People in the News: Mark Bittman

Note:  a portion of the following post is taken from an article found in Runner's World magazine, October 2009 issue, pg. 62-69).

So, in light of this blog's goal to share and inspire a healthier, more wholesome lifestyle I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite people-of-inspiration: longtime runner and author Mark Bittman.

Here's Mark (doesn't he look like a nice guy?  I'd have a meal with him.):

Here's Mark in his kitchen, and I bet YOU thought you had a small kitch.  This makes me appreciate mine all-the-more:

Mark recently wrote a fabulous article, entitled "Simply Good" for Runner's World magazine, in which he explains why he eats the way he does, and why everyone else should too.  I agree wholeheartedly with all of his arguments, so why not convince you as well? 

I'm fixin' to do a lot of convincing on this blog, so be prepared.

Mark is the author of How to Cook Everything and Food Matters.  Within his article he gives a bit of food for thought, if you will.  Since these rules are ones I adhere to daily, I thought it best to share them with you. 

Mark Bittman's Rules for Healthy Eating:

[1] Eat what you like, but think about proportion
I love what Mark says about this, he writes, "Don't fall into the trap of thinking about foods as 'good' or 'bad'--nothing is evil, or is going to hurt you in moderate proportions, similarly no one food is going to save you."  This is huge.  Now, I tend to run along the line of thinking there are certain "bad" and "good" foods; however, there are also foods I won't touch with a ten foot pole simply because they are "bad." For example, hot dogs--I mean, really, gross and more gross.  I can't stand them.  Hot dogs aren't simply in the category of "bad" foods for me, they are in the "never ever, ever, ever, even if I'm starving" realm.  I simply don't enjoy them.  On the other hand there are foods I enjoy (ice cream, hello?!) that are often deemed "bad" in the healthy realm.  My character does not contain the willpower to ever give up ice cream so I just eat it in serious moderation.  To be honest, I maybe have a spoonful each night depending on how much refined sugar I've had that day (I DO limit myself in this area because the more sugar I have, the more I want thus creating a horrid downward cycle that could plunge me head-first into the black hole of no restraint.  I steer clear of this bottomless pit as best I can.

Anyway, onward forth.

[2] Think plants first
"You cannot go wrong relying on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans.  In general they contain far fewer calories per ounce than anything else...[and surprisingly] contain more protein per calorie than animal products."  This is a principle I live day-in, day-out.  Not because I like to adhere to rules (I am actually the worst rule-adherer on the planet, I tend to shy away from bottom-lines).  I live this rule simply because I love, love, love vegetables.  As I've said previously, I could be a vegetarian except for the minor issue of pork.  I adore pork.

But I digress.

Back to plants. Truly, I haven't met a veggie I don't like.  Recently, I revisited the brussels sprout.  Yes, this lonely little cabbage has the worst of ill-reputations.  But being a girl of second chances, I decided to give them another go-around because, like most, the brussels sprout of my youth left me, literally, with a bad taste in my mouth.  Last week I roasted a pound of these little guys, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  The result?  Absolutely wonderful.

I ate them for breakfast the next morning.

Yes, truly.  I am a woman of no boundaries.  Brussels sprouts for breakfast, you say?  I say, absolutely yes.  In fact, yes, please!  The number and variety of vegetables is never-ending.  You could quite possibly eat a different variety ever day for a year and never brush the surface.  I met vegetables I had never seen, nor heard of in China and Africa.  I can only imagine how many I have yet to encounter.  It makes my toes just tingle to think of it.   

[3] Start shopping and start cooking
"It's impossible to eat well if you don't shop; it's nearly impossible to eat well if you don't cook."  This is foundational.  You can't become healthier if you don't at least cook some of your own meals.  Even if you hire a personal chef who makes everything for you, you still have to become aware and educated of the proper techniques and items being used.  And in truth, the vast majority of us can't afford a personal chef so making your own meals, and buying the ingredients yourself is the biggest step you can take in terms of a healthier lifestyle.  Sites like mine and many others can help you achieve this hurdle (though it really isn't a "hurdle").  Just take my hand, we can walk together.  I'm a good walker, I'm nice, and I won't bite; three very good qualities, indeed.

[4] Buy and make extra
Making extra is the biggest and best time-saver when you're in any way strapped for time (and I know most of us are).  Thus, making meals that are easily frozen and re-heated is key.  I make a good deal of stir frys, stews, soups, casseroles, and lasagnas.  AND, and, and, did you know that if you freeze bread dough after the first rising, you can pull in out one morning, let it rise all day, and ta-da!  Fresh bread in the evening with little-to-no fuss.  It's a fabulous way to have fresh pizza dough ready for the evening meal.  I do it quite often, and my husband loves it.  Quick, easy, and homemade.  What could be better?  Often, too, certain soups are far better when they sit for a while.  The flavors marry and become condensed.  I enjoy a good hearty soup any time of year; with a hunk of fresh artisan bread, it's a meal for a queen.  Or king.  Whatever. 

