Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #054 DINING OUT AND HEALTHY MICROWAVING!

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The Beachbody® 8-Step Game Plan for Dining Out

By Stephanie S. Saunders

There was a time not too long ago when dining out was a rare and exciting treat. People would get dressed up, spend hours lingering over a meal, and remember the experience fondly for days or even weeks. Today, dining out is often more common than eating a home-cooked meal. How many mornings does breakfast equal a cup of coffee and a bagel at Starbucks? A good portion of the American workforce eats lunch out every day. And how often do you just grab dinner on the way home—or have it delivered to your front door? Yes, we are a nation of consumers, especially when it comes to paying someone else to prepare our food.

Diners at Cafe

But for those of us following a fitness plan for any length of time, dining out can be inconvenient and sometimes a tiny bit scary. It's hard to know what to order, how it fits into your plan, and most of all, how not to say, "Forget it; who needs a six-pack?" and order that three-cheese lasagna with Italian sausage. But making the right choices is easier than you think, and willpower has more to do with preparation than tenacity. So let's look at some ways to prepare for dining out.

  1. Get a copy of the menu. This amazing thing called the Internet gives us instant access to just about anything. Want to know how to defect to Russia? Google® it. Want to learn how to grow pumpkins in your backyard? Wikipedia® has the answer. Want to laugh hysterically at your very drunk cousin during your sister's wedding? It's on YouTube®. And if you want to plan for dining out, you can find an online menu for almost every fast food joint and high-end establishment out there. From McDonald's® to Spago®, you can instantly summon the information you need so you can select your meal without the pressure of a waiter—and your date—staring at you. Then when you get to that uber-trendy bistro everyone raves about, you can impress your date by not touching the menu and saying, "Oh, I already know what I want. I eat here all the time."
  2. Look up nutrition facts. Once you've made your choices at home, you can easily look up the nutrition facts pertaining to those choices. Many low- to mid-priced establishments list not only their menus, but their nutrition facts online. For the higher-end places, you can look at each individual ingredient to figure out the approximate amount of protein, carbs, and fat. With this knowledge, you can figure out what might be the most appropriate choices, and what to avoid.
  3. Woman EatingEat your meals and snacks as scheduled. Everybody knows not to go shopping when you're depressed, not to call your mother when you're having relationship issues, and not to pick someone up in a bar when you're drinking heavily. Now here's another rule: Don't go to a restaurant when you're famished. It's a common misconception in the United States that you should always get your money's worth when dining out by making sure you clean your plate. Unfortunately, that plate probably contains enough food to serve a family of four in another country. American restaurants serve massive portions of food, which leads to the massive tummies and backsides evident in our national obesity epidemic. But if you're not actually starving when you walk into the restaurant, you'll be a lot less likely to lick your plate clean. So eat your already-scheduled meals and snacks for the day to help keep your cravings in check. If you're really hungry when departing for the restaurant, grab an apple on your way out the door. And please note that you'll still get your money's worth if you take half your meal home in a to-go box.
  4. Make sure you complete your workout. It's fairly obvious that most fitness enthusiasts are unlikely to push through a tough workout, then destroy it with chili cheese fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Yet when you miss a workout altogether, there's the tendency to think, "I already messed up today, so what the hell?" Not such a great idea. If you'd only have gotten through that INSANITY® Max Interval workout first, you'd have had some motivation, and you'd probably eat less overall. A study by a team of Brazilian researchers discovered that exercise actually increased feelings of fullness in your brain. That's right: Work out first, and you won't feel like shoving the entire Hometown Buffet® in your mouth. (Of course, if you felt like doing that in the first place, you might want to get your brain checked out.)
  5. Writing in Food DiaryWrite it down. So you've done your due diligence and you know exactly what you'll order for that lunch meeting. Before even leaving your desk, record it in your food diary. When you commit something in writing, you're a lot more likely to follow it through. You're also a lot less likely to add on a bunch of extras, like appetizers or dessert, which you'll have to account for later. Keeping a record also gives you the opportunity to see where you are calorically for the day, and to see if that lunch means you'll need to adjust things accordingly.
  6. Be honest and firm. One of the most difficult things about dining out is peer pressure. How easy is it to give in to "Oh, just try one" or "You work out—you don't have to be perfect all the time"? Or my personal favorite: "If you get hit by a bus tonight, you'll be really sad you didn't have some cheesecake." Well, the reality is that having one off-plan treat can open the door to many more; working out is only half the fitness equation; and if you get hit by a bus, dessert's going to be the last thing on your mind. Sometimes the way to get your companions to be supportive is to be very clear about your goals before you even sit down. If you explain honestly how hard you've been working toward your goals, even your mother is likely to back off. And if she keeps at you, continue to be firm about what you want, which includes not dating her next door neighbor's "nice, available son." Willpower is often as simple as getting those around us to leave us alone.
  7. Have a conversation plan. This particular point might seem ridiculous if you're dining with family or close friends, but if your intended meal is with someone you don't know well, like a business lunch or date, you should consider having a conversation plan. A lot of calories are ingested in this lifetime as the result of nervous energy. If you're sitting across the table from the most beautiful girl you've ever seen or the man you hope will invest in your company, you'll be all the more likely to grab for the bread basket to fill awkward silences. Also, when you "eat emotionally," your desire to overcome your anxiety often trumps your desire for a six-pack. But if you walk into the situation with a few talking points, preferably not just about yourself, and some questions for your new friend, you'll probably be so invested in the conversation that you can skip pigging out on the bread and wait for the salad. This doesn't require a PowerPoint® presentation or even a cheat sheet, just a few topics to discuss that you "happen to think of in the moment." You also might find the person is a lot more interested in you, because you express an interest in them.
  8. Woman in JeansWear the skinny jeans. There's an old dieting trick that involves wearing a bathing suit every time you have a meal at home. That second blueberry muffin isn't as appealing when you're staring at your "muffin top." Unfortunately, wearing a Speedo® to Ruth's Chris isn't exactly smiled upon. Instead, try to wear your tightest pants, skinny jeans, a form-fitting shirt, or that dress that makes your boyfriend drool. When you feel your clothes pushing against your belly, you'll be a bit less inclined to continue shoveling in the food. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from unbuttoning your top pants button and continuing your feeding frenzy. Unless of course you can't get it buttoned again, which will look creepier when you stand up than if you'd worn the Speedo. The right clothes can provide a gentle reminder that just enough food is enough.

