Monday, June 13, 2011

Go Healthy. Go Asian!

The key to eating real Chinese food is don't ask what it is.

Catherine Roberts

Go Healthy. Go Asian!

By Cecilia H. Lee

Asia is a huge continent. Lucky for all of us, this means a plethora of ingredients with a wide variety of delicious tastes. The distinctive seasonings, herbs, and spices used in everything from Chinese stir-frys to Vietnamese spring rolls means not having to rely on high fat and high sodium for flavor.

Asian diets are considered among the healthiest in the world. That's why people who live on the Asian continent have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems than their American counterparts.

Asian Stir-Fry

The main component of a typical Asian meal is usually rice or noodles—with plenty of soy, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds as protein sources. Meat, poultry, and eggs are used more sparingly; they're generally not the focus of the meal, which is rounded out by a generous amount of fruits and vegetables.

Whether sweet, sour, spicy, or savory, bring the flavors of Asia into your kitchen for a palate-pleasing meal.

Herbs and Spices

Curry-lovers will appreciate that turmeric (the beautiful yellow spice that gives many curry dishes their color and flavor) isn't just delicious—it also purportedly has healing properties. Turmeric is said to be good for your digestion, your heart, and perhaps even your brain. Many of the other spices used in Asian cooking—like cumin, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom—are also claimed to have health benefits. Ginger and garlic are wonderful antioxidants. So feel free to add generous amounts of these seasonings to your dishes.


It's simple to add Asian flavors to your salads. Sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds go a long way toward adding a bit of nuttiness to your dressings. Round things out with some rice wine vinegar and some low-sodium soy sauce and toss with your favorite lettuce mix, snow peas, water chestnuts, chunks of papaya and mango, some grilledchicken—whatever suits your fancy. There are endless flavor combinations to give your salads a taste of the Orient.


Stir Fry in a WokYou may be thinking about those grease-laden fried dishes found at Chinese fast-food restaurants. Instead, what I'm talking about are crisp, colorful vegetables flash-cooked in a nonstick wok or frying pan. The nonstick surface requires very little oil, making this a great way to cook your seasonal vegetables and lean meats. First, preheat your wok over high heat, then add some ginger, garlic, and onions or shallots. Next, cook your meat or seafood. Then toss in vegetables like carrots, eggplant, or zucchini, followed by faster-cooking vegetables like spinach, leeks, mushrooms, or cabbage. To finish, toss everything with a bit of soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce, sesame oil, or whatever flavoring you want to add.

Soy and Tofu

Soy is a major source of protein in the healthy, low-fat Asian diet. Foods like tofu, tempeh, or edamame (whole soy beans) contain isoflavones, which have been shown in some studies to help stop regular cells from mutating into cancer cells. Foods that contain soy may also help lower cholesterol and are a great source of iron. More and more soy products are being introduced into the market, but just eating plain tofu (which takes on the flavors of any sauce it's cooked in) or tossing a handful of edamame into your stir-frys can be a great way to start putting more soy into your life.


NoodlesThe beauty of Asian noodles is that there are so many varieties available. There are wheat-based noodles like udon, which are wonderful in soup on a cold day. Soba noodles, made of buckwheat, are rich in protein and can be eaten hot or cold, in soup or even on top of a salad. And glass or rice noodles, though high in starch, can be the basis of a low-fat meal. Just stay away from fried noodles, ramen, and those instant noodle packs and cups, which are high in sodium and fat and loaded with MSG (monosodium glutamate).


It's not just the foods most Asians eat that make for good health; even the beverages they drink on a daily basis—often tons of green or black tea—can be healthy too. Teas can help lower cholesterol and act as a mild diuretic, which helps flush the body of toxins and free radicals that can cause heart disease. Green tea is also said by some to have cancer-fighting properties, as well as helping you maintain good breath to boot. Plus, like black tea, it's an antioxidant. So drink up!


Although you may not think "dessert" when you think of Asian food, there are so many great ways to add a delicious finale to your meal. Grill some pineapple rings or spears, or slice some mangoes and serve them with a bit of sticky rice covered in coconut milk. If you have an ice cream maker or even just a freezer, simple sorbets of ginger or lychee are easy to whip up. Any of these choices, or some simple poached pears with a small scoop of green tea ice cream, can provide a flavorful finish to your healthy Asian dinner.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Delicious and Healthy Mexican Food

If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?

Stephen Wright

Back to top.

