Your Heart is Only Good for So Many Beats: Health Question and Answer Session

Here's an important health question and answer session that should clear up any misconceptions you might have about food, diet and health. I wish I had seen this in time for April 1st! Courtesy of Old Man Running.



Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it. Don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can't think of a single one, sorry.

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: You're not listening!... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: Are you crazy? Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?

A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!

And remember:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – a coke in one hand - chocolate in the other - body totally worn out and screaming, "woo-hoo what a ride!"

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking

Ever since I posted my article on How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking, I've increasingly been seeing things in non-linear terms in many areas of my cooking and eating life. Today I'm going to share a list of more applications of 80/20, but I'm spreading my net over a wider area to include not just cooking but also diet, food costs, and other cooking-related issues.

Those of you unfamiliar with the 80/20 Rule, feel free to take a quick look at my original article on the subject. I'll wait.

Let me add that although I use "80%" and "20%" in these examples below, these numbers are meant only to be rough approximations. The point is not that exactly 80% of the results come from exactly 20% of the inputs. In fact, the relationship between the two variables could be lower (50% of the results come from 30% of the inputs, let's say), or much much higher (99% of the results come from 5% of the inputs). It doesn't really matter if it's 80/20, 99/5, or 50/30--in all of these cases there is a highly non-linear relationship between a system's inputs and outputs.

Thinking about the world in this way can get pretty intoxicating--after a while you start to think you can fix anything with just a tweak of a couple of "critical few" inputs. Of course, that's a gross oversimplification of reality. But nevertheless, this exercise has been an eye-opener for me in how seemingly small changes in my habits can have substantial results.

So let's explore still more applications of 80/20 thinking as they apply to diet, food and cooking. And if you can think of any additional examples that you'd like to add, please share them in the comments section below!

Diet Issues:
1) 80% of your calories will likely come from 20% of the foods you eat. Thus if you cut out those foods, you can substantially reduce your caloric intake. Sorry, but cutting out dark chocolate is not an option.

2) The bulk of your excess calories are likely to come from a surprisingly small number of sessions of serious overeating. Or overdrinking.

3) You will likely find that 80% of your "bad eating" can be significantly reduced by changing one or two key eating habits (e.g., don't eat in front of the TV, or don't eat out of the bag/box/carton).

4) Here's a slightly different way to think about this: 80% of the "bad things" in your diet (fat, cholesterol, empty calories, etc.) are likely to come from 20% of the foods you eat. Furthermore, 80% of the good things you eat (fiber, antioxidants, lean protein, etc), come from 20% of the foods you eat. Thus you can dramatically alter the overall health content of your diet by tweaking a few inputs on both sides of the ledger.

Managing Food Costs:
1) 20% of the ingredients you buy will end up in 80% of your recipes. If you can carefully manage the cost of those ingredients, you should be able to slash your food bill materially (props to CheapHealthyGood for helping me think of this one).

2) Likewise, consider taking inventory of those critical few ingredients that are common to most of the dishes you cook. Buying them exclusively in bulk will save you more money still.

3) 80% of the cost of the food you eat will come from approximately 20% of your food items. Therefore, if you want to spend a lot less on food, you can do so by cutting back on just a few very expensive items in the grocery store.

Food Waste:
1) 80% of your food waste will come from a very small number of foods that you buy, or will be a results of very few dishes that you cook. Identify those dishes or those foods and address the problems, and you'll be able to dramatically reduce the amount of waste in your kitchen (props to thekitchn for spurring me to think of this one).

1) You can likely exploit your "critical few' cookbooks much more effectively by trying every single recipe in those cookbooks.

2) It's likely that 20% of your recipes will require a disproportionately wide range of ingredients. Unless those are family favorites, you can vastly simplify your kitchen pantry by cutting those recipes out of your cooking rotation.

3) Remember that you use 20% of your cooking tools to do 80% of your cooking. This implies that you will rarely use the vast majority of all cooking gadgets you buy. Therefore, be extremely selective when purchasing new kitchen items. Don't waste your money on things that will end up collecting dust.

4) Instead, consider paying up for heavy-use items like a really good kitchen knife set. It will be a much more worthwhile investment than spending money on the next incremental cooking gadget that catches your eye.

What are other examples of 80/20 thinking that you've used in your home?

