weight maintenance and not weight loss, I was in no particular rush to read it.  However, it kept coming up in the ancestor diet reading lists, that I finally decided I’d order it from the library.

I just finished reading it, and I was really impressed.  I could relate to and/or agreed with nearly everything the author had to say.  I think I thought “I’m not sure that would work well for me,” only once or twice.  I think it may have been the first book I can truly say that about. 

I wish I’d read it sooner.  It’s entirely compatible with my current food plan, except that I had to seriously review my views on moderate use of modern foods, and on the very concept of moderation itself.  I really appreciate the advice to review every choice, asking “is it worth it.”   If I’m honest with myself that’s where I fail most often, I tend to  ask “was it worth it,” more often than “would it be worth it.” 

I was so impressed, that I took a lot of notes, and am considering buying the book as it seems like a book I’d refer to repeatedly.