Archive for March, 2011


Have you noticed the abundance of gluten-free foods available at grocery stores or on menus these days? The proliferation of gluten-free products, along with the marketing of them, might lead you to believe that they are the new panacea to better health or weight loss.

So, what’s the real story? Will going on a gluten-free diet improve your health or help you lose weight? The answer is that it depends. Limiting your intake of gluten means you are cutting out many starchy, refined carbohydrates, and that in itself can help your weight and health. Eating gluten-free, however, is a must for those with celiac disease, who face real risks from ingesting gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye products. Most cereals and breads contain gluten. Examples of gluten-free grains include brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth.

What is not widely known about gluten-free products is that they still contain the same number of carbohydrates as their gluten-containing counterparts. In this regard, there is no health benefit to choosing the gluten-free versions.

For example, a typical slice of gluten-free bread contains 15 grams of total carbohydrate — the same amount as a regular slice of bread. A snack of gluten-free crackers can contain 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving, the same as regular crackers.

The seriousness of celiac disease

So why avoid gluten in the first place? For those with celiac disease, their health demands it. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease resulting in a true intolerance to gluten. If someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it causes the villi, or little hair-like projections that move food through the gut, to atrophy. This atrophy can cause bleeding, malabsorption of nutrients and other health complications.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than two million (or one in 133) people have celiac disease. However, only about 1 percent of the population has actually been diagnosed. To get an accurate diagnosis, you need a blood test and/or small bowel biopsy to determine if there is atrophy in your gut.

Gluten sensitivity — difficult to diagnose

Research shows that another 39 percent of the population may be susceptible to having celiac or gluten intolerance/sensitivity. Some experts believe gluten sensitivity exists, but no research or tests to date are available for diagnosis. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are diffuse, and can include headaches, fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition, there is a small amount of research showing that gluten is associated with some forms of inflammation in the body for those with auto-immune diseases such as diabetes or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Your body knows best

Many who go on a gluten-free diet may lose weight and feel better, but it has nothing to do with avoiding gluten. Just cutting out starchy, processed forms of carbohydrate or limiting carbohydrate intake helps with lowering insulin resistance, which leads to weight loss and improved energy.

If you have celiac disease, eating gluten-free is your only option. If you believe you have gluten sensitivity, going on a gluten-free diet is worth exploring. For the rest of us, there’s no need to follow the trends of what is currently in vogue with food manufacturers. Eating simple, unprocessed foods according to what your body can tolerate is the best way of eating.

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skinny bitch

Kaeng Raeng hosted Skinny Bitch author Kim Barnouin at a meet and greet and book signing at Natural Products ExpoWest Saturday, March 12. We had a great turnout of fans and members of the press. Thanks for stopping by! Get Kim’s newest book, Skinny Bitch: The Ultimate Everyday Cookbook!

See more pictures from the event on our Facebook page or our official Press page.

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OK, so you’re getting sick of your workout routine, and so is your body.  When you started exercising, you lost 5 pounds no problem.  Then nothing.  Hmph.

Our bodies, thanks to evolution, adjust to new patterns of behavior pretty quickly, which can lead to less than desired results with the same amount of effort.  Love to run?  Good for you – but maybe jogging on a treadmill for 20 minutes just isn’t doing the trick anymore.

It’s always a good idea to switch up your workout – add new types of cardio like swimming, biking, trail running, jump roping, dance, or kick boxing.  But maybe you don’t have the luxury of a full athletic center or a ton of time – we hear you!

An easy way to bust out of that weight loss plateau and fitness funk is to crank it up – the treadmill, that is.  Running at an incline is obviously much more difficult but requires little more than a push of a button.  You can still sweat for the same amount of time, run the same speed, and get a much harder workout without having to switch equipment.

It’s easy to understand why: Running on an incline is harder, even though your pace is slower than on a flat surface. But that extra effort is the driving force of a more efficient workout. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that uphill running activates 9 percent more muscle each stride compared with exercising at the same relative intensity on level ground.

Other benefits of using the incline:

  • By increasing the incline level on the treadmill, you will increase the number of calories burned during your workouts.
  • Incline training works the leg muscles differently and more efficiently than training on a level surface.
  • Incline training provides a great cardiovascular workout without having to increase speed.
  • The lower impact workouts on a treadmill decrease the likelihood of injury or strain to knees, hips, back, and ankles.
  • Incline workouts on a treadmill really stretch the calves and help you build long, lean calf muscles.
  • The incline feature allows for variation and helps prevent boredom during exercise sessions.

Start by warming up walking at an incline, such as a speed of 3.5 on an incline of 6.  Do that for 3 minutes.  Lower the treadmill to an incline of 1 and pick up your pace to a jog, between 4.5 – 5.5.  Stay there for 30 seconds and slowly increase your incline every 30 seconds until you’re jogging at an incline of 6.  Bring it back down and start over, only this time increase your speed to 6-7 and take it up to an incline of 10.  Stay up at a 10 incline for 30 seconds, then come back down in 30 second 1 incline increments.  You’ll be sweating in no time!