A wise person once said, "The toughest part of a diet isn't watching what you eat. It's watching what other people eat." That really is the crux of the problem with dining out in public. When you're surrounded by people who are consuming the equivalent of their body weight in fat grams, it's really tough to stick to that chicken breast and steamed veggies. But if you have a game plan, you're more likely to walk out with both a satisfied tummy and a satisfied mind. So spend a few minutes on researching, on eating, and on exercising beforehand, and be strong when you get there. The effort will be worth it, and you might even be an inspiration to your dining partner. What greater reward is there than that? Oh, yeah—a six-pack.

Related Articles
"Gluten-Free Diets: Are They Healthier for You?"
"5 Things to Cut Out of Your Diet"
"Going Grainless, P90X® Style"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, November 15th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Nuclear Nutrition: Safe, Tasty, Healthy Microwaving

By Omar Shamout

If someone told you they were going to buy a nuclear radiation-emitting machine, put it in the most-used room in their house, and then prepare food with it, you'd look at them like they were crazy. Conversely, if that same person told you they were going to buy a new microwave for their kitchen, you'd probably think it was no big deal—because it really isn't. Technology has granted us the ability to harness a potentially dangerous process and use it to save time, effort, and money when preparing meals. However, with ease of use comes laziness, and that's where problems can arise. Just like with any type of cooking, making microwave fare nutritious and delicious requires a little thought. So let's take a look at how to plan the perfect microwave meal!

Grains, Meat, and Vegetables

What does a microwave do, exactly?

The FDA explains it this way: "Microwaves are produced inside the oven by an electron tube called a magnetron. The microwaves are reflected within the metal interior of the oven, where they are absorbed by food. Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food." Sounds pretty simple, but it seems like taking this nuclear shortcut might be harmful to the food itself. Is it? The FDA also advises us, "The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food, and does not make food 'radioactive' or 'contaminated.'" Phew!

