Countries across the pond eat more and weigh less

Husband and I are moving.

Probably to Italy. Maybe France.

He doesn’t know yet.

I dream of living, dining and drinking under the Tuscan sun or along the river Seine. Uncorking wine bottles for my daily fitness, eating pasta and homemade tomato sauce for lunch and dinner every day and desserting on gelato well past my bedtime. And I have no intention of gaining a single pound!

Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

I could die living life like that in America!

I am not in La La Land, and my head is not in the clouds. This dream is not a dream.

According to MensHealth, countries across the pond eat more and weigh less. European countries like Italy and France do not have the high obesity rate ruining American health. These countries do not struggle with portion size and don’t have as many problems with processed food and empty calories like America struggles.

But, why?

In order to find the truth, I have decided to leave my homeland and explore foreign cuisine. I am going undercover in Europe! Who wants to fund my trip? In the name of investigative reporting, of course. Anyone? Any takers? Please… No one, then? Oh, fine.

I guess I’ll just do as the Americans do, and Google it! (I went to college. I know Google. We’re besties.)

SIGH.

According to the MensHeath article, Spaniards eat slowly, taking their time with each bite. Italians avoid processed food (and I am a sinner eating pasta sauce from a jar). The French, much like the entirety of Europe, do not eat in front of a television. Meal time is a respected tradition: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Of course, European countries are not the only nations eating real, whole food and keeping their figures trim. According to a Diets In Review editorial intern, southeast Asian fare is better than the Chinese takeout most Americans are used to.

I should know.

I snarfed down Great Wall’s Chicken and Broccoli with fried rice (not ALL of it) Monday night, and I am still feeling the after effects.

Ah, hindsight, you devious fiend!

Comparing my eating habits to those of the individuals living in European countries identifies a jarring reality. struggle with portion control. don’t get the nutrients I need from the often processed foods I eat. eat in front of the television… and I don’t even have cable to distract! (But I do own every season of Charmed.)

From now on, I am going to make a conscious effort to control my portion sizes, eat less processed foods and stay away from television when food is in my hand.

I am also going to stop fearing food.

Another little tidbit in the MensHealth article: in other countries, people respect food. I fear almost every calorie I eat and drink, but I don’t have to.

What are some of the most insightful things you have learned from foreign cuisine? Please share so that we, too, can learn for our neighbors.

How to make healthy food taste good

I am an aspiring cook.

I enjoy chopping, dicing, mixing, spicing, saucing, baking, roasting, grilling… All the -ings. You know?

Unfortunately, I am also aspiring to lose a little weight so I have been chopping and dicing healthy meals.

Problem? It is HARD to make healthy food taste good, which is probably caused by my taste buds being accustomed to added salt, fat and other bad-for-me deliciousness.

Who doesn’t looooove French fries?

Because of my tainted tasters, a regular old bell pepper doesn’t seem to make my recipes work. A simple tomato, balsamic vinegar and a touch of homemade chili powder… I am not getting the flavor I need when I make healthful, full of nutrient meals.

And nothing is worse than eating something that tastes like cardboard simply because it’s good for me.

EatingWell’s test kitchen put together cooking tips to make our favorite foods healthier, and I am putting my faith in them that their tips will make my food taste good, too. I summed up a few I liked.

Tip #3: Get crispy fried chicken in the oven

When I was 16, I waited tables at the only sit-down restaurant in my home town. Our specialty? Fried chicken. Having grown up in that town, working at that restaurant and eating that chicken… I love fried chicken. Who doesn’t? It’s just like French fries.

Husband and I have tried and failed to oven fry chicken. Every attempt has been just a bit off so that the chicken is almost inedible. We ate it. Begrudgingly.

The test kitchen advised dipping the chicken in milk, buttermilk or egg, dredging in seasoned flour or breadcrumbs, and then spraying with canola or olive oil cooking spray. The last step might be the step we were missing. Who knows how important spray can be? We also might not have had the oven hot enough. The test kitchen advised to bake at 425-450 degrees F. I think we’ve only gone as high as 400.

Tip #4: Add flavor without adding salt

My husband and I are cooks with the belief that salt is a wonderful ingredient. Without salt, meat isn’t even worth cooking and certainly not worth eating. I will never take the salt away from my meat.

The salt can come right out of the other food I cook, though, especially if I can get flavor from anything else. The test kitchen advised to add flavor with lemon and lime or fresh herbs. I don’t know which recipes I can add lemon and lime to, but I think now is a good time to start my indoor herb garden.

Tip #9: Add grains and vegetables to meaty dishes

My husband has already implemented this tip into one of our favorite meals: turkey burgers. He adds red and green bell peppers and jalapeno to the meat before cooking, and then we load on onions and tomatoes like people who enjoy bad breath.

The test kitchen advised, though, to add at least three-fourths of a cup of grains, such as brown rice, and vegetables, such as mushrooms, for every pound of meat.