Good luck, healthy girl!

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Flax Seed is a great source of Omega 3s

You’ve probably seen “a good source of omega 3’s” imprinted on various boxes and bags around the super market and wondered “what are omega 3’s and why should I give a damn?” You may have heard that Salmon and other fresh water fish are a great source of Omega 3’s – but that’s not the only place in nature where you can get this amazing nutrient. There are plenty of vegan sources of Omega 3’s including spirulina (algae), nuts, flax, and vegetables.

Omega 3’s come from a family of unsaturated fatty acids.  Even the healthiest diets need a moderate amount of healthy fats, and omega 3’s are crucial to healthy, sustainable living.  They’re considered “essential” fats – Essential fats are so defined as they are vital for, but cannot be made by, the human body. Only plants can make the vital omega 3 and 6 parent fatty acids, human enzymes can then convert these to other fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are building blocks of the brain and nervous system.  They are needed for the integrity of every cell membrane in the body so particulalry important for the health of vital organs such as the heart and brain.

Omega 3’s are found in foods including walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and coldwater fish such as herring, mackerel, sturgeon, and anchovies.  Fish contain omega 3’s because they eat microalgae that contains omega 3’s. Other vegan sources of omega-3s include canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, grape leaves, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, spirulina, and walnuts.

The omega 3 parent fatty acid is called alpha linolenic acid (LNA or ALA) and comes from vegan seeds such as flax, hemp and pumpkin, from nuts such as walnuts, and to a lesser extent from soya and green vegetables.  Through a series of enzyme-controlled reactions the human body converts this LNA into a number of vital fatty acids including EPA and DHA. Among their many roles EPA is needed for brain function, concentration, and vision, and is also converted into a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. DHA is needed as a building material , particularly for brain structure and so is especially important in pregnancy for the baby’s brain and nervous system development.

Additionally, the benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease.

Just how do omega-3s perform so many health “miracles” in people? One way, experts say, is by encouraging the production of body chemicals that help control inflammation — in the joints, the bloodstream, and the tissues.

But even as important is their ability to reduce the negative impact of yet another essential type of fatty acid known as omega-6s. Found in foods such as eggs, poultry, cereals, vegetable oils, baked goods, and margarine, omega-6s are also considered essential. They support skin health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood “sticky” so it is able to clot. But when omega-6s aren’t balanced with sufficient amounts of omega-3s, problems can ensue.  In general, Americans eat too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.

You can replace some omega-6s from cooking oils with a third fatty acid known as omega-9 (oleonic acid). This is a monounsaturated fat found primarily in olive oil.

Think you can get all of your omega 3’s through fish oil supplements?  Think again.  There are other healthy components of whole foods containing Omega 3’s that make it better for your body and soul – flax, for example, is heavy in fiber which helps lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugars, and improve digestion.  Fish oil supplements also aren’t vegan and are just as prone to toxins and chemicals in fish and water supply as eating fish themselves.

If you have diabetes, including more omega-3s in your diabetic meal planner can reduce your risk of certain diabetic complications, as well as:

  • Decrease insulin resistance
  • Improve mood and lower rates of depression
  • Improve symptoms of inflammatory diseases, like asthma and lupus
  • Reduce apoproteins, cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Reduce risk of heart attack
  • Reduce risk of macular degeneration
  • Reduce risk of some types of cancer
  • Reduce risk of stroke.

Add some Omega 3’s to your diet today!

Good luck, healthy girl!

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Drop a Size in 4 Weeks

We know you love walking– and we do too! It’s one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep your waistline in check. But when you’re short on time (and who isn’t?) or stuck on a plateau, running is another do-anywhere, no-equipment-required alternative that ramps up weight loss.

Adding even a few minutes into your walks can build stronger bones and cut your exercise time nearly in half: Minute for minute, running burns about twice as many calories as walking.

THE EXPERTS: Danny Dreyer, the author of Chi Running who specializes in teaching beginners how to run pain free, created the walk/run plan. Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and author of Fitness After 40, designed the strength/stretching workout.


WHAT YOU NEED: Running shoes. While it’s fine to walk in running shoes, it’s not safe to run in walking ones since they’re designed to absorb less impact.

3 DAYS A WEEK: Do run/walk intervals (see chart, right) and Run Strong stretches (B moves only).


Do 30 to 60 minutes of any low-impact cardio (such as walking, biking, or swimming), plus the Run Strong toning moves and stretches (A and B moves).

CUSTOMIZE YOUR WORKOUT: Don’t want to run full-time? Stop at whatever week feels good to you. To step it up after week 8, add 5 minutes a week until you reach 60 minutes.