Related Posts:
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking
How to Team Up in the Kitchen
Capitalize on Your Cooking Core Competencies

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Austrian Cuisine: Viennese Potato Soup (Wiener Kartoffelsuppe)

Another new recipe as part of Cookbook Exploitation Month:
Here’s an Austrian soup recipe that is so hearty and wholesome, I bet the von Trapp family served it at dinnertime. It comes from a cookbook of Austrian cuisine that was a gift from a wonderful guest we recently hosted who hailed from Graz, Austria.

The ingredients will all be easy to find in your grocery store, and yet the soup has a distinct and unusual savory flavor. Cook this simple and highly scalable dish in your home and see if it makes your family burst into song!

Viennese Potato Soup (Wiener Kartoffelsuppe)
(adapted slightly from "Culinary Austria" by Hubert Krenn Publishing)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
Two slices bacon

3/4 ounce (call it 2 Tablespoons) white flour
4-5 cups of beef or vegetable stock
3 carrots or parsnips (or a combination of both), chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
6-8 mushrooms, sliced or chopped
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
a dash of salt
ground black pepper and plenty of ground marjoram to taste

1) Melt the butter in a large deep pan, fry bacon and chopped onions on medium heat until bacon is done. Remove the bacon and chop into pieces, then add back to pan. Add flour and combine well.

2) Add the liquid stock. Then add the salt, pepper, marjoram, mushrooms, carrots (or parsnips) and celery. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.

3) Add the potatoes and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with additional pepper or marjoram if desired. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Serves 4+. Can be doubled easily.


Unfortunately, I can't post an affiliate link to this cookbook because it doesn't exist at Amazon. But if you are reading me from the EU, you can buy a copy of this book via this link for only 10 Euros (um, that's about a million dollars US). Helps if you speak a little German.
Related Posts: How to Modify a Recipe Part 2: The Six Rules
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How to Get More Mileage Out of Your CookbooksHow to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking with Five Easy Questions

Related Links:Lyrics to the songs of The Sound of Music

Bad Vision: The Four Worst Diet Habits for Eye Health

As a follow-up post to last week's discussion of the best foods for eye health, today we'll go over the four absolute worst dietary things you can do for your eyes.

1) Smoke:
Okay, sure, it’s not technically a food, but you do “ingest” tobacco smoke. And smoking is at the top of this list for the simple reason that it is the most preventable cause of eye health problems, including macular degeneration and cataracts.

The various toxins and carcinogens contained in tobacco smoke enter into your bloodstream via your lungs, and from there they head straight for your eyes. These toxins can affect retinal function, and they can exacerbate macular degeration.

2) Eat a High-Fat Diet:
A diet centered around high-fat foods is of course unhealthy for many reasons, including causing cardiovascular problems like ateriosclerosis. And just as these transfats can clog the arteries to your heart, they can also clog up the arteries to your eyes, and this can cause damage to your optic nerve and potentially result in loss of vision.

Despite their value as part of an occasional energy-dense meal, fats (especially transfats, like partially hydrogenated soybean oil, butter and margarine) should never play an excessive role your diet.

3) Eat too much salt:
We’ve harped on how salt is shamelessly overused in restaurants and in many prepared foods. Well, here’s another reason to be concerned about your sodium intake: high sodium levels in your body can lead to high blood pressure, which can restrict the flow of blood to the eyes. Remember, blood nourishes your cells, and it also takes pollutants and waste products away from your cells. This includes the cells of your optic nerves and your retinas.

4) Be Severely Overweight:
According to the Mayo Clinic, “being severely overweight increases the chances that early or intermediate macular degeneration will progress to the more severe form of the disease.”

Furthermore, if you're overweight, you run a high risk of having Type II (adult onset) diabetes. And diabetes, especially if not managed properly, can cause all sorts of problems with the eyes, including lost vision due to leaking blood vessels in the retina.

Let me just make a brief apology for the tone of this if this post. It sounds so... admonishing! My goal with this post is not to depress you, but just to make you aware that the foods you eat--and how well you take care of your body--can have a meaningful impact on your vision.

Let's say it once again, with feeling: eat right to see right!

Related Posts:
Eat Right To See Right: Foods for Better Eye Health
Why I'm a Part-Time Vegetarian
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Attention Vegetarians and Vegans! Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup

Here's yet another new recipe as part of Cookbook Exploitation Month.

This delicious soup is surprisingly filling, although you can tell with just a cursory look at the ingredients that there are hardly any calories at all in this dish. In fact, you can eat this soup until you're blue in the face and you'll never gain weight.

And this is one of the key underappreciated secrets of vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Typical veggie recipes are usually so high in fiber and so low in fat that you practically burn more calories chewing and digesting the meals than you get by eating them in the first place.

