It’s Hard to Be Healthy Without Healthy Carbs!

Throughout my 9 years of cooking healthy meals at California Chef, many people have requested no-carb diets, and it still makes me cringe each time I get the request. I work with many nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors, and none of them has ever recommended a no-carb diet for their clients.

Healthy carbs (whole grains, legumes, seeds, vegetables, and fruits) are part of a balanced diet, are your body’s main source of energy, and provide essential nutrients for major bodily functions and organs—even your brain. In fact, a Tufts University study showed that after just one week, women on a no-carb diet had significantly worse memory performance than those eating a low-calorie balanced diet.

Other well-respected sources also support eating a balanced diet that includes healthy carbs, specifically:

According to the Mayo Clinic: “Carbohydrates are vital to your health, [and] evidence shows that eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you control your weight. Their bulk and fiber content aids weight control by helping you feel full on fewer calories. Contrary to what low-carb diets claim, very few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates leads to weight gain or obesity.”

According to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH): “Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. . . . HSPH’s Healthy Eating Plate recommends filling most of your plate with healthy carbohydrates—with vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits taking up about half of your plate, and whole grains filling up about one fourth of your plate.”

According to Dr. Oz: “Carbohydrates are the most misunderstood and maligned of all calorie-producing foods. . . . [Yet] they are the body’s main source of energy. . . . They have been blacklisted by skittish dieters who worry that they are the bane of their weight gain. But low-carb dieters may be misinformed. Eating a diet rich in carbohydrates doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain, but eating too much of the wrong ones can.”

So, if the findings in these studies and advice from these trusted sources aren’t enough for you, I can add that here at California Chef, we have helped hundreds of people lose thousands and thousands of pounds on meal plans that have included healthy carbs! Please consider this evidence before contemplating any diet that excludes carbs. You’ll be glad you did.

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Super-Healthy Superfood Smoothie

With each passing day of summer, it seems Los Angeles is getting hotter and hotter. On these sweltering days, don’t give in to the gelato or ice cream craving; take out the blender instead! In just a few minutes, you can make a satisfying ice cold smoothie that simultaneously cools you down and revs you up. This California Chef super-healthy smoothie is made exclusively with superfoods. It’s only about 165 calories per serving, with 14 grams of protein, and makes a great snack or grab-and-go breakfast. At first blush, the ingredient combo might make you skeptical, but trust me on this one, it works!

Superfood Smoothie (1 serving)

½ cup Greek yogurt

½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¼ cup raw spinach

1 tablespoon raw oatmeal

1 teaspoon almond butter

½ cup ice

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. It couldn’t be any easier! Until next time, keep cool and enjoy!

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Celebrating America

I’ve always loved Independence Day. As a kid growing up on the East Coast, for me, this holiday usually meant heading down with my family to my grandparents’ farm just outside of Ocean City, Maryland. We’d spend long days at the beach, with my siblings and I staying out in the water for hours until our lips were just shy of blue, our teeth were literally chattering from the cold, and our fingers were so shriveled they looked like they would easily disintegrate when we started to towel them dry.

Lunch meant getting Dayton’s fried chicken at the boardwalk and pairing it with Thrasher’s french fries (in my opinion, still the best french fries in the world, hands down; and, no, my family never used the term “pair” when discussing food—that’s an annoying habit I developed all on my own from reading way too much food –related literature later in life). And, of course, the highlight of the celebrations was coming back down to the beach on the night of July 4th for the big fireworks display. As impressive as the show was in the air, we’d also get to watch the distorted reflections of the pyrotechnics in the water make crazy designs that we could never replicate with our Spirographs the next day.

And as much fun as all this was, the way my family approached this holiday, the topics covered in the talk around the dinner table, and the stories told long into the night put a spotlight on the actual meaning of Independence Day, without my parents, uncles and aunts, or grandparents even consciously trying to do so. These people had all been born in Ukraine, had been driven from their homes during World War II, had suffered in concentration camps, and then had languished in displaced persons camps for years after the war had ended. Finally, they were given a chance to relocate to the United States and start a new life. For them, this holiday wasn’t just a chance to enjoy some time off from work and get together as a family; this was an opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for the fact that the United States is a wonderful country, and we’re lucky to be a part of it. And, although we can all find fault with different aspects of our country today, that basic truth still holds true. So, as we all celebrate the 4th in our own way this upcoming holiday weekend, I urge us all to take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in this country, and what we can do to keep the greatness going.

