How Lean Can Lean Beef Be?

At home, I had been buying 90 percent lean ground beef, thinking it was the leanest available. But as I’ve scouted my local stores with the new eyes of someone on a no-salt, no-fat, no-sugar diet, I discovered that one Chicago supermarket, Jewel, sells a leaner ground beef, 96% lean in fact.

My trio of nutritionist don’t agree on eating beef on my restricted diet. The first told me straight out to eat vegetarian, which I do not want to do. The other two were more understanding and suggested limiting beef intake to six ounces a week and finding the leanest beef possible.

For me, six ounces is one serving, even though for nutritionists, it’s two. So I’ve bought some six-ounce fillets as a weekly treat.

But I also love hamburgers and wanted a way to continue eating those. Hamburgers you eat out can range from 75 percent to 80 percent lean, which means they’re 25 to 20 percent fat. That’s not doable for me, so I’ve cut out McDonald’s, Wendy’s and White Castle burgers.

A lean burger, along with peppers and asparagus.
A lean burger, along with peppers and asparagus.

At home, I had been buying 90 percent lean ground beef, thinking it was the leanest available. But as I’ve scouted my local stores with the new eyes of someone on a no-salt, no-fat, no-sugar diet, I discovered that one Chicago supermarket, Jewel, sells a leaner ground beef, 96% lean in fact.

It’s the most expensive of course, as healthy items invariably are, but I’m paying the price to keep hamburgers in my life.

I buy packages a bit over a pound to make four burgers and freeze them for future use. My first nutritionist, the nutrition nazi as I call her, said the only type of hamburger bun I can eat is something called an Ezekiel bread bun, available frozen only at Whole Foods in my area. Continue reading “How Lean Can Lean Beef Be?”

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Is All Ground Turkey Lean? Think Again

Stores sell lean ground turkey and extra lean ground turkey. The lean ground turkey, which often goes on sale for $3.99 a pound, has 8 grams of fat per serving (depending on the brand) while the extra lean, which never seems to go on sale in my area and costs $5.69 or more a pound, has only 1 gram of fat per serving.

White meat turkey is on my approved meat list, but white meat turkey can be drier than paper to eat, as I found out when I was in the hospital last August and ate what passed for a meal of turkey there.

Turkey burgers present the opportunity to use ketchup to flavor them up a bit. But my nutrition nazi had a warning about buying ground turkey or pre-made turkey burgers. Pre-made turkey burgers, such as the ones in restaurants or sold pre-made in supermarkets, contain turkey skin to give them some moisture so their fat content can be as high as that of some red meats.

Not all ground turkey is the same. There's lean and there's extra lean.
Not all ground turkey is the same. There’s lean and there’s extra lean.

I’ve found a corollary to that warning in my shopping, namely that not all ground turkey is the same leanness either. Continue reading “Is All Ground Turkey Lean? Think Again”

Can You Eat Healthy at a Bowling Alley?

So imagine my surprise to find a bison burger on the menu! Bison is much leaner than beef. The menu did have the expected chicken breast sandwich and some salads that didn’t sound all that dull, assuming I brought my own oil and vinegar instead of using the dressings suggested.

I found myself last October wondering if I would be able to get anything I can eat in my restricted diet at a bowling alley. I had bowled on an office team last spring that won our league championship and the team was planning a reunion night out of bowling. We were going to a different place than we had bowled at previously, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to eat anything there.

While I looked forward to seeing the team together again, I was worried I’d be watching everyone else drink beer and eat pizza. But luckily, the place we were going, Chicago’s Diversey River Bowl, was big enough to have put its restaurant menu on its Web site, so I checked ahead of time to see what I would settle for, imagining a dull salad or maybe yet another chicken breast.

A night at the bowling alley
A night at the bowling alley

So imagine my surprise to find a bison burger on the menu! Bison is much leaner than beef. The menu did have the expected chicken breast sandwich and some salads that didn’t sound all that dull, assuming I brought my own oil and vinegar instead of using the dressings suggested.

I gladly ordered the buffalo burger. It arrived with mayo which I scraped off, a reminder to be very specific when ordering anything. Other than that, I loved it. At eight ounces it was two ounces over my daily six-ounce red meat limit but I didn’t care in this case, it was too good of a surprise to pass up.

I did pass on the beer, but had what’s become for me a rare diet soda, so I was just as happy with that. Continue reading “Can You Eat Healthy at a Bowling Alley?”

How Much Salt Could be in Breadcrumbs? Too Much if You’re Not Careful

The difference is dramatic, 75 mgs of sodium in a panko serving compared with 430 mgs in the Italian breadcrumbs. And it gets worse.

If you’re on a low-salt diet as I am, you need to scrutinize labels of every product you buy to eat or cook with, no matter how minor it seems. Even something as innocent sounding as breadcrumbs are loaded with salt.

