Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Nutrish and Delish: Easy Fish Stew Supper with Low-fat Cornbread

If you want something easy, economical, and incredibly healthy and delicious -- think FISH. The beauty of fish stew is that you can make it all upmarket and fancy and use FRESH FISH (whatever you fancy, but a mix of some white type of fish and shrimp/prawns are basic, in my opinion) and HERBS (again, to taste --rosemary, thyme, parsley are good ones) and GARDEN-RAISED VEGETABLES (tomatoes, zucchini/courgette, carrots, fennel, celery) OR you can use frozen fish, supermarket veggies,even canned and frozen vegetables, and dried herbs and you will get similar results -- tasty and filling, YET healthy! Here's my quick recipe, but you can use whatever fish, herbs, and vegetables you want and/or have on hand/can afford:

Fish Stew


2 large washed, unpeeled carrots, chopped -- large or small chunks, as you like
2 celery stalks, plus inner leaves chopped
1 large onion or 2-3 shallots, chopped finely
1 red chili pepper, de-seeded and chopped very finely (omit this if you don't want any 'kick' to the stew)
1 Tablespoon chopped frozen garlic or 3 gloves chopped fresh garlic
2 small courgette, split in half and chopped into chunks
2 cans chopped tomatoes (I always use 1 can of cherry-tomatoes, if available)
1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 large or 4 small frozen cod filets(about 16 ounces or 500 grams -- about 1/2 kg)
1 large bag of frozen uncooked large(king) prawns/shrimp
1 glassful white wine
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 2 tsp. dried
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
splash hot pepper sauce, if desired, for extra 'kick' if you like it VERY hot
salt and pepper, to taste

Let olive oil spread hot over a medium heat in a large stock/stew/soup pot. Add all chopped vegetables and sautee` until soft. Add canned tomatoes and an additional 2 cans of water (rinses out remaining tomatoes, too!) and bring to a gentle boil for about 8 minutes. Now gently add all fish and bring to a gentle boil (this will take another 5-8 minutes) and then lower the heat to simmer for about 15-20 minutes more. While it is simmering, splash in the white wine and add the herbs and hot pepper sauce. When it is done, add salt and pepper, to taste and keep on low heat.

Low-fat Corn Bread -- Preheat oven to 190 C or 400 F. SCANTLY grease a 9 inch square tin with oil, baking margarine, or butter.

2 1/2 cups ground corn meal or polenta meal
3/4 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
skimmed milk -- enough to just wet mixture

Sift dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Mix egg and yogurt together in small bowl. Add egg/yogurt to dry ingredients. Add milk to whole mixture just enough to wet to thick pouring consistency. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and springs back in center.

Serve fish stew in large bowls with a square or two of warm corn bread! Or you can serve with crusty bread or garlic cheese bread, if feeling indulgent. This recipe feeds at least 4 persons, generously or 6 people.

PS -- no bread if you follow a carbohydrate-free diet of some sort -- Paleo, Atkins, for example. It's still a filling meal!


How Do I Eat? Let me count the ways....'Food Icon' vs. 'MyPyramid' vs. 'Food Guide Pyramid'

I'm quite excited to see what the new 'Food Icon' is going to look like.

I, personally, have never been able to use the 'MyPyramid' or the 'Food Guide Pyramind' that the USDA have produced for teaching or for explaining, in PRACTICAL terms how to eat healthy. BUT, these 'tools' WERE handy to give an IDEA to people that variety and basic foods from all the food groups were important as they made decisions about WHAT to eat. It was in discerning HOW TO EAT where these guides fell short. They were glossy and colorful and nice to handout as a generic 'start' as I BEGAN my education and counsel, but I ALWAYS had to provide additional guidelines on specifics -- how many servings, the size of servings, how to shop and cook, how to decide what foods fit into what food groups -- what was highest in protein, what was highest in carbohydrates, what DID contain enough fat to deem it a 'fat', what to absolutely limit to 'x' number of servings per day or per week and, certainly, depending on age, sex, baseline, and health preclusions, what foods to eat for BEST tolerance, digestion, absorption, and SPECIFIC needs and requirements for optimal nutrient yields. And, all that doesn't even get into how to help people eat healthy keeping in mind their cultural and personal preferences, their budget, their emotional and historical associations with foods, and any other foods/eating issues they might have!