 

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A Gourmand Getaway

Although I’m the executive chef here at California Chef, a health-focused personal chef and meal delivery service, I understand and fully appreciate the value of an occasional decadent splurge. Eating right, exercising regularly, and making an effort to find sufficient time to just plain relax are rewarding habits that give us the best chance of maintaining overall good health. But if one does these things consistently, breaking the rules every once in a while is not a crime—in fact, it might just be considered a deserved perk for doing all the right things most of the time. I had the opportunity to enjoy just such a perk earlier this month, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about the experience.

My husband and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary on April 11th and decided to do whatever it would take this year to carve out a long weekend away from our responsibilities to enjoy the occasion. We thought it would be fun to check up on a wonderful inn and dinner spot we found almost 5 years ago in the sleepy little beach town of Cayucos on California’s central coast and see if it would live up to our wonderful memories of our first stay there.

The inn is the Cass House (www.casshouseinn.com), aptly named since it occupies the meticulously restored house built in the late 1800s by Captain James Cass, one of the founders of Cayucos. The place is absolutely charming, with 5 available rooms in the main house in addition to a lovely set of dining rooms that serve as the restaurant. The staff is genuinely warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and highly capable. In short, the inn was just as we had remembered it. Dinner, too, was an absolute delight. Chef Jensen Lorenzen uses locally sourced ingredients—including those from the beautiful vegetable and herb gardens that dot the grounds—to focus on the bountiful possibilities of the Central Coast.

Every night offers a tasting menu that highlights the best of what the season has to offer, and our menu was no exception: 14 wonderful, inventive, delicious dishes presented in picture-perfect fashion. These were paired with an array of well-chosen wines that shared the spotlight with the courses they accompanied. Now 14 courses sounds like a lot—and it is—but each was appropriately sized so that we didn’t feel ridiculously full at night’s end: full, yes, but not a wafer-thin mint shy of an embarrassing incident.

The rest of the weekend was full of taking in more of the local offerings: long walks by the ocean with plenty of spottings of sea otters, mother seals and their newborn pups, and multiple species of waterfowl; explorations of an assortment of local towns with their various mixes of shops, galleries, and restaurants; and drives along the winding roads that lead inland through the picturesque rolling hills to wine country.

All in all, we ate and drank our fill, walked a bit of it off, and took in the beautiful scenery and feel of a place not far away but completely different from home. And while at times our itinerary took some indulgent turns, we were completely at ease in the knowledge that the trip as a whole would leave us with lovely lifelong memories, punctuated by decadent choices that would do us no lasting harm.

(And, in case you’re wondering, California Chef has absolutely no affiliation with the Cass House; my husband and I never mentioned to anyone there that we’re in the food business or have an occasional blog; and we received no discount or any other consideration for writing about our experience at the inn. We just really loved our stays there, and I thought giving the information about the inn’s particulars would read better than keeping such details anonymous—and by providing this information I might help some of you find a really unique getaway spot that you might have otherwise never discovered.)

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A New Chance for New Year’s Resolutions!

If you’re anything like me, you feel like you’ve just gotten your home back “to normal” after the holidays, and BAM!!! It’s February already! February! That rude fact started me on my recurring internal discussion about how can time possibly fly by so fast—and as it does, does it earn loyalty miles? (Oops, I digress). And it was during this discussion that I made the annoying observation that I haven’t even officially made my New Year’s resolutions, let alone started fulfilling them.

But before I could get too worked up about things, I was blessed with the most perfect rationalization, courtesy of my favorite local Chinese restaurant. In this, the first week of February, the restaurant was still festooned with decorations for Chinese New Year celebrations. That’s right, the Chinese new year was only rung in on January 31st, and although I’m not Chinese, when fate hands you a juicy opportunity like this to reset your own inner calendar and expectations for 2014, you accept it oh so graciously and don’t ask too many questions. So, for me, my new year has now just begun, and I invite you to join me in tossing away any regrets you’ve already accumulated in 2014 and to begin the year afresh—today!