I use breadcrumbs as filler for my lean turkey meatloafs. I also use egg whites to bind them together into the loaf, avoiding using whole eggs. It hadn’t occurred to me to read the salt content of the breadcrumbs until a coworker mentioned that she enjoyed panko breadcrumbs better than regular ones.

Read those bread crumb labels!
Read those bread crumb labels!

I saw some on my next shopping trip and compared labels for the panko vs. the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs I was buying. Both were store brand products. Continue reading “How Much Salt Could be in Breadcrumbs? Too Much if You’re Not Careful”

Why is Lunch My Toughest Meal of the Day?

I was hopeful that plain chicken kabobs and sides of hummus and pita bread at the Mideast place would fit my diet as well, but that hope was dashed.

The nutrition nazi I saw to shape my new healthy eating plan post-angioplasty minced no words about it, there is no healthy way to eat out. Restaurant food has too much of everything that’s bad for me, salt, sugar and fat.

Yet I eat lunch out every day of the workweek and some weekend days as well. I need that time away from my office to break the daily routine and clear my head. So my lunches have become pretty much nothing but salads.

I normally eat at the food court in Chicago’s mammoth Merchandise Mart building, which is only a block from my office. It has an Arby’s, a McDonald’s, a Japanese fast sushi place, a Mexican place, a pizza place, a Mideastern fast food place and a place with a build-your-own salad bar. The build your own salad place has become pretty much my daily stop.

A McDonald's chicken salad
A McDonald’s chicken salad

My usual salad has field greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red quinoa, dried cranberries, a chicken breast, celery, garbanzo beans, and beets. Several of those items may actually be on my forbidden list, dried cranberries have sugar, for example, but I’m hoping the small number each day are ok so I have some flavor. I bypass all the dressings there and bring my own individual packets of olive oil and vinegar that I bought in bulk on Amazon.

Using Lose It!, a calorie counting and nutrition app for my iPhone, I put the calorie count for that at 521 calories. I bring along a 32-ounce bottle of water from my office because I detest paying for small bottles of water. Continue reading “Why is Lunch My Toughest Meal of the Day?”

What’s life like six months after angioplasty?

Now, acting gives me the escape from everyday trials and troubles that food once did. As I write this, I’m preparing to be in my first student-made film and a play I wrote myself.

I woke up early this morning fighting a mild cold with a bit of an upset stomach. Still in all, I woke up glad to be alive. Six months ago today, I was being wheeled into a surgery to save my life. Doctors had discovered one of the arteries around my heart was 80 percent blocked, meaning blood was barely getting through.

An angioplasty took place, a procedure in which doctors used a small balloon to clear the blockage and then inserted a stent, a wire mesh tube, to keep my artery open. It’s fair to say that changed my life, giving me years I likely would not have otherwise had, hopefully.

Me before my surgery
Me before my surgery
Me today, 29 pounds lighter
Me today, 29 pounds lighter

It also changed my food life more radically than anything else that has ever happened to me. My diet now bears little resemblance to what it had been. Gone are the daily chocolate candies, snack cakes and diet sodas that once were staples for me. Gone are burgers from McDonald’s, Wendy’s and elsewhere. My lunch almost every day now is a salad with oil and vinegar which I carry myself since most places don’t have it as an option. Dinners involve more vegetables and also more ground turkey, more fish and an occasionally very lean steak or 96 percent lean ground beef burger. White bread, rice and anything made with white flour are out.

The result? When I checked into a hospital Aug. 13, 2012, I weighed 219. This morning, six months later, I weigh 190, so I’ve lost 29 pounds in six months by eliminating everything I once loved from my diet.

I am constantly hungry these days, my appetite has not receded as predicted by some know-it-alls. And my taste for chocolate has not disappeared either. Indeed, yesterday I had the first real chocolate chip cookie I’ve eaten in months and it was amazingly good. This morning, to celebrate my anniversary, I ate the last two Drake’s Yodels I bought on eBay after parent company Hostess went into bankruptcy at the end of last year. And they tasted as wonderful as I remembered.

But like a diabetic who can no longer eat sugar, I can no longer eat my favorite foods if I want to continue living. So I am slowly finding substitute dishes, remaking old recipes with new healthier ingredients, and adapting. In six months, I have established a fairly decent home cooking routine that takes care of most dinners. Lunches out are salads, as I mentioned, boring but not harmful. And my wife and I are slowly assembling a new list of restaurants that have healthy dishes or that can accommodate me when I call ahead and say I want dishes with no salt, no fat and no sugar involved.

I’ve also thrown myself into a wonderful new avocation, acting. I’ve wanted to try acting since I was a kid but was too shy in those days. Luckily, my wife and I starting an acting class before my surgery and I fell in love with the whole process. Now, acting gives me the escape from everyday trials and troubles that food once did. As I write this, I’m preparing to be in my first student-made film and a play I wrote myself.

So if you’ve faced massive life changes like I have and had to leave your safety blanket of old foods behind, take some heart from my experiences. Rebuild and find new ways to enjoy the life you have now. I’m here to help.
John