Think about the ramifications of this for a moment: If you structure your diet primarily around meals like this, and make sure to exercise regularly, you will significantly accelerate your efforts to get in better shape.

That's why we've decided to practice "part-time vegetarianism" here at Casual Kitchen, although we'll balance things out with a truly energy-dense meal on occasion when we have a really active day ahead of us.

I hope you enjoy this delicious and visually stunning soup. It's loaded with fresh produce and antioxidants, and it's laughably cheap and easy to make. What's not to like?

Corn and Tomato Soup
(very slightly modified from The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition)

1 onion
2 stalks celery
a generous dash of cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons oil

4 cups corn (frozen is easiest, but if you can find fresh corn on the cob, go for it)
4 medium to large tomatoes, chopped coarsely
1 cup water
a (tiny) dash of salt
a generous handful of cilantro leaves (optional)

1) Saute onion, celery, cayenne and garlic in oil in a large soup pot until tender (about 5-7 minutes).

2) Add corn and tomatoes, water and salt, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

3) After simmering, puree some (or all, optional) of the soup in a food processor or blender for a more creamy texture.

4) Add the cilantro leaves and serve immediately.

One final note:

The original recipe tells you to puree the entire soup. But we found the soup to be better after just pureeing only half to 2/3 of the soup. For one thing, it's logistically easier: since the soup comes in a big batch, you'll find yourself forced to divide the entire recipe up into portions small enough to fit into your food processor or blender, running it multiple times. We found it quite a bit easier to ladle in whatever would fit into the machine, puree it, dump it back into the pot with the remaining unpureed soup, and serve.

But it's funny, the original recipe actually sounds like it's taunting you a little bit with this quote:

"The soup is pretty now, but even better if you take your courage in hand and proceed with the next step; puree it all."

I know that Laurel's kitchen is a highly "politically correct" cookbook (don't take this the wrong way--it's truly a great cookbook). But with this curiously out-of-place reference to courage, I actually felt like my manhood was threatened here!

Of course, then again, maybe I'm reading between the lines a tad too much.

Nevertheless, we didn't take the bait and instead settled on a partial puree. I felt like the soup benefitted as a result.

Eat Right to See Right: Foods for Better Eye Health

Everyone's heard the old saying about how carrots help you see in the dark. But it is true that the foods you eat over the course of your life will directly impact the health of your eyes.

Further, as human life expectancy extends throughout the world, specific eye health problems like macular degeneration and cataracts will likely become far more common. Both conditions tend to run in my family, so it's particularly important to us here at Casual Kitchen to make sure we get a good mix of antioxidants and other nutrients critical for healthy vision.

I'm also lucky in that I have an expert on eye health living in my own home. And today I'm going to brazenly borrow from her and give you a list of the best foods to eat to protect your eyes over the long term.

The best foods for eye health can be loosely grouped into these four categories:1) sources of omega-3 fatty acids,
2) sources of antioxidants,
3) sources of lutein,
4) sources of flavonoids.

1) Omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that the body needs for brain function as well as normal growth and development. Also known by the name polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids must be a part of your diet, because your body cannot create these fatty acids on its own.

Quite a few studies have indicated that people who consume more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have less incidence of macular degeneration. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids help increase tear production and decrease chronic lid inflammation that causes dry eye.

So what should you eat to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids? Start with fish, especially fatty and energy-dense fish like tuna, salmon, trout and sardines. Nut oils, such as walnut oil, and other oils like olive oil, flaxseed oil or canola oil are all excellent sources. Even shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters and clams, contain meaningful amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

2) Antioxidants:
The term "antioxidant" is extremely broad, but in our case we're referring to foods rich in vitamin A, C and E, as well as foods rich in zinc and selenium. These antioxidants help prevent cataracts, help prevent damage to the retina, and also help prevent macular degeneration.

Furthermore, your body also needs Vitamin A for proper function of some of the basic mechanisms of the eye, such as your eye's photosensitive pigments. That saying about carrots and eyesight? It's actually true.

Most fruits, vegetables and juices are sources of a wide range of antioxidants. Fresh fruit, especially apples and citrus fruits, are particularly good sources. Cooked vegetables are also fine, but typically the cooking process will break down and/or remove some of the nutrients from the foods, which is why it's a good idea to include plenty of fresh and raw foods in your diet.