In all fairness, I have not been able to use ANY of the food guide charts and icons produced from ANY COUNTRY I've lived and worked in, to suit my purposes of educating, illustrating, and ensuring practical understanding and behavior change for the public and clients I've worked with in these countries. It's just VERY DIFFICULT to come up with something -- ONE CHART or GUIDE or LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS -- that people can go home with and refer to to make them know EXACTLY what to eat and how -- the day they leave you, the day afterward, and every day, thereafter. People need clear instructions and, THEN -- evaluation of understanding, monitoring, updating and revision of guidance depending on progress (or lack of), and a 'tool' that thy will be able to refer to just as a 'double-check' -- not so much as a definitive sheet of information that they have to rigidly adhere to. Actually, the BEST instructions/ sheets that we can give folks are the ones that they won't need once they've mastered healthy eating pertinent to their present needs and their EVOLVING needs.

But, I never expected one 'tool' to be able to do it all. That's why I'M THERE -- to translate the science of nutrition into the foods you actually need to end up eating to get the nutrients you need for OPTIMAL HEALTH. Of course, if an instructional tool can stand on its own and yield as much helpful information and guidance as possible, then GREAT. But, I hardly think the new 'Food Icon' will be all that. Maybe I'm wrong. I'll let you know after I see it.

Meanwhile, I don't think you can go wrong by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables; low-fat sources of protein like chicken, fish,lean meats; reduced-fat cheese and dairy; a few eggs per week; whole-grains, such as brown bread, rice, pasta; and fats that are high sources of essential fatty acids and omega-3-fatty acids, like polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated oils and foods, such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts. And, ALSO, use common sense when consuming higher kcalorie foods such as carbohydrates and fats and WATCH PORTION SIZES, EVEN IF THEY ARE HEALTHY FOODS! And, it goes without saying that fried, refined, sugary, and junk foods (you KNOW EXACTLY what they are!!!) need to absolutely be limited to occasional treats.

I know that the folks at the USDA, the CDC, and all the other food and nutrition research and regulatory agencies and institutions work very hard at generating what they want to be helpful, practical, and useful guides and tools. I'm confident the new 'Food Icon' will represent the fruits (and vegetables -- sorry! can't forget those!) of all their earnest, best-intended efforts.



Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Obesity 'Anomie'

You've heard about the 'social contagion' of obesity -- what I discussed in my previous post -- when people tend toward being or becoming obese because their social contacts are.

But there's also a vast number of people who are or become obese and overweight because they feel ALIENATED and ISOLATED from the people of the social circle they are in BECAUSE of their obesity. Their social contacts -- friends, spouses, co-workers and colleagues, family members -- all seem to be rather fit and slender. The obesity of ISOLATION is when YOU -- the obese person -- is the ODD PERSON OUT. And even if you are not really super-obese -- if you feel chubbier, chunkier, a bit out a shape as compared to the SUPER-fit and svelte people you hang out with -- it's even more alienating. And this feeling of being so much BIGGER and heavier and perhaps, more unattractive, 'different', even 'abnormal' from the rest of the 'gang' can lead you to comfort eating, excessive eating, addictive eating -- especially when you are alone, and you become even heavier and more unfit than when you first felt 'different' from others in your social circle.

Food becomes your friend, your spouse, your love, your WORLD, really, and your secret 'balm' against the cruel world. And, of course, this may lead to even MORE isolation, alienation, and loneliness as you retreat from social interaction for fear of rejection, ridicule, feeling 'odd', or feeling ignored and 'invisible'. This last reality is really a crazy one -- when people who are a bit heavy or chubby are not even regarded at all -- treated as if they are 'invisible' because they don't OOZE that 'coolness' of being slender, even skinny in a society that seems to worship the 'super-skinny' look.

Often, people who are overweight, perhaps, mildly obese, get even HEAVIER -- moderately and morbidly obese -- when they feel alienated and not looked upon as desirable and worthy.