Delicious and Healthy Mexican Food

By Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Overstuffed burritos, deep-fried chimichangas, and greasy enchiladas smothered in cheese are prominently featured on the menus of most Mexican restaurants in the United States. In reality, however, genuine Mexican cuisine is very different. Colorful vegetables, flavorful salsas, grilled seafood, whole grains, and a variety of beans make up the backbone of the authentic Mexican diet.

Mexican Food

Here are some ways to incorporate the bountiful variety of flavors of Mexican cuisine into your diet, in a way that's designed to help you lose weight and maintain good nutrition.

Avoid fat and fried foods. Some common Mexican dishes like refried beans are traditionally made with lard. Eating your pinto beans whole (instead of mashed and refried) and simmering them in water or broth (instead of lard), or replacing the lard with minimal amounts of olive oil, can make a huge difference. It may be hard to resist the basket of fried tortilla chips that appears (and keep magically refilling) on your Mexican restaurant table. However, you can ask for baked tortilla chips or whole-corn tortillas to dip into your salsa instead.

It's also really easy to make your own baked tortilla chips at home. Just cut up corn tortillas into triangular wedges. Lay them out on a baking sheet and spray with a bit of olive oil cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven until crispy for just 12 to 15 minutes, flipping once so both sides crisp evenly.

Choose whole grains. Either corn or whole wheat flour tortillas can be the foundation for a delicious Mexican fiesta. They have less fat, fewer calories, and more fiber than their white-flour cousins. Choosing 6-inch tortillas over 10-inch ones can also help you with portion control.

Beans and Rice WrapEmbrace rice and beans. There's a reason why rice and beans are the other staples of Mexican diets. Black, pinto, and kidney beans are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As previously mentioned, whole beans simmered in water or broth instead of refried are also naturally low in calories.

To cook Mexican rice at home with little or no fat, sauté some chopped onions, garlic, and a bit of jalapeño (if you want that extra heat) in a pan with just a bit of olive oil. Add uncooked rice and sauté a bit longer. Add some low-fat chicken or vegetable broth and chopped fresh tomatoes and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked through and fluffy, about 20 minutes. Voilá! Delicious and nutritious rice that's convenient and easy to make. Use brown rice instead of white for whole-grain goodness.

Go with fish—and make it grilled. Along the coastal towns and fishing villages of Mexico and Baja, people eat healthy seafood fresh from the sea. We can embrace that sunny, relaxed lifestyle by eating tacos filled with tasty fish that's grilled (not fried), enjoying ceviche prepared with plenty of lemon or lime juice, or baking a tilapia fillet topped with spices.

Get spicy. Speaking of spices, Mexican cuisine has yet another bonus: It's full of some truly delightful spices and other flavorings, which can help you avoid adding extra salt to your diet. Although your typical Mexican restaurant meal may be loaded with sodium, you don't have to eat that way for a flavorful south-of-the-border-inspired meal. The staples of Mexican cooking include chili powder, oregano, cumin, cilantro, and chili peppers. And remember that hot peppers are a super metabolism booster. Even if you have a delicate palate, you can turn down the heat while still getting the benefits of these peppers by removing the seeds and veins, where most of the heat lives. Lime juice, another staple in addingauthentíco flavors, is another great way of enhancing flavor without upping the sodium content.

VegetablesSample a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Mexico is blessed with some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables in the world. Tropical fruits like papayas and guavas, as well as a variety of peppers and squashes, grow abundantly in the hot, sunny climate.

A typical Mexican street-cart food is often just a bunch of fruits (like mangos, pineapples, papayas, watermelon, or honeydew) and vegetables (including cucumbers and jicama) that have been sliced and seasoned with lime juice and chili powder. You can easily prepare this dish yourself for a delicious and nutritious afternoon snack, at home, at work, or for a road trip.

Don't forget salsas and salads. Let's not forget the soul of Mexican cuisine—salsa! There's a seemingly endless variety of salsas that can be made from tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, onions, peppers, limes, and more. The more colorful the salsa, the more nutritious it'll be. The good news is that freshly made salsa is good for you, so you can pile as much as you want on your tortillas, grilled fish, or salad.

And an easy way to make a nice Mexican salad is to get a bowl of mixed greens and toss in some corn, cooked black beans, and a few chopped avocados (but don't overdo it, since avocados, while nutritious, are high in calories), then top everything with a generous serving of your favorite salsa. If you like, add some slices of grilled chicken or a few grilled shrimp. There you have it—lunch!