Good form and technique reduce strain and help your body absorb shock for a pain-free workout. Focus on one tip below each time you run.


Keep shoulders back and down, chest lifted, abs tight. Lean entire body slightly forward from ankles (don’t bend at the waist), allowing gravity to gently pull you forward.


Look out ahead, rather than at the ground. Keeping your gaze up makes walking and running easier.


Clenching your fists can send tension up your wrists and arms; loosen up by pretending to cup something fragile, like a potato chip or butterfly.


In the final seconds of each walking interval, pick up your pace so when you switch to running, it feels easier than if you tried to walk any faster.


Unlike walking, striking the ground with your heel when you run puts on the brakes. Aim to come down with the middle of your foot landing under you, then roll through smoothly.


Protect knees and absorb shock better by maintaining a short stride and keeping a slight bend in your knee as you land.


Instead of pushing into the ground, which can fatigue muscles, focus on keeping legs relaxed and lifting feet up.

Run Strong and Slim Down Faster

Strengthening and stretching your hips, butt, and abs can help you speed up, burn more fat, and stave off injuries. Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps of each toning move (A) per side, 3 times a week. Hold stretches (B) for 30 seconds per side. Do stretches alone after run/walk workouts.

1A One-Legged SquatTones thighs and improves knee function

Balance on left leg, right foot lifted a few inches off ground in front, arms outstretched. Keeping back straight, slowly bend left knee to sit back 2 to 3 inches. Press into left heel to stand.

1B Hamstring Stretch

Plant left heel on ground in front of you, leg straight, toes up. With weight on right leg, hinge forward from hips, and sit back to stretch back of left leg.

2A Lift And Press

Tones hips and butt for strength and speed

Stand 3 to 4 feet away from a tree or wall. Keeping legs straight, lean forward and place palms on tree at chest height. (If you don’t feel your calves stretch, walk feet back a few inches and press heels down.) Pull right knee toward chest, then press leg behind you, pushing back and up through right heel and squeezing glutes.

2B Calf Stretch

Place right foot closer to tree, right knee bent, left leg back and straight. Press hips forward until you feel a stretch in back of lower left leg.

3A Hip Dip

Tones abs and butt and improves pelvis alignment

Stand with right foot on a step, left one off, hips level. Stick right hip out to side, lowering left hip, leg, and foot a few inches; squeeze abs and butt to draw back up to level.

3B Side Stretch

Standing on level ground, cross left leg in front of right, both feet flat, hands on hips. Reach right arm overhead, and bend body to left, pushing hips slightly to right to feel a stretch along right side of your body.

4A Plank

Tones core muscles to ensure good posture

Lie facedown on a mat, upper body propped on forearms with elbows directly beneath shoulders and toes tucked. Lift hips so body forms a straight line and you’re balancing on forearms and toes. Hold for 30 seconds. Do twice.

4B Back Stretch

From plank position, lower knees to ground, untuck toes, and sit back on heels with arms reaching forward to stretch your torso, arms, and back.

5A Side Leg Lift

Tones outer thighs and butt to protect knees

Lie on right side, top leg extended with foot flexed, bottom one bent behind you for balance. Bend right elbow and support head with hand. Squeeze left glute and outer thigh to raise left leg 1 to 2 feet. Pause; slowly lower to start.

5B Thigh Stretch

Lying on right side with legs stacked, bend left leg and grasp shin or forefoot with hand. Keeping left knee over right one, gently pull foot toward butt until you feel a stretch in the front of left thigh.

Good luck, healthy girl!

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Coconut-oil-roasted sweet potatoes; the oil enhances their caramelized flavor.

A FEW years ago I noticed something odd at the health food store. There, rubbing elbows with the extra-virgin olive oil and cold-pressed canola oil was virtually the last fat I expected to see in such esteemed company: coconut oil.

The last time I checked, coconut oil was supposed to be the devil himself in liquid form, with more poisonous artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack-causing saturated fat than butter, lard or beef tallow.

Its bad reputation caused a panic at the concession stands back in 1994, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest put out a study claiming that a large movie-theater popcorn, hold the butter, delivered as much saturated fat as six Big Macs. “Theater popcorn ought to be the Snow White of snack foods, but it’s been turned into Godzilla by being popped in highly saturated coconut oil,” Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the center, a consumer group that focuses on food and nutrition, said at the time.

So given all this greasy baggage, what was coconut oil doing in a health food store? In fact, it has recently become the darling of the natural-foods world. Annual sales growth at Whole Foods “has been in the high double digits for the last five years,” said Errol Schweizer, the chain’s global senior grocery coordinator.