Bonus: If we shmoosh the mushrooms, and then stuff them in our meatloaf, we might actually be able to eat them. Otherwise, they are disgusting.

The test kitchen’s other tips are basic tips to reduce calories and fat, such as reducing the amount of oil we cook with and removing the cheese from our meals. (Getting rid of cheese is easy for me.)

How do you make your healthy meals flavorful? How do you escape the bland without adding calories, fat and sodium?

I need all the help I can get.

Treadmill-free cardio workouts

More like running-free cardio workouts…

Wow. Never thought I’d say that… Weird.

I am working out with my best friend, Ashley, and she is not allowed to run because of her hips and knee.

Yet.

She’s not allowed to run… yet. Eventually, I’m sure she’ll be able to run or, at least, jog.

We have to do our cardio workouts without the treadmill and without running on the track for now, and we need to get in some good cardio if we want to burn fat. We have to do more than resistance training.

Plus, I’m really sore, and I need to get out some soreness, and the best way to do that is cardio.

For two weeks, we have done our cardio on the bike for about 15 minutes, but it is getting boring. I need a cardio workout to mix up our routine that doesn’t involve running, sprinting, jumping, skipping… you get the idea. No high-impact!

The first option is to make the stationary bike a little more interesting.

Instead of setting the stationary bike to P-8, which is the Cardio Program, Ashley and I are going to try interval and tempo workouts on the bike. The Greatist published this low-impact tempo workout from the American Council on Exercise. (ACE has more workouts!)

Warm up with a 10-minute spin at moderate intensity. After the warm-up, alternate two-minute high intensity (still low impact!) and five-minute moderate intensity intervals for 21 minutes. Then, for 18 minutes, alternate high for two minutes and moderate for six minutes. Finish the workout off with a cool down.

Moderate intensity is at a level where Ashley and I will be able to speak. High intensity is at a level where it will be difficult for Ashley and I to speak at all. We are on different levels with our cardio so we will have different levels of moderate and high intensity intervals.

That’ll be fun to figure out.

While this interval workout will be easy-ish on Ashley’s joints, it will get our heart rates up and our bodies burning evil fat cells.

Our second indoor bike option is to join a spin class, which has the added benefit of someone else telling us what to do. The YMCA has several indoor cycling classes to attend at different levels. Bonus? It’s free with our membership. Whoop!

When Ashley and I feel like hopping off the bike, another option is to use low-weight free weights for fast-paced toning sessions. Instead of lifting heavy weights, we lift almost zero weight and do it really, really fast. Much like Insanity workouts with dumbbells and without the jumping and the skipping.

And the sheer awfulness of it.

Kettlebell workouts are also good fat-burners. I think it’s all the swinging…

We will have to increase our cardio soon if we want to continue to burn fat. According to Women’s Health Magazine, we have to keep pushing our bodies to keep seeing results. (I haven’t seen any results yet so I’m not too worried right now.)

Sweeteners for a healthy New Year

I stopped drinking Diet Coke because it is sweetened with aspartame, which is an artificial sugar. I read that artificial sweeteners can cause weight gain by raising glucose levels in the body, which prompts the liver to turn excess glucose into body fat.

Problem: EVERYTHING has artificial sweetener. Coffee creamer, chewing gum, cough drops, yummy chocolate, applesauce… It is the most impossible thing to avoid.

Here’s another problem: I want to lose weight so I have to cut real sugar out of my diet. Not completely out, but I have to eat less of it. The hard part is that real sugar (in its many different forms) is also in everything. Ketchup, salad dressing, yummy chocolate again…

Ugh.

I am on a quest to satisfy my very rare sweet tooth without rotting out my teeth out or adding to my waist line.

Honey is one of my favorite sugar substitutes. Raw honey is best because it isn’t filtered or heated. Heating honey causes the healthy enzymes to break down and not really work. I have yet to substitute honey for sugar in any recipes, but it has become a regular addition to my first morning coffee. One tablespoon of raw honey contains about 60 calories, but I have never needed a whole tablespoon to sweeten my coffee. I use approximately a drop.

Maple syrup is another sweet option, which I am considering substituting for sugar in my baked goods. The straight-from-the-tree sap is sweeter than sugar with fewer calories and with more antioxidants and minerals than honey. According to Crown Maple Syrup, featured in an article on Women’s Health Magazine, Grade B Maple Syrup is the best to use for cooking and baking. For my love of maple syrup, I would gladly substitute it in place of sugar in all future baking.

And have you ever had Crown Royal Maple Finish? It tastes like breakfast. I love.

I will cut granulated sugar from my diet by swapping in honey and maple syrup in my morning coffee and in the sauces I make to add flavor to my meat dishes, such a honey mustard sauce I use on fish and pork and the steak sauce I have yet to make.

I will sugar, in general, out of my diet by making my own salad dressing, marinara sauce and ketchup. I have already mastered a tasty Italian vinaigrette (recipe coming!), and I will make my own ketchup and marinara sauce as soon as I run out of the stuff I have. No need to be wasteful.