So if it’s been slow going with your resolutions, or you feel like you’ve already given up on them, or you never even found the time to make any that you would have liked to, just take a leap of faith and hit the reset button with me. And to help you make this go-round more successful than any in the past, I’m giving you a special bonus gift: 5 Tips to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions!

1. Choose Realistic Goals.

This might seem obvious, but many of us trip over this very first step. If you’re of a certain age and saw the recent photo of Christie Brinkley at 60 on the cover of People magazine, and then resolved to look just like her—you’ve already set yourself up for failure. If you’ve pledged to strike it rich this year, and given yourself just a year to do it in, you’ve already stacked the deck against yourself. Losing weight or making more money are both perfectly realistic goals, but becoming a supermodel (even an older one) or the next Bill Gates is a tad overly ambitious—at least in the short term. Keep your goals realistic, then take the next step.

2. Define Your Goals.

Again, if weight loss is your goal, saying that you’re going to lose weight is not enough. Take a serious, honest look at yourself and come up with an estimate of how much weight you want to lose this year. Write down that figure for yourself. If making more money is your goal, how much? What is a realistic figure to shoot for this year? Write it down. Whatever your goal is, make it concrete and measurable. This way you’ll know what your real goal is; how you’re doing along the way; and whether you’ve reached it by the end of your effort.

3. Develop Your Strategy.

So far you’ve been honing in on your goals. This is when you get to the nitty-gritty. What exactly do you need to do to reach your realistic, well-defined goals? If you’re trying to lose weight, just contact California Chef and they’ll take care of the rest. Just kidding! I didn’t come all this way just to give myself a plug. But, on the other hand, this is a real strategy. We’ll calculate your calories, measure out your proteins/carbs/healthy fats portions, make your meals to your taste specifications, and delivery them to your home. You just heat and eat.

But whether you call on us for help, or go it alone, you need a specific strategy for how you’re going to eat the correct foods in the correct quantities to meet your goal. Be sure to include a realistic exercise component as well, since this will hasten your weight loss. And come up with a schedule for all of the above.

If you’re going to make your own meals, allocate the time you’ll need to research what’s appropriate, shop for the proper ingredients, and prepare your healthy choices. Mark on your calendar or app or however you keep your schedule the exact times you’re going to exercise, whether that’s taking walks at your lunch breaks, taking classes at your fitness facility, or taking the time to burn some calories at home. Keep track of how things are going. If you find you’re not really able to get to your spin class on Tuesdays because of the new Team Meeting at work, or your lunchtime walk buddies come up with too many detours to the neighborhood cupcake shop, make some changes. Your successful strategy is not set in stone; it is a work in progress. If something is not working, make the effort to fix it. Don’t just let your goals fizzle away by not keeping track of your progress and adjusting your efforts as needed.

4. Don’t Get Discouraged by Setbacks.

The road to success is almost never a straight line. Although you should work diligently to keep to your strategy and schedule, don’t be surprised if you goof things up once in a while. You’re not perfect, and you’re likely to hit some roadblocks on your way to your goal. Don’t let this discourage you! If you stumble, figure out what tripped you up, and come up with a tweak to your strategy to avoid such a misstep in the future. Your goal is not to be perfect, but to be better. I even know people who switch calendars in February just to get themselves back on track;)

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Some—if not most—worthwhile goals are best achieved with some assistance. If you’re trying to quit smoking, tell all your smoking buddies, and ask for their assistance in keeping you on the straight and narrow if you feel yourself looking to light up. Exercising, on the other hand, is a classic positive activity that is easier to stick with if you’re doing it with someone else—or a group of someone elses. If you know so and so will be expecting you at the gym, or at walk time, or at Pilates class, you’ll be more motivated to show up—even on those occasions when you’re not looking all that forward to doing so.

And if your goal is really something so important to you that you’re willing to make the effort outlined above to achieve it, share your goal with the people in your life that matter most. During tough times, they can be there to encourage you to struggle through, and just opening up to them about why your goal is important to you and why you’re determined to achieve it will make you more accountable to the person who should really matter most to you—yourself!

