The Nordic-Terranean Venn Diagram Food Plan

 

 

If any good comes of the health crises abounding on Hubby’s side of the familial ledger and my brother in law’s quad bypass surgery, it’s that we’ve both felt the Universe’s foot in our butts about making some overdue changes to our food choices and exercise goals.

The two of us have family medical histories that read like a CDC bulletin: cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure; diabetes; cancer; strokes; arthritis. In fact, Hubby had an uncle who had the trifecta of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. He still made it to 80, but the last few years were of highly questionable quality.

Needless to say, we don’t want that. It goes double for me since then nonsmokers in my family hang around until their 90s. Several lengthy conversations and not a little research later, we drew the following conclusions:

  1. Both of us need to move our behinds a lot more. I added weight training (we have a machine in the basement) twice a week and committed to practicing with yoga videos from YouTube at least twice a week on top of walking with Oakley at least 30 minutes a day.
  2. We needed to tweak our food intake. Even though there is nothing more soothing to the soul than carbs and cheese, a steady diet of it does no one any good. Especially when mac and cheese, albeit homemade, becomes the default meal.
  3. Portion control is a factor. We are both guilty of eating out of the container and picking at leftovers and stress eating.
  4. Both of us see kale as the vegetable equivalent of waterboarding.
  5. We like ice cream and cake.

So how do we make these changes as painless as possible? We had been sort of kind of eating according to the Mediterranean diet. (Graphic on the right, not mine in any way shape or form.) For Hubby, it’s perfect because his roots sink deep into the soil of the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern shores. He just has to do some portion control and he’ll be in great shape.

For me, however, it was a tad too high in carbs, even unrefined ones, and fats, even healthy olive oil. Plus I’m wired to need more substantial sources of protein than legumes and nuts. (Now you know why I can’t go completely vegetarian.) Unlike Hubby’s, my ancestors wandered all over the map of the United Kingdom, western and northern Europe. What, then, should I eat?

Behold the graphic in the upper left: the Nordic, or Baltic diet.  (Again, not my work.) A team of Helsinki researchers riffed on the Mediterranean pyramid to use products that are easier to find in northern Europe.  It emphasizes lower glycemic foods such as berries; grains such as barley, rye, and oats; lentils; and more dairy products, preferably low fat. Oh, and canola oil, preferably organic. Plus potatoes.

The overlaps are in the seafood, leafy greens, nuts, yogurt, and small amounts of chocolate departments. We start meal planning from there.

We back off on the starch based meals and watch the amount of oil. Trina Hahnemann’s New Nordic Diet has a crazy easy cod and mussel stew recipe that’s become a go-to, replacing the mussels with shrimp if we can’t get to the fish monger’s.  Just put everything in the pan and let it steam until done. I am eating rye bread most of the time–the really good bread Aldi gets from Germany. I am eating oatmeal.

If we can stay the course, we can still have a bit of cheese and we can still have pasta a couple of times a week in moderation.

I am happy. I will be more more so when the scale starts to move.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Go Shopping with the Inner Child

The end of the Thanksgiving leftovers brought in the beginning of a new shopping cycle. So be it.

I stopped at Aldi after acupuncture on Tuesday. Fruit (limited but lovely organic selections), some veggies, a pizza, some pumpkin for Oakley. OK.

At this time of year, Aldi brings in holiday goodies from Germany. Fancy chocolates; cookies; specialty cheeses; cakes and breads; crackers hum a chorus of temptation.

My adult self can tune out all but the the deep vibrato of the most celebratory chocolate. My inner child, however, needs noise canceling headphones.

I stood there with a bag of dark chocolate almonds in my hand. My early elementary self whispered,  Can we get these, please? 

Not a good idea.

Why? Almonds are good for you. So is dark chocolate.

True in theory, but what happened last time we bought a bag?

Shrug.

How long did the bag last?

Uhh… But they’re good for you. Look, they have dark chocolate and sea salt and they’re almonds!

If we eat it all in one shot, they’re not so good for you. I think we’d better put the bag down.

But–but..

PUT. THE. BAG. DOWN.

Sigh. 

The bag went back on the shelf.

Similar inner dialogs occurred in the seasonal isle with the sea salt caramels, truffles, and some crackers as well as the cheese section. We were able to compromise on some regular dark chocolate, a little extra fruit. That placated her.

We were able to get out unscathed, on budget, and with a minimum of bruised feelings. I made pasta for dinner (which makes her smile) and we went on to have a bit of chocolate for dessert, leaving us both at peace.

 

Reconsidering Aldi

No, dears, I’m not getting paid for this. I have simply developed a fondness for it after many years.

When we first moved out here, Aldi was the store of last resort. The turn off of the main road is at an unnatural angle and shared with two other businesses. The old building, now demolished, smelled odd. Many of the foods were processed overseas, and the labels read like the culinary world’s Periodic Table. I bought what I could comfortably (read: pasta) and dreamed of the post-construction days ahead when I could shop other places without fear of overdrawing our checking account.

As do other trying times, those passed. I drove past it with little thought.

Then in came the new building.

And in came reviews and raves from unexpected sources. One friend with a kid en route to college told me over several lunches that Aldi had started to carry organic and natural and gluten-free products. Another who runs in business circles of the highest order on the east coast posted several raves about it and how much she had cut her grocery bills. Then came the biggest shocker of all: my sister whose taste buds out-discriminate mine called and told me of a delicious dinner that she’d made with fish purchased there.

Oh, and let’s not forget my personal kryptonite: chocolate. Really good high-quality made in Europe chocolate.  Hubby brought a lot home before I caved and decided to give Aldi another shot for everyday shopping. We went there one afternoon, and well, he won.

Caveats:

  • Take a quarter and bags with you. The carts are chained together and can be freed for a quarter. This prevents loss and damages incurred by rogue carts roaming the lot. They do have paper bags, but they’re something like six cents each. Oh, and you have to bag your own purchases. But it’s worth it.
  • Take an extra bag or two. Remember the stories about shopping in Cold War-era Russia where people always carried bags with them so they could purchase food, clothes, etc. to make sure they didn’t run out in case of a shortage? You never know what you might find on special at Aldi, so be prepared. Not just food wise, but kitchen equipment, household goods, and chainsaws. Really.
  • Do extra scrutiny on the labels. I bought some salsa that had sugar in it. Some argue that sugar in tomato products lifts and balances the flavor. To me, you might as well pour it on ice cream. Also the nut butters have palm oil in them with no indication about whether or not it’s rainforest safe. Their grape supplier sprays them with sulfur to preserve freshness.
  • Be careful about the meat and fish for additives such as dyes and preservatives and where it was produced. Also be aware that the dairy products give no indication about GMO or antibiotic safety.

But that being said, their parent company is in Germany, and they usually have breads, jams, and soups manufactured in the EU, so that helps with the safety factor. They have a lot of gluten free offerings: corn-based pasta, mac and cheese, pizza (which incidentally gives two Weight Watcher friendly servings), and cereals and snack bars. The produce is a little hit and miss, but they are making strides with the organic offerings.

I mentioned the chocolate, didn’t I?