Two groups have helped give coconut oil its sparkly new makeover. One is made up of scientists, many of whom are backtracking on the worst accusations against coconut oil. And the other is the growing number of vegans, who rely on it as a sweet vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature and can create flaky pie crusts, crumbly scones and fluffy cupcake icings, all without butter.

My curiosity stirred, I brought some home and experimented. I quickly learned that virgin coconut oil has a haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor. It’s even milder and richer tasting than butter, sweeter and lighter textured than lard, and without any of the bitterness you sometimes get in olive oil.

Its natural sweetness shines in baked goods and sautés, and is particularly wonderful paired with bitter greens, which soften and mellow under the oil’s gentle touch. And the saturated fat in coconut oil makes it a good choice in pastries, whether you avoid animal fats or simply want to pack a little more coconut flavor into that coconut cream pie.

But before I get to the cupcakes, let’s start with the science.

According to Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University who has extensively reviewed the literature on coconut oil, a considerable part of its stigma can be traced to one major factor.

“Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data,” Dr. Brenna said. “Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of a health risk perspective. And maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all.”

Partial hydrogenation creates dreaded trans fats. It also destroys many of the good essential fatty acids, antioxidants and other positive components present in virgin coconut oil. And while it’s true that most of the fats in virgin coconut oil are saturated, opinions are changing on whether saturated fats are the arterial villains they were made out to be. “I think we in the nutrition field are beginning to say that saturated fats are not so bad, and the evidence that said they were is not so strong,” Dr. Brenna said.

Plus, it turns out, not all saturated fats are created equal.

Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”

The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.

She went on to say that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams.

Any number of health claims have been made for lauric acid. According to proponents, it’s a wonder substance with possible antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties that could also, in theory, combat H.I.V., clear up acne and speed up your metabolism. Researchers are skeptical.

“There are a lot of claims that coconut oil may have health benefits, but there is no concrete scientific data yet to support this,” said Dr. Daniel Hwang, a research molecular biologist specializing in lauric acid at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis.

But, he added, “Coconut is good food, in moderation.”

It seems safe to say that if I eat it just once in a while, coconut oil probably isn’t going to give me a heart attack, make me thinner or ward off the flu. What I really wanted to know was, how can I cook with it?

This is where the vegan cupcakes come in. Coconut oil can be whipped into a buttercream-like fluffiness while retaining its gentle vanilla flavor.

Elizabeth Schuler, who writes the blog mycommunaltable.com, started baking with coconut oil after her son’s severe allergies to tree nuts, eggs and dairy were diagnosed. She searched out vegan recipes and was surprised by the number that relied on margarine and Crisco, a no-go as far as she was concerned.

“I try to keep a nonprocessed-foods home,” she said.

Then she discovered coconut oil at her local Whole Foods. When her own research led her to conclude that eating it in small amounts is O.K., she started baking cakes and whipping up icings with it. She also uses the oil any time she wants to add a mellow coconut flavor to a dish.

Allison Beck, a natural foods enthusiast, and a blogger and editor at thedailymeal.com, fell in love with coconut oil when she saw it used in a Thomas Keller recipe for a chocolate ice cream topping that had a texture nearly identical to that of the commercial product Magic Shell (which also contains coconut oil), but a far richer, more fudgy flavor.

“That sauce is incredible,” Ms. Beck said. “You pour it on ice cream and it hardens immediately.”

She also mixes virgin coconut oil in oatmeal for creaminess and flavor, uses it to sauté greens, and has successfully played around with it in brownies and banana bread.

“It’s amazing in pastry,” said Michele Forbes, the chef at Angelica Kitchen, a venerable vegan restaurant in the East Village. In pies, “it gives a nice flaky crust that stays crisp without being bad for you.”

In my flurry of experimenting, I found that virgin coconut oil had a deep coconut flavor that persists even after cooking. Refined coconut oil, which has been processed enough to raise the temperature at which it begins to smoke, lacks the same coconut profundity, but supposedly works better for stir- and deep-frying. In my recipe testing, however, the smoke point of virgin coconut oil was not a problem.

Melted and cooled, virgin coconut oil worked beautifully in my favorite olive oil poundcake, yielding a loaf with a tight, golden crumb and gentle coconut fragrance that I enhanced with lime zest, almonds and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

I also like coconut oil for sautéing vegetables and aromatics, especially onions. They absorb the sweetness of the oil and pass that lovely nuance on to the whole dish. In one memorable meal, I sautéed scallions in coconut oil, which managed to perfume an entire pan of plump, juicy shrimp spiked with garlic, ginger and coriander.

And I may never go back to olive oil for roasting sweet potatoes, not when coconut oil enhanced their caramelized flavor while adding a delicate coconut essence.

But my favorite new way to use coconut oil is for popcorn. The oil brings out the nutty sweetness of the corn itself while adding a rich creamy sensation, without having to pour melted butter on the top. Of course, the movie theaters knew it all along.

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