What about the nutrients?

Critics claim that food prepared in a microwave loses nutrients, leaving you with only the unhealthy ingredients. While this may be somewhat true, the same thing can be said of all types of cooking. The truth is, only a strict raw diet will preserve all the natural vitamins and minerals present in the foods that are part of a heart-healthy diet. Boiling, grilling, and baking all have some effect, but take longer, and can actually kill more of the nutrients in your dinner than microwaving does.

Nutrition Information LabelAccording to the FDA, "Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water." This is because microwaves primarily heat up the molecules contained in food rather than cooking from the outside in like traditional methods. This means microwave heating takes significantly less time. Vitamins B and C, especially, are not resistant to heat, which means they're preserved better in food cooked in microwaves.

Cooking in water (steaming and boiling) generally results in less nutrient retention than microwave cooking does. For instance, rice and beans have vitamin-rich coatings that are completely burned off when they're boiled, meaning all the healthy parts are lost when the water is drained off. Microwaves also preserve the texture of vegetables far better than other methods, so you'll avoid the chewy-on-the-outside/soft-on-the-inside problem.

Vitamin B-12

The exception to this rule is vitamin B12. In 1998, Japanese researchers concluded that microwaved meat lost 30 to 40 percent of its vitamin B12 content when microwaved for more than 6 minutes. This particular vitamin, which protects against anemia, can be easily found in many pill supplements, but if you do decide to microwave your animal proteins, try sticking to those with low cooking times, like meatballs, hamburger, or Salisbury steak. Fish also generally takes less time to cook, so the microwave is a good option for cooking many types of seafood. Cheddar and goat cheeses are also a good source of vitamin B12, and there's no zapping required!

Safety first!

Just because a microwave won't turn your food into green radioactive ooze doesn't mean there aren't certain precautions you should take when heating up your lunch at work before you scurry back to your desk to finish that spreadsheet. Most people like to cover their food with a lid or a plastic wrap to allow the food to cook more evenly. If you're going to use plastic, then it's absolutely necessary to use products that have been verified as "microwave safe" by the FDA. Look for a symbol on the packaging of any plastic you buy that you intend to use with your food in the microwave. This will prevent potentially cancer-causing chemicals present in non-microwave-safe plastics from leaching into your food.

Mix and match!

Instead of giving you just one recipe, we thought it would be fun and useful to provide a sampling of great-tasting microwaveable options in a variety of food groups. You'll get a nutritious and well-balanced meal no matter how you combine them.

Meats

MeatTurkey Meatballs. Turkey is one of the leanest proteins available, and is always a great alternative to beef and even chicken. Two servings, or about 12 medium-sized frozen turkey meatballs, take approximately 5 minutes to heat in the microwave. They taste great plain, or with a pinch of pepper or your favorite seasoning. If you have a little extra time and feel like spicing things up a little, try buying some ground turkey, then adding chopped onions and chili powder before making the meatballs yourself, and cooking for 5 minutes. Sometimes we all need a little kick!

Salmon Fillet. Salmon tastes great in the microwave and is ready in just 2 or 3 minutes, depending on your microwave's wattage. Try squeezing half a lemon over your fillets, then grating the rind over the top. Finish the seasoning by adding pepper, thyme, or basil. Or all three. Yum!

*Tip* Waxed paper is the best covering to use in the microwave, because it doesn't heat up or stick to the food. The wax coating also preserves moisture rather than absorbing it the way a paper towel does. The waxed paper should be wrapped around the food or dish lightly but securely, and doesn't need to have vent holes poked in it. If you do use paper towels, make sure they're not the recycled kind, because these can be a fire hazard when exposed to microwaves.