 

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Super Tasty Nachos for the Super Bowl!

If at this point on Super Bowl Sunday, you haven’t come up with a strategy for your game day snack for yourself and anyone you might be watching the game with, this is your 2-minute warning! But unlike how things work in the NFL, I not only give you your 2-minute warning, I give you a great idea for your next play: Guiltless Turkey Nachos!

We make these in the kitchen, and customers and staff love them. They’re very tasty, and with the modifications we’ve made to keep them healthy, there’s no guilt involved in enjoying them. The following recipe is for a serving for 1 person, since my crystal ball is a little cloudy on not only who’s going to win today’s game but how many people are going to be watching it with you. Just multiply the recipe by the number of folks who are going to be digging in. And since it’s late in the game, you should know that, in addition to tasting great without adding weight, these nachos can be made in a snap! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist one more football reference;) Enjoy!

Guiltless Turkey Nachos: 340 Calories

1 brown rice tortilla (or whole wheat)

¼ cup pinto beans

¼ cup salsa

2 oz. cooked lean ground turkey

¼ cup 2% Mexican cheese

2 tsp. chopped cilantro

2 tsp. chopped green onion

2 tsp. chopped jalapeños

  1. Spray the tortilla w/olive oil cooking spray and cut into 8 wedges. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until crispy.
  2. Place 6 of the tortilla chips on the bottom of a plate.
  3. Spread beans on chips.
  4. Toss turkey in salsa and then spread over beans.
  5. Sprinkle cheese on top of turkey, and then top with cilantro, onions, and jalapeños.
  6. Microwave or bake in oven when ready to eat.
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A warm holiday season welcome to all of you—complete with So Cal weather Santa would feel right at home with. Well, it’s that time of year again, and in what has become something of a holiday tradition, I’m re-posting a blog I did a couple of years ago that always gets a lot of comments and thanks from readers. It’s my own little recipe for maximizing holiday cheer—while minimizing holiday regrets. I hope you find it helpful reading. Happy Holidays!

Enjoying holiday cheer is good. Repeatedly saying “Cheers” and knocking back cocktails all night long—not so much. In addition to being loaded with lots of useless calories, alcohol often leads to lousy food choices. So, limit yourself to maybe one drink at the party or family gathering, and otherwise stick to low-cal soft drinks, sparkling or still water.

Choose what you eat carefully—and then savor the flavor. At parties or get-togethers, consider choosing only those foods that are special this time of year, and skip over the items you can have any old time. Make a point of taking in the look and aroma of your special choices before digging in. Then enjoy them slowly to maximize the experience. Doing so should give you big-time enjoyment with minimal caloric intake.

Don’t forget the stocking stuffers. Don’t throw all your good eating habits out the window this time of year. As you’re hitting the buffet table, remember to grab some of those vegetables that are probably sitting next to the dip and whatever fruit might be available. Drink plenty of water too. Having these “stuffers” alongside your chosen special treats will help you feel fuller faster, leading to less overeating and weight gain.

Get enough ZZZ’s to balance out the Ho Ho Ho’s. During this hectic time, it’s key to get enough sleep. When you’re feeling run-down or tired, you might be tempted to grab some high-sugar or high-fat foods to try to give yourself an energy jolt. But the rushes that result are only temporary—the pounds hang around for considerably longer!

Give yourself the gift of understanding. The tips above should help you avoid gaining weight this holiday season, but don’t get too down on yourself if you slip up a time or two. Do your best, but acknowledge that this is just a challenging time of year for eating right. Enjoy the company of family and friends, the—perhaps—unexpected good humor of certain usually-world-weary workmates, and the sights and sounds of the season. After all, things will be back to normal all too soon.

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Ingredient Spotlight: Butternut Squash

This is the first of a series of new occasional features for this blog in which I’ll be highlighting a particular ingredient or set of ingredients that we’re using in the kitchen and share a little bit about why we use them. I’m starting with butternut squash today because we’ve definitely made the transition to autumn in the kitchen and have started to serve up this delicious seasonal squash as a nutritious vegetable option.

