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

HEALTHY ASIAN FOOD, FOOD MYTHS Issue #082 05/24/11

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Go Healthy. Go Asian!

By Cecilia Hae-Jin 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 Stir-Fry

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.

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

Lemon Grass, Fresh Chilies, Tamarind, and Dried ChiliesCurry-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.

Salads

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 grilled chicken—whatever suits your fancy. There are endless flavor combinations to give your salads a taste of the Orient.

Stir-frys

Stir-FryYou 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.

Noodles

Noodle SoupThe 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).

Teas

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!

Desserts

Sticky Rice DessertAlthough 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.

Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee is a food and travel writer, an artist, and a chef. A James Beard Award nominee, she has authored several books. Her latest, Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking, includes delicious, nutritious Mexican recipes you can make in just 30 minutes or less. When she's not climbing a mountain somewhere, Cecilia writes, eats, and gardens in Los Angeles.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody fitness and diet development (and who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, May 30th, 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, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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10 Urban Food Myths

By Joe Wilkes

There have always been rumors about food. Remember the one about the Kentucky Fried rat or Mikey, the kid from the Life® cereal commercials, who allegedly expired after washing down his Pop Rocks® with Coca-Cola®? These, like so many, turned out to be apocryphal, but in the age of the Internet, it seems like there's always some story making the rounds about a grocery item that will poison you or a food that will miraculously cure what ails you. Here are some myths we were able to dismiss.

Carrots, Eye Doctor, Woman Telling a Secret, Turkey, Man Sleeping

  1. Carrots and Eye DoctorEating carrots improves night vision. This rumor was apparently started by the British during World War II, after a new British radar device began greatly assisting in the shooting down of German bombers at night. Not wanting to alert the Germans of the new technology, the government spread a disinformation campaign about how the British pilots' love of carrots was the cause of their keen night vision. It spread like wildfire, and it has become a staple in parents' arsenals for getting kids to eat their veggies. Carrots are generally good for your eyes, though—studies are beginning to show a link between increased consumption of beta-carotene (carrots are loaded with it) and a decrease in macular degeneration.
  2. Turkey makes you sleepy. It's true that turkey contains tryptophan, the amino acid credited for the poultry's alleged soporific effects, but beef, chicken, meat, milk, and beans also contain tryptophan, and they don't seem to make you pass out on the couch after dinner. Turkey's bad rap probably comes from the famous post-Thanksgiving food coma, which is most likely induced by consuming not trace amounts of an amino acid, but vast quantities of carbohydrates, like potatoes and stuffing. Washing them down with a couple of glasses of wine probably doesn't hurt, either.
  3. Statue of Julius CaesarCaesar salad was created by or for Julius Caesar. Actually, despite what they might tell you at the Olive Garden®, the Caesar salad is not Italian food. It was created in Tijuana, Mexico, less than a hundred years ago by restaurant owner Caesar Cardini, not in ancient Rome. The recipe includes romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, coddled eggs, and Parmesan cheese, among other ingredients, but the original recipe does not contain anchovies—another myth debunked!
  4. Combining Mentos® and Diet Coke® will make your stomach explode. As any YouTube® connoisseur can attest to, dropping a Mentos candy into a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke can create an effect that will give the fountains at the Bellagio a run for their money. However, despite rumors of Brazilian youths dying of burst abdomens, this myth seems to be another of the endless variations on Mikey and the Pop Rocks. There seems to be little evidence that eating any combination of anything generally considered edible will make you explode. (Although that Chinese food I had for dinner came pretty close around midnight.)
  5. BananasBeware of flesh-eating bananas! Many well-intentioned people forwarded around an email not too long ago asserting that the FDA was covering up the fact that thousands of bananas bearing germs that cause necrotizing fasciitis (aka "flesh-eating bacteria") had entered the country. This turned out not to be true. A reverse rumor, that humans were killing bananas, has also circulated. This one says that due to varying explanations, like climate change or genetic modification, bananas will be extinct in less than a decade. This is also false. So eat your bananas. They're full of potassium, they won't make your skin fall off, and there are plenty more where they came from.
  6. McDonald's® uses kangaroo meat in their burgers. This is one that's been around since I was a kid, and common sense can answer it. While some people wouldn't put it past the Golden Arches® to put anything in their food, kangaroo meat seems an unlikely beef substitute, because it costs much more per pound than beef does. Actually, adventurous eaters might consider adding 'roo meat to their diet, as it has more protein and only about half the fat of beef.
  7. Chocolate MilkChocolate milk is tainted with cow's blood. This is a popular playground myth that milk too contaminated with blood to sell as plain white milk is colored brown, flavored, and sold as chocolate milk. Chocolate milk and all dairy products go through the same rigorous FDA testing process that regular moo juice does. However, the added sugar isn't doing you any favors.
  8. Aspartame causes multiple sclerosis and lupus. Aspartame, often branded as NutraSweet®, has been rumored to cause many serious diseases. While we consider the jury to be out on whether aspartame is completely safe, there have been no reputable scientific studies linking the sweetener to MS, lupus, cancer, or any other life-threatening illnesses. However, since aspartame still hasn't been on the market long enough for definitive long-term studies to have concluded, it's best to use moderation.
  9. Rape PlantCanola oil is toxic. It's been rumored that canola oil contains the same toxins found in mustard gas. Canola oil is made from oil pressed from the seeds of the rape plant, a member of the mustard family. There's actually no such plant as the canola, but it's easy to see the marketing problems that would result in calling it "rape oil." This may have been one of the reasons scurrilous rumors have circulated about this noble oil, which is perfectly safe and rich in monounsaturated fat (a beneficial fat also found in olive oil and avocados). As for the mustard gas claim, while it's true that canola oil is made from mustard plants, mustard gas is not. It's called that because of its acrid smell, not its ingredient list.
  10. Red Bull® causes brain tumors. Because Red Bull is a favorite beverage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, it's easy to make a case for this rumor based on anecdotal evidence, but there is actually nothing in Red Bull that has been linked to brain tumors. The beverage has been banned in some European countries because of its high caffeine content (an 8.3-fluid-ounce can has 76.5 milligrams of caffeine, or about 80 percent of the caffeine present in an 8-ounce cup of traditionally brewed coffee), but aside from the typical health concerns regarding any sugary caffeinated beverage, Red Bull appears safe. Claims that it will "give you wings®" seem unfounded, however, and when mixed with vodka, it reportedly makes underpants disappear.

Related Articles
"7 Tips for Keeping Cool on the Cheap"
"Sour on Milk? 5 Healthy Dairy Substitutes"
"Soy: Magic Bean or Tragic Bean?"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody fitness and diet development (and who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, May 30th, 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, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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Recipe: Spinach Stir-Fry

Spinach Stir-FryHere's a great vegan/vegetarian dish (depending on which stock you use) that makes a great side dish for an Asian meal. If you want to kick up the portion size, this tasty stir-fry could serve as the main course—or even the entire meal. Popeye would be proud.

  • 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, regular or low-sodium
  • 1 10-oz.bag spinach
  • 1 12-oz. container firm tofu, cubed
  • Dash chili oil (optional)

Mix the stock, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce in a big bowl and add the tofu. Marinate for 30 minutes. Heat a wok or frying pan over medium heat. Place tofu mixture in wok and heat until marinade steams and tofu is warmed through. Add spinach and toss gently over heat until spinach wilts. Great on top of brown rice! Makes 3 servings.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving, without chili oil):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
99 12 g 2 g 8 g 4 g <1 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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