Grains and other Complex Carbs

Brown Rice. Brown rice contains more fiber than white rice does, is made from nutrient-rich whole grains, and has only 100 calories per half-cup. Microwave preparation will take about 25 or 30 minutes, though, so since you can cook this just as fast on the stove or in a rice steamer, you might want to do that instead. If you decide microwaving your brown rice is more convenient for you, combine 2 to 3 cups of water with 1 cup of brown rice, depending on your moist/dry preference, in a 2-1/2 quart microwave-safe dish. Cook uncovered on HIGH for 5 to 10 minutes or until the water boils, then reduce power to MEDIUM before cooking for another 20 minutes or so. Let sit for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork before serving. Instant brown rice cooks more quickly, but it contains much less fiber and nutrients, so we don't recommend it.

Baked Potato. Baked potatoes are very healthy, and they're loaded with potassium. After scrubbing a medium potato, pierce the skin multiple times on all sides with a fork for proper venting, and wrap the potato in a moist paper towel. Most microwave ovens take about 4 or 5 minutes to bake a medium potato completely. Once it's baked, think outside the box when it comes to toppings—try some fresh salsa, fat-free sour cream, and fat-free grated cheddar cheese for a spicy, south-of-the-border-style spud!

Vegetables

VegetablesWhen it comes to veggies, everyone has their favorites, so here's a handy list of how long each kind should be steamed in the microwave. You could of course shell out 10 bucks for a steamer, but you can achieve very similar results with a microwave. To prepare any of the following, simply place the vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl with a small amount of water and cover with lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap.

Asparagus: 4 to 6 minutes

Broccoli: 3 to 5 minutes

Brussels sprouts: About 7 minutes

Carrots: 5 minutes

Cauliflower: 3 to 4 minutes

Green beans: 3 to 4 minutes

Peas: 1 to 2 minutes

Zucchini: 6 to 8 minutes

Don't blame the microwave!

Microwave OvenThe bottom line is that you shouldn't blame the microwave for giving you unhealthy food. What you chose to put inside of it was probably unhealthy to start with! Don't fall into the trap that food companies want you to. They assume that because you have chosen to save time in your food preparation, you must not be too concerned about the actual food you put in your body, either, so they serve you a cheaper and unhealthier product. That's not to say there aren't some great-tasting and healthy microwave meals out there, but you're always going to get better-tasting food if you use fresher ingredients. Microwaves are a handy and quick way to steam and heat your vegetables, starches, legumes, and lean meats that won't alter the flavor and will store many of the vitamins and minerals you need as part of a balanced diet.

References and Further Reading:

  1. http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/ResourcesforYouRadiationEmittingProducts/Consumers/ucm142616.htm
  2. http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/01/does-microwave-cooking-rob-food-of-nutrients/
  3. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf970670x
  4. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/microwave_ovens_and_food_safety/index.asp
  5. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-microwave-safe-plastic.htm

Related Articles
"5 Foods That Make Your Skin Glow"
"10 Healthy Snacks for Couch Time"
"Tropic Plunder: 6 Super-Healthy Exotic Fruits"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, November 1st, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Shakeology®: From the Fields

"Nature in a bag" isn't just a catchy phrase—it's what Shakeology is. Follow "ingredient hunter" Darin Olien as he searches the globe, from the highest cliffs to the densest jungles and everywhere in between, for the high-quality plant extracts, vitamins, and minerals that go into making Shakeology.

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Recipe: Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

OK, pizza's not the best when you're working on your physique, but none of us is made of stone. When you can't resist the craving anymore, this is way healthier than anything you can get delivered (not to mention cheaper). You can "health things up" even more by using whole wheat dough and adding your favorite veggie toppings, like mushrooms, peppers, or onions.

Crust:

  • 1 16-oz. package pizza dough, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Toppings:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened tomato sauce
  • 1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced
  • 1/4 cup whole basil leaves
  • Nonstick pizza pan
  • Pastry brush

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. On nonstick pizza pan, stretch dough to form a pizza crust. Drizzle with olive oil, spreading to edges of crust with pastry brush. Then spread tomato sauce evenly over dough, leaving a quarter-inch border. Layer mozzarella and tomatoes over sauce. Tear basil leaves and sprinkle pieces over top of pizza.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Serves 6.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 to 18 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
270 11 g 0 g 34 g 11 g 3 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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