Note that some antioxidants, particularly fat-soluble ones like vitamin A and E, can be toxic in megadoses. This is less of a concern for water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C or B-complex vitamins which your body can easily excrete. Vitamin A and E, however, are stored in the body's fat tissue and are not that easily excreted.

This is one of those issues that will never happen to 99.999% of my readers, but I need to make the obligatory disclaimer just in case some knucklehead out there thinks that if one vitamin A supplement a day is good for him, 200 a day must be better. So, just know that, theoretically, fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and E can be bad for you when taken in massive doses.

3) Lutein:
Doctors consider lutein an important antioxidant that is specifically useful for fending off macular degeneration. Lutein is one of the main pigments that make up the macula of the eye (this is the center of the retina responsible for your central and most detailed vision). Unfortunately, lutein tends to dissipate from the eye with age, which is why it's a great idea for people age 65 or older to include lutein supplements in their diets.

Lutein is found in dark leafy green veggies such as kale, swiss chard and collard greens, all of which you can find in your grocery store for laughably cheap prices. The most lutein-dense food available, however, is your basic raw spinach. But even run-of-the-mill vegetables such as corn and peas are good sources of lutein.

Again--just like with omega-3 fatty acids--your body can't make lutein on its own, so you must ingest it as part of your diet.

4) Flavonoids
Flavonoids are yet another class of antioxidants with wide benefits for human health. They have particular value in eye health, however, and are thought to be useful in protecting the eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts.

Green tea, red wine and dark colored berries (including blueberries, blackberries and dark cherries) are all excellent sources of flavonoids. Ginkgo biloba is yet another source of flavonoids. And of course, let's not forget the most important (to me at least) source of flavonoids: dark chocolate.

Scientists are still getting their arms around how exactly flavonoids actually work. Some recent studies have shown that they work in a counterintuitive way--it's the process by which your body removes the flavonoids from your body that help it gear up to remove other toxins and carcinogens roving around in your body. In fact it's quite difficult for the body to absorb flavonoids, and your body does not need large doses of flavonoids in order to obtain the proper health benefits from ingesting them.

Oh well: there goes my excuse for massive daily megadoses of dark chocolate.

Don't forget: you've gotta eat right to see right! If you eat a balanced diet that emphasizes foods containing all four of these categories of nutrients, you will be doing a lot to protect your eyes.

Next week, we'll talk about the worst dietary habits for your eyes.

Green Bean Salad: Another Ridiculously Easy Side Dish

Here is the first new dish for Cookbook Exploitation Month! I hope you enjoy it.


This is a healthy and really easy salad that you can whip up in 15 minutes. It has just a few easy-to-find ingredients, yet they combine to make an exotic taste sensation unlike anything I've ever had before.

I dug this recipe out of The Healthy Kitchen (by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley) last weekend while I was rooting around for some new recipes to try for Cookbook Exploitation Month.

I thought this one was so good and so simple that I had to share it with my readers.
Green Bean Salad
(from The Healthy Kitchen: Recipes for a Better Body, Life, and Spiritby Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley)

1 pound fresh green beans
2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 bay leaves
A dash of salt
1 lemon

Trim the ends off of the beans and drop them into rapidly boiling water. Cook until they are still crunchy, for 5 minutes only, do not overcook.

Drain the beans and cool them with cold water to stop them from cooking further. Then dry the beans off and toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, bay leaves and salt.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove 4 strips of yellow zest from the outside of the lemon. See the picture below:

Be careful to remove just the yellow outermost layer of the rind, leaving the more bitter-tasting white part of the rind alone.

Add these to the beans, toss well, and let the salad stand at room temperature for several hours until the flavors merge.

Remove the bay leaves, toss well, and serve.

Let me share a quick note about the cookbook that this recipe came from. For some reason, maybe because of the picture on the cover, we've taking to calling it "Andrew and His Concubine."

But all kidding aside, this cookbook is quite useful. It contains exceptionally helpful information about nutrition from Andrew Weil--I've found his commentary on organic produce and thoughts on why to avoid milk quite interesting. The recipes and cooking tips come from Rosie Daley, who was once Oprah Winfrey's personal chef.

At times, Rosie's recipes can get a bit too complex for Casual Kitchen's taste (this green bean salad is a happy exception), so I haven't delved into the cookbook as much as I would like to just yet. But if you are interested in learning about Andrew Weil's compelling philosophy of nutrition while also getting a really eclectic collection of recipes, I'd recommend this cookbook. Follow the link below and let me know what you think!