This is sad because, at that point, they may become irreversibly unhealthy. When they were slightly over their healthiest weight or, more correctly, body fat level, they could get into a healthier range of body fat easier and with more dignity and grace. Once they get to the super-obese state, the struggle is that much harder and the body is now set up for some of the chronic illnesses to complicate and isolate their lives even more.

And, many SUPER-OBESE people DO live isolated, lonely lives. They are shunned and not getting proper treatment for their obesity, nor do they have the confidence or self-motivation to get out themselves or to go after proper help. Their lives are spent chasing after the symptoms and problems associated with the chronic diseases they ended up getting from being obese. It's a vicious circle.

It's REALLY BAD when all the slender people in the social sphere of the obese/overweight friend, spouse, family member, co-worker try to inflict their standards and perspectives on food and exercise on the obese person. I know this is done, most of the time, to HELP that person, but let me tell you -- it often is damaging as it makes the person who has a weight problem feel even WORSE as they feel incapable or HOPELESS.

The fact is -- everyone has a very different HISTORY of food and physical activity. There are cultural differences, for sure -- but even within a country or neighborhood -- some families and people value sports or exercise or fashion or academics or whatever, far more than food or just spectator activities. But, this doesn't make the people who were raised highly valuing, even PRIORITIZING food in their lives as well as less active leisure activities, BAD people or less interesting or less 'cool' or more stupid or lazy or less loveable/likeable. Well, it shouldn't, anyway. There are many people in the world who are raised valuing food and less active leisure activities more than sports,fashion, academics, etc, etc. who are NOT obese or overweight and who are, actually, skinny and slender and THEY are not lectured upon and gawked at and presumed to be lazy and weak.

Presumptuousness and inflicting your own standards and values of food, exercise, body images, and beauty onto a person who has DIFFERENT standards and values of food, exercise, body images, and beauty can really get in the way of truly understanding why a person is obese and how to REALLY help them out.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to appreciate and EMBRACE the differences that people have about the importance of food and exercise in their lives and to learn to respect, appreciate, and embrace all perspectives on what constitutes an ideal body image and definition of beauty.

What IS very important is to help people achieve their 'personal best' --- for HEALTH, but ALSO for their OWN body image and type and within the realm of what makes THEM feel and look beautiful. THEN, can they feel 'normal' and socially embraced and respected and UNDERSTOOD and a worthwhile, integrated member of society -- at least in the social circle they may be a part of where most people are a certain weight or height or look, eat, and move differently than they do.

It's prophetic that the NORMAL distribution is a bell-shaped curve. If everyone who was considered NORMAL all looked the same, the shape of NORMAL would be a straight line -- a skinny, uninteresting straight mark.

So, curves are NORMAL and this is desirable. Of course, when too BIG of curves occur, then unhealthy conditions can and do follow. THIS is where the problems begin.

Let's strive to understand, respect, and love all the differences in perspectives on values and standards about foods, exercise, body images, and beauty. This will, hopefully, prevent the phenomenon of OBESITY ANOMIE from occurring, contributing to the obesity epidemic from the OTHER end of the spectrum as the OBESITY CONTAGION.

BOTH realities have to be considered.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Experts have identified that a 'social contagion' for obesity is a factor contributing to the increase in incidence and prevalence of obesity. If you have obese social contacts -- you are STRONGLY more likely to be get or be obese yourself.

This makes sense. You start to feel more comfortable being overweight or obese if your family and friends are in the same situation. Eating and exercise habits of friends are likely to be similar -- thus resulting in similar energy intakes and expenditures -- which leans toward the habitually positive end for everyone -- resulting in the 'whole gang' becoming overweight/obese. The Harvard researchers ran a mathematical model clearly predicting that this phenomenon will result in an estimated 42% of the adult population, eventually, becoming obese (we are now at 34% prevalence) in, say, another 40-50 years!