How do you cut sugar out of your diet? Find more natural sweeteners from Prevention Magazine.

Going to the gym with my best friend

My best friend Ashley (not this Ashley) have taken our relationship to the next level. We are now more than just best friends…

We are officially workout buddies!

Yay!

I have known Ashley since fourth grade, and, in all that time, she has always been my skinny friend (not that I didn’t have other skinny friends… no hate mail). She is super little! Little, however, does not always mean healthy and toned. To get healthy and toned, Ashley joined the YMCA, and now we can work out together.

zomg. SO excited.

I enjoy exercise way more when I’m with a friend, especially one of my best friends since forever.

seriously. EXCITED.

I went with her last Friday for her first meeting with a personal trainer. He helped her figure out what type of cardio and weight training exercises she should do.

Unfortunately, because she has some joint pain, she cannot do high impact aerobics or cardio that puts too much pressure on her knees and hips. So we won’t be hitting the track or the treadmill together…

Sadness. Oh, well!

She is approved to use the bike, the elliptical and the Arc Trainer, which are cardio machines that have little to no impact. She is also approved to do some swimming because the water removes the body weight from the workout.

I will not be joining her in the pool because… just no.

Well at least not until I lose enough weight and find a one piece swimming suit that holds the girls, but I will squeeze into my old swimming suit to enjoy the sauna and the steam room!

Our goal is to go to the gym together three times a week. We will follow her workout plan from the personal trainer: warmup, weight training, cardio, cool down and stretch.

And I get to take her to Power Yoga!

Perfect.

Seeds make better spreads

Peanut butter is super delicious.

More than one tablespoon of peanut butter is best, especially if you’re snacking on a Granny Smith. Unfortunately, peanut butter also happens to be loaded with fat and calories.

Hmm. Much like most nut butters. Hazelnut spread, anyone? Oh, man. That stuff’s also super delicious.

Well, one of my favorite blogs, Kath Eats Real Food, features a different kind of spread: seed butters.

KERF is one of my favorite blogs because she has an adorable baby and awesome furniture and kitchen gadgets and neat-oh coffee cups and I want her job… Not because she eats seed butter.

Anyway… many of her breakfast posts often include a mostly empty jar of sunflower butter filled with overnight oats (another reason I love her blog).

I have never tried sunflower butter, but I LOVE sunflower seeds. I played sports. I had to.

According to an article featured on Organic Gardening, a handful of bird food (seeds!) is low in fat and calories and also loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals. A half cup of sunflower seeds contains more than 100 perfect of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E, which is great for skin.

The dry winter has taken its toll on my skin. I might have to switch my peanut butter for some sunflower butter… Because popping vitamin E pills sounds less fun.

The Organic Gardening article highlights seven seeds for health and happiness, but I’m not sure they can all be turned to butter. Papaya seed butter? Probably not.

I want to switch from peanut and other nut butters to seed butters to save on fat and calories and enjoy some of the benefits of eating on seeds.

Unfortunately, I am really cheap. I can get cheap peanut butter for $2 at Dillon’s, but the same size jar of sunflower butter costs $6… sometimes more. I guess my only option is to make pumpkin butter…

The Greatist recommends pumpkin seeds and pumpkin butter. I still have pumpkins leftover from Halloween. How long do pumpkins and their seeds stay good? They look fine from the outside… They’re not mushy…

I’ll cut them open and let you know.

Coconut oil for winter beauty

Winter weather destroys my hair and skin.

My hair is dry and stringy, but also oily at the same time, so I look like I stuck my finger in a light socket.

My skin is dry and bumpy and just plain gross.

My scalp itches like crazy.

My lips are cracked and peeled, and I’m OCD about biting them (and my nails) until lip balm is just a hopeless stick of lies.

This happens every year so I should be prepared, but I’m not.

I found a coconut oil solution for almost every skin condition on Pinterest. Yes, of course, Pinterest.

I have every intention of fixing my horrid hair by dragging the frizzy, icky mess to the hair salon. It needs to be cut… badly. And it could use another coating of clear.

My skin is a different issue.

I cannot just run down to the skin salon and get it fixed for the next three months. It’s an organ. It needs like… constant care and maintenance.

So the pinner of the Pinterest pin I found uses a mixture of a pinch baking soda and dab of coconut oil to wash his or her face (assuming woman) to prevent breakouts and provide glowing skin. He/She applies the mixture every few days and uses just the coconut oil on off days.

Preventing acne and blackheads by rubbing oil all over my face sounds too good to be true, but, with this dry, red, blackhead-ridden skin…

Well, I might as well try!

Tell me: Have you rubbed oil all over your face and ended up with a result that wasn’t totally gross? Should I bother?

Another Pinterest pin highlighted a coconut oil eye cream mixed with vitamin E from a capsule. Both ingredients promote skin health and repair.

Women’s Health Magazine also have a few DIY recipes for health skin!