[5] Don't set goals you can't reach
"Set realistic targets"  This is HUGE.  Honestly, as Americans we want quick, fast, and easy results.  If you're in for a quick-fix, this isn't the site for you.  Nothing is quick and easy.  If you want to lose a bunch of weight, then starve yourself and work out for hours on end but your body wont thank you for it.  In the long run, gradual changes breed longer results.  No pill, no diet (minor tangent: I hate that word, "diet," diets are temporary, and the first three letters are "die" which is what you feel like you want to do while on it.  I don't think highly of diets, so don't even breathe the word around me.  If you want to say something that will get my attention, use "healthier lifestyle."  This blog is not in any way synonymous with temporary changes.  However, if you want to make a life change, you are in the right place) will enable permanent results.  You need to change your mindset befor eyou change your habits.  Haven't you seen the show Biggest Loser?  Sure, they change the way they eat and exercise a bit more, but most of those folks had psychological hurdles they had to correct first.  After those were cleared, they made lifestyle changes.  So yes, don't be unrealistic about goals, just make small changes, slowly and you will not only be more successful--but you will have a better outlook on what healthy means (and less likely to fall back on former pitfalls).

[6] Ultimately, animal products are treats or side dishes
"Meat is flavorful so use it as a seasoning rather than the anchor of your meal."
Use bacon to flavor a stew with beans rather than eating three slices at breakfast.  Add small chunks of meat to sauces, stews, and stir frys instead of a huge slab of meat with a side of green beans.  Try going "vegetarian" a few nights a week by making a cheese pizza or having stuffed veggie & cheese ravioli (stay tuned for this meal in coming attractions).  It really is quite easy to do.  If I can get my meat-and-potatoes husband to do it, you can too.  Trust me.

[7] Don't worry (too much) about nutrients
Many "healthy" people can get bogged down by the details, and as Americans we are bombarded with fads that promote good health.  For example, how many things at the grocery store are now labeled "whole-grain!" or "all-natural!" or have "extra fiber!"  Most of the time, this is just a marketing ploy--yet, we all fall for it.  I have.  A good rule of thumb is to cook your own meals, using whole foods (not prepackaged, boxed, or canned), and flavor them with herbs/spices/fresh pepper/lemon juice/wine, etc.  No need to buy seasoning packets or frozen-with-sauce-packet-included dinners.  You can do it!  That's why this blog exists.
[8] Don't confuse energy bars with real food
I have SO done this in years past, especially when training for a race or working out heavily.  I've also seen many-a-guy-friend load up on protein shakes and powders.  Too much of anything is bad news, including protein--which is also why I can't stand the low-carb diet, but we wont go there.  In addition, most energy bars have a boat-load of calories and taste like cardboard.  They also won't provide you with all the energy you need, or can receive, from more wholesome foods. 

Items To Have in Your Pantry at all times:
Because, as Mark says, "you can't cook and eat good food without a well-stocked kitchen" here are the items that should be on-hand to ensure flavorful and healthful meals.

Grains & Seeds
I always have both quick oats & old fashioned oats on hand for making granola, adding to meatloaf, or making healthier bars/cookies.  I also keep 7-grain hot cereal mixes for making muffins or pancakes.  Another item I always, always, always have is milled flaxseed, adding it to yogurt in the morning, breads, meatloaf, cookies, brownies, whatever.  It's an easy way to include healthy fats and Omega 3's.

I've always liked a good chili or baked beans, however legumes took on new meaning for me while overseas.  In China, I grew quite fond of the mung bean, of which you can find everywhere--they even make mung bean ice cream, for crying out loud (and I liked it, so I can't make fun).  In Africa, nearly ever tribe I visited utilized a variety similar to a cross between the red & kidney bean.  They made a great stew by soaking these beans all night, then simmering them all day with chopped onion, oil, and a bit of local seasonings.  The result was utterly divine.  We ate the dish with a flatbread of sorts, called chapati.  Very good, very filling.  Beans are an easy and great way to get protein & fiber, are extremely filling, and help the absorption of many other nutrients (so are good eaten with other fruits/veggies/whole grains).  Beans haven't always had the best track-record with most, but they are right at the top of my daily foods.  You can add them to just about anything, even mash them up and include them in a meatloaf or in bread dough for a protein-boost.  They are a must in the pantry.

Olive Oil & Real Butter (not margarine!)

-I use olive oil & butter ALL the time and steer clear of other processed oils/spreads.  Some other oils to have on hand include:  sesame, peanut (great for frying as it can be heated to high temps without splattering), corn, or walnut.  Olive is also great for drizzling over salad or tomatoes.  Butter (in small amounts) really ups the ante in soups, stews, and baked goods.  I will often use a combo of butter & olive oil for sauteing veggies or making omelets.  Please don't use those spray dressings or spray butter.  Really.  It's not "healthier" for you in any just adds artifical ingredients to your body, and makes you feel like you can use more because you are being "good."  Just use less of the real thing, your body (and tastebuds) will thank you for it. 