So, friend -- BEWARE. If you are not yet overweight or obese like the rest of the 'gang' -- give it time -- you'll get there! Certainly your children will! :(

AND.... if you are a person who LONGS to be svelte, slim, trim and fit -- I guess the take-home lesson of this research is -- choose your friends carefully.
Before you get too close to anyone, look them up and down, with dogged scrutiny for any signs of blub or chubb -- anywhere -- love handles, muffin tops, double chins,bat(sometimes called 'bingo') wings, cherubic cheeks, chaffing thighs, tree-stump legs, and big ole' jelly bellies. Check, check --here or there? Walk on by.

No, run! Run like the wind. As a matter of fact -- steer clear of not just friends, but ANYONE who you may spend alot of time with and hang out with -- lovers, spouses, family members, perhaps work associates -- who may be on the chunky side. Never mind if they are kind, caring, funny, intelligent, hard-working, loyal, loving people -- a person's gotta do what a person's gotta do. And a big personal goal of yours is to be fit and thin and you DON'T want to run the risk of screwing your life up and increasing your odds and becoming yet another obesity statistic by interpersonal association with unfit, fat folks.

WAIT A MINUTE!!! 'Modelling' research (from the Harvard study and others) ALSO shows that, on the other hand, weight-loss efforts, AS WELL, are enhanced by having a strong social network of support and IF, the 'gang' is all trying their level best to shed the unwanted fat and change over to obesity-busting habits and lifestyles, then the probability that EVERYONE will succeed, increases.

And why didn't the researchers perform a similar study or run a similar model to verify that, likewise, 'fit' begets 'fit'?? That is, that trim and fit people who hang out with trim and fit people have a certain percentage of possibility to get and become trim and fit because of THEIR social contagion? I mean, of course, we can infer and/or deduce that this happens, but the study(ies)and model(s) are NOT there! That would REALLY strengthen the power of the mathematical modelling. But, I digress here....

In my humble opinion, the REAL take-home lessons of the research is that:

1) this information is NOT conclusive or certain as it is based on a mathematical model which IS just THAT -- a PLASTIC source of data which CAN be CHANGED ....IF...

2) YOU decide TODAY to become the SOLUTION instead of part of the PROBLEM to this 'mathematical' conundrum! YOU HAVE THE POWER and ABILITY TO BE A MATHEMATICAL GENIUS!! YES, YOU!!!

In other words -- please enjoy the company of a variety of friends, lovers, family members, spouses, children, work associates, etc., but PLEASE eat balanced, healthy foods and decide TODAY not to overeat YOURSELF or encourage others around to overeat or be sedentary BY OVEREATING and BY BEING SEDENTARY YOURSELF! And, DO IT! LIVE IT! You don't have to lecture or warn or recommend or say a word to your friends and loved ones! JUST BE A QUIET (or LOUD -- depending on how you are), FUN-LOVING EXAMPLE of HEALTHY EATING. Likewise -- BE ACTIVE! GET ACTIVE! GET YOUR FRIENDS and LOVERS, and KIDS and MOMS and DADS, and HUSBANDS and WIVES to get active. You don't have to push and prod and lecture and be all naggy and self-righteous and boorish about it.

Just be a great friend, spouse, lover, family member -- heck -- 'SOCIAL CONTACT' and SPREAD HEALTHY LIVING!

Let the retooling of the mathematical models begin! :)

Mary-Jo R. Overwater, MSc, MMSc, RD

It's kind of fun to do the impossible. Walt Disney

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Weight-Loss, Fitness, and Medical Professionals -- Who is YOUR 'go-to' person(s) when you are struggling?!

It's not easy being green. Kermit the Frog

I'm the 'expert'. I look, behave, and think perfect when it comes to my fitness, weight, and food choices and intake.

I have all the knowledge and the ability and that makes it SO much easier for me to look, behave, and think in ALL the right ways in order to eat right, exercise properly, and look amazing at ALL times.

Isn't that right?


I don't look perfect. I don't think things through properly and make all the right choices ALL the time.

I'm just like you. I struggle, too.