Part of the pumpkin family, butternut squash is a natural choice in a healthy diet for a number of reasons:  It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and is a rich source of antioxidants (the beneficial chemicals that fight off free radicals—rogue atoms that can harm cells and maybe even lead to cancer). And since butternut squash tastes so good naturally, we can prepare it in a way that showcases its flavor without diminishing its nutritious value. Great taste and great for you! That’s the kind of ingredient that deserves to be in the spotlight.

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Get Nutty With Kettle Corn!

Need a quick snack to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings? Try a crazy-fast and easy recipe I adapted from the one we use in the kitchen for Nutty Kettle Corn! At only 179 calories per serving, you’ll see why this healthy snack is a favorite at home.

  1. Follow package directions to pop 1 bag of Orville Redenbacher’s butter flavored smartpop! popcorn (94% fat free).
  2. Empty the popcorn into a bowl.
  3. Spray popcorn with PAM butter spray and toss with 1 teaspoon of zero calorie sweetener or Stevia and a dash of salt.
  4. Top with 2 teaspoons of sliced roasted almonds.

Try it out and let me know if enjoy it as much as I do!

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Chef’s Husband on a Diet—Maybe Great News Is Worth Waiting For!

OK, I definitely dropped the ball on this series of blogs, but the silver lining is that my efforts to lose weight and get in shape have not been as abysmal as my attempts to report on those efforts. Proof of that came in my yearly physical a few weeks ago, which included the usual blood tests. The results were highly encouraging. My weight has dropped to a healthy 205 lbs. from the hefty 226.5 lbs. that I reported in my first blog in this series back in February of last year. In addition, I had my best cholesterol readings of the last decade or so! Here they are.  (I’ve also included last year’s levels for comparison.)

Cholesterol Measure

2013 Level

2012 Level

Healthy Level

Ideal Level

Total Cholesterol

157

212

Below 200

Below 200

HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol

44

49

Above 40

60 or higher

LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol

94

130

100 to 129

  Below 100*

Triglycerides

93

156

Below 150

Below 100

                                                                            *For high-risk individuals, the ideal level is below 70.

The good news is that for every cholesterol reading, my current levels fall within the healthy range as defined by the American Heart Association and the majority of cardiovascular specialists. And for every measure but one, I made significant improvements over last year’s numbers. Now, I’m not reporting these figures because I think you’re really all that interested in my personal numbers; I’m reporting them to give you encouragement about your own ability to make positive changes for yourself. After all, if someone with the high-stress, long-hours , sedentary job that I have—and a proclivity for making unwise choices about dealing with same—can make some significantly positive changes to his own health profile, then you can too!

How did I do it? Well, as I mentioned in previous posts, one of my weaknesses that led to my blimping up in the first place was my enjoyment of going out and having a few drinks with dinner as often as possible. This was an easy way to wind down after a long day, and the ritual helped me feel like I was wringing out at least a little fun from the end of every day. The problem was that this habit was unhealthy—and unsustainable. I cut back gradually at first, in fits and starts, and then after the first of this year, I made a commitment to get serious and begin the real effort I had blogged about last year.

I can unabashedly say that I switched over to eating the delicious, nutritious dinners offered by California Chef’s diet meal service every weeknight (in addition to sticking w/ the California Chef breakfasts and lunches that I’d already been enjoying), and on those occasions during the weekend when I did go out, I ordered alcohol only rarely and still made the healthiest choices restaurant menus would allow. I had a hunch that the results of my new choices would, over time, bring me more happiness and satisfaction than my old strategy. And I was right!

I’m elated about my cholesterol numbers, and I don’t have to deal with the guilt that occasionally cropped up during my old meals. I still have some work to do, and I still need to somehow carve out more time for exercise, but I’ve put a firm foundation in place, and now the competitor in me wants to do whatever it takes to have my numbers at my 2014 physical blow my current ones out of the water! So, I’m going to keep up my current efforts, sprinkle in some additional ones, and fill you in every once in awhile on my progress. But, more importantly, I urge you to do the same! Make the healthy changes in your life that you’ve been putting off—whether they involve California Chef meal delivery services or not. Then write us and tell us about your success!

 

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