Long keeping veggies & fruits
- Carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, onions, apples, lemons, and limes keep for a decent length of time; frozen veggies are good too.  Stay away from canned, which often have added sodium and preservatives (and zero fiber).  When eating produce, try to eat it in it's most natural form--e.g. raw or as a quick saute.  Don't overcook, you lose nutrients and flavor.

Fresh herbs

-Summer: rosemary, basil, dill; always available: cilantro, parsley.  Fresh herbs add incredible flavor and I often use them instead of added salt.  Once I used fresh for the first time I had a difficult time going back to the dried variety.  However, dried is perfectly fine as long as you use it within a few months.  Herbs that have been sitting on the shelf for eons don't add anything to your dish--except to maybe make it taste a bit more stale or enable a few flecks of what looks like an herb.  Not worth it, just use 'em or lose 'em.

-Spices keep a bit longer than herbs and are great for baking.  I often don't buy fresh spices because of their good shelf-life.  Although freshly ground nutmeg is out-of-this-world.  So is a good vanilla bean pod.  But really, using the dried variety is just fine.

-Balsamic for a quick salad dressing, apple cider, rice and wine vinegars for an added "umph" in dishes.  I adore balsamic and use it on salads all the time.  Apple cider I use when making barbeque sauce, red wine vinegar is great for dressings.  And, when-needed, vinegar is a great cleaner for various things (I use it to clean my coffeepot).
-Soy, worcestershire, hot sauce--great for adding to dishes

Good cheeses
-Parmesan, goat, sharp cheddar, Roquefort; please don't buy pre-shredded unless you have to!  I often resort to it when I need it quickly and in large quantities but it never really measures up.

Dried fruits and nuts
-Always fabulous to add to oatmeal/granolas, baked goods, or to have around for a quick snack (or topping a salad).  Much healthier than any other snacks!

-Always handy, always delicious.  I buy brown, free-range eggs from a local farmer but really any kind you buy is fine.  They are a great source of easily-digested protein.

Good bacon
-I like Archer Farms brand from Super Target.  Though it's pricier to buy the non-processed variety, a little goes a long way when flavoring various dishes, and it can be stored in the freezer.

Canned tomatoes
 Perfect for flavoring sauces, soups, or making a quick side dish.  Tomatoes are the only veggie I eat canned because they retain the lycopene content far better when preserved.  Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that has been known to improve eye-function and combat free-radicals.

-Honey & molasses or agave nectar are great, natural alternatives to have on hand or to use as substitutes when baking.

Wine & Stocks
-Red & white wine are perfect for upping the ante and flavor of sauces, as well as good chicken or beef stock/broth for soups, stews and sauces.  I always have wine on hand for drinking as well--it's a perfect complement to a meal (and a small glass of red wine is good for optimum heart health).

Those are just a few (or rather, quite a few) healthy tidbits of knowledge I stick by.  You, however, may have other things you keep on hand for your own healthy cooking--and that's great!  Feel free to share if you have anything to add, I'm always up for adding new things to my palate!

Happy eating...


Nicole said...

Abbie, this blog makes me excited to try new things! And it makes me wish I could take cooking your kitchen. :-) First up: homemade bread, which is fairly ambitious for a girl who has yet to master the art of coffee...

Kelsey said...

Thanks Ab..Sweet fact on the canned tomatoes. I usually dread going to the grocery store, but now I'm kind of excited to put this gained knowledge to the test. Hope you're having fun in New York!

Abbie said...

I hope it inspires you, it makes me excited to be a part of other peoples' kitchens--and you are welcome in mine any time! Coffee is extremely hard to perfect, by the way, I get it wrong once a week. It seems that different coffee makers and different varieties of coffee taste different when brewed. I don't fault you on that one!

~*~*~*~*~*~ said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. After becoming a Mom (my turning point to eating better) and taking responsibility for my nutrition and that of my family I totally agree with everything you've said and can't wait to see what you add. And Mark Bittman is awesome... I have How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and his eggplant recipes are my favorites... who knew eggplant could taste good?

Alli said...

Mmm, just reading about your pantry makes me hungry! :) I second you on the beans - so tasty and versatile. Also love lentils. And the herb I can't live without? Mint. Strange as it may sound, mint adds the perfect oomph to any salad, to a variety of grain dishes, and even to some meat recipies! Meat is a new territory for me since leaving the realm of vegetarianism upon moving to Georgia, so my recipies (and my squeamishness handling it) are slowly improving.

Matt, Rebekah, Micah, and DeWayne said...

Hey Abbie,
You said a little something about oatmeal in your meatloaf? Can you share with me some of your meatloaf recipes? I don't use any red meat, besides pork tenderloin, so I use ground turkey in my meatloaf. I'm loving your blog, keep it up. Any tips on cheap meals are appreciated as well! :) Rebekah

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