I admit that having knowledge about foods, nutrition, metabolism, and having an understanding of the many related aspects of fitness, such as exercise physiology and stress management -- DOES help to make me more AWARE of what I need to do to make best choices. And it DOES motivate me to really and truly LIVE my knowledge. Not because I KNOW IT ALL -- but because I feel so incredibly privileged to have had the chance to study all of this and to learn the TRUTH of foods, nutrition, metabolism, physiology, patho-physiology, stress management (all of which is EVER-evolving and new, exciting, helpful stuff being discovered all the time). It has really been a dream come true and a lifesaver for me in managing my own struggle with obesity and poor fitness, THUS, I DO feel a very serious responsibility to live out this TRUTH -- for myself AND as an example to others. Especially during these days when obesity AND poor fitness have escalated to such epidemic proportions.

We NEED dedicated LEADERS to help get the GOOD NEWS and the TRUTH out -- about how to become lean, healthy, and fit.

I take my role as one of those LEADERS very very seriously.

But for me, a person who has spent a good deal of my life being obese -- my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood -- it STILL is an enormous challenge to consistently apply all the knowledge, all the techniques, all the action that is required to STAY trim and fit AND to force myself to get back on track when I relapse.

YES, I relapse! Not often, mind you -- but, being the 'EXPERT' -- when I relapse, it's DEVASTATING! Firstly, to myself, and certainly to my clients and to the world, in general. Recently, a 'relapse' happened to me as a result of losing my beloved Mom not too long ago. This brought up all kinds of weight and food issues as well as the profound grief I found (and find) myself experiencing, and I just succumbed -- plain and simple. Fortunately, I believe, BECAUSE I was (and AM) in such good health BECAUSE of living YEARS of healthy choices -- in my dietary intake, my exercise habits, my sleep habits, and stress management -- I've not slid to the point of no return. But, I haven't found it THIS difficult to STAY on track with my healthy lifestyle in a LONG time -- perhaps, since I FIRST started to LIVE the TRUTH of FOOD, EXERCISE, and MY BODY -- years ago -- in graduate school.

I am VERY hard on myself. That's the problem. IT IS PRECISELY BECAUSE I have the knowledge and the understanding that it hits me that much harder that I am FAILING.

AND, more importantly -- WHO DO I GO TO WHEN I NEED HELP?

Right now, it is no one.

When I was working in university hospital settings and , subsequently, research departments of universities, I had good friends who were MDs and nurses, epidemiologists, and 'fitness' academics -- experts who ALSO knew 'alot' about health and disease, exercise, foods and nutrition, metabolism, -- but they were obese or overweight or ALSO struggling with their OWN body fitness. I helped them. As the nutritionist, I had that extra 'helping', if you will, and pardon the food reference, of the knowledge about foods, recipes, healthy shopping and cooking, and eating, in general. With this type of information plus the commitment to exercise more -- both cardio- and muscle-strengthening -- we ALL succeeded. I monitored them and THEY monitored me! Being a dietitian and nutritionist really does BOMBARD you with FOOD CUES all day long and IF you, yourself, have or have HAD struggles/issues with food, weight, body image, poor fitness, etc -- IF YOU DON'T have a way to keep YOU motivated, BALANCED in mind and body, and MONITORED -- it can overtake you -- particularly when you are at a vulnerable point in your life. For me, incorporating daily, moderate to strenuous exercise into my life, and the support of mutually struggling,yet understanding PEERS were the blessings I needed to keep me on track.

Since life for me has evolved into mainly being in private practice, I don't have that peer comraderie on a daily basis anymore. I have friends who I can talk to, but I always end up answering all their questions about foods, nutrition, how they need to get fit, etc. and counseling and motivating THEM. And because to them, I still LOOK 'fine', they don't take it seriously if I say I'm struggling.

I also don't feel comfortable going to the local GPs, personal trainers, or even, counselors of any kind -- as this may affect my own credibility and perception of excellence, effectiveness in my profession.

I am an extremely self-motivated, self-starting person, so every day is a new and wondrous beginning for me. But, when I need that extra 'helping' of support when the moments come when I find myself 'slipping' -- I'm a bit lost right now.

Any other 'experts' out there -- I would appreciate ANY suggestions:

WHO DO YOU GO TO when YOU are struggling?

Peace! :)