Read an Excerpt
ZonePerfect Cooking Made Easy
Quick, Delicious Meals for Your Healthy Zone Lifestyle
By Gloria Bakst
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Gloria Bakst
All rights reserved.
Living in the Zone
I love living in the Zone, and now that it's been my life for the last decade or so, I can't imagine leaving it behind. I feel great, sleep soundly, am mentally alert, and am always ready for anything!
You will feel the same way once you make the commitment to eat and live in the Zone. I promise that life will get only better. Like me, you will walk around with a feeling of well-being and wonder how you can persuade your friends and loved ones to join you. If you are in charge of shopping and cooking in your household, you will be able to bring your family along with you into the Zone. They'll thank you. Zone-friendly meals are absolutely delicious and include the foods we all love. And there is no guilt in the Zone. If you slip up, no worries. Just resume the plan with the next meal.
I am not perfect. At some meals, I trip up or, more likely, make a conscious decision to eat foods I know are not Zone favorable. After four hours, or the next morning, I feel sluggish and unfocused. If I have eaten far too many carbohydrates, I feel worn down and have what I call a food hangover. I can't wait to get back into the Zone. And it's so easy.
Shopping in the Zone
It's important to keep a running shopping list so that when you go to the market, you are prepared. I like to shop at large natural food markets such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets. These stores offer the same convenient, one- stop shopping that other supermarket chains do. They are not necessarily vegetarian markets; most sell wild-caught fish, free-range poultry, and responsibly raised or grass-fed beef. The produce is generally organically grown. If you don't have access to one of these markets, you can easily make wise decisions at most mainstream supermarkets.
When I go into a large market, the first place I look is the produce department. If the apples, lettuce greens, berries, and green beans don't look fresh and inviting, I walk out. If I have no choice, I buy frozen vegetables and fruit rather than fresh, which are always a good, healthful alternative. Another place to check is the fish department. If it meets my standards, my confidence meter rises! The fish should look fresh and clean, and whole fish should have bright-looking scales and gills and clear eyes. The catch should be displayed on crushed ice, and there should not be any noticeable odor. A fish department with good turnover is key.
Otherwise, I look for a well-stocked, clean store with friendly, helpful personnel. I never hesitate to ask questions and to "make friends" with the butcher, the produce manager, and the folks at the deli counter. This makes shopping more pleasant and can also save time and be of help when you're looking for something particular.
Cooking in the Zone
First and foremost, it's critical to be organized. This means knowing what food you have on hand and what you need for the week's meals. Yes, when you live in the Zone, you have to think about food. A lot! I don't know about you, but this has never been a hardship for me.
I keep the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer stocked with Zone-friendly foods at all times. This makes it easy to prepare meals and snacks as the days go by, and so if I can't get to the market, I can stay in the Zone.
Staying in the Zone means eating three good meals a day (including breakfast) and two snacks. I eat my snacks at midafternoon and then in the evening shortly before bed. (Turn to Chapter 2 for my two-week menu plan, to get a good idea of how to plan these meals, and see "Eating the Right Amounts" later in this chapter.) It also means never letting more than four or five hours go by without eating. If you are eating the correct Zone balance of approximately 40 percent carbohydrates to 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat based on caloric intake and using the mathematical formula on page 269, you won't feel hungry for your next meal, but you will feel ready. But don't worry. I have done the math, too, so you don't need to unless you want to.
If you have Zone-friendly food in the house or easily accessible at work, this is simple.
For this reason, when I shop, I stock up on packaged soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, soy crumbles, and soy cheeses. I buy non- or low-fat dairy cheeses, eggs, and sliced meats such as ham and turkey. If I see nice-looking smoked fish in the deli department, I buy some to snack on.
I keep containers of hummus and baba ghanouj, hard-cooked eggs, and sliced cold cuts in the refrigerator to make snacking easy. I also stock my refrigerator with olives, avocados, guacamole, and salsa, as well as lettuce greens, fresh spinach, yellow squash, zucchini, and fresh green beans. I keep a store of lemons, limes, and oranges as well as whatever other fruit or berries are in season. My favorite Zone-friendly fruits include pineapples, strawberries, blueberries, and peaches.
For nonperishable foods, I buy bags of dried beans and lentils; cans of tomatoes, cooked beans, artichoke hearts packed in brine, and low-fat chicken and vegetable broth; jars of peanut butter, almond butter, and sugar-free preserves; and packages of almonds and walnuts. I always have both regular olive oil for cooking and extra-virgin for uncooked preparations. Besides olive oil, I keep canola oil and small bottles of specialty oils such as toasted sesame, almond, and walnut.
I stock the freezer with low-glycemic frozen vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, green beans, artichoke hearts, and pea pods (not high-glycemic vegetables such as corn and English peas), frozen berries such as blueberries and strawberries, and frozen fruit such as peaches and nectarines. I also keep cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts and shrimp in the freezer, both good sources of protein.
We are born with a hankering for sweets, but refined, processed cane sugar (white sugar) is never Zone friendly and will only create carbohydrate cravings. I satisfy my sweet tooth with whole fruit and an occasional baked good. For sweetening, I use fructose (as syrup or granules) and Splenda, a cane sugar product with rearranged molecules so that it adds sweetness without affecting insulin levels or adding calories. (Stay away from artificial sweeteners, which raise insulin levels.) After fructose and Splenda, I suggest stevia. Considered an herbal supplement, it is nearly 300 times as sweet as sugar, which makes it tricky to measure; if you use too much, the food tastes bitter. It's great for sweetening fruit and dairy products but is less successful for baked goods. Like Splenda, stevia does not affect insulin levels. My next two choices for sweetening are brown rice syrup and then honey.
I also stock up on ZonePerfect nutrition bars and ZonePerfect shakes. Both make great snacks.
Finally, I keep a few bottles of nice white and red wine in a cool storage area. A four-ounce glass is only 5 grams of carbohydrates and delightfully accentuates many meals. Depending on the brand, low-carbohydrate beers have 2 to 3 grams of carbs. I stay away from other liquor, but if you like scotch, vodka, or other spirits now and then, keep in mind that an ounce equals 9 grams of carbohydrates, so go easy.
If your tap water does not taste good, put a filter on your faucet or buy bottled water. It's important to drink eight eight-ounce glasses a day. Some liquids can be decaffeinated tea or coffee.
The Zone-Friendly Kitchen
Since cooking in the Zone does not require any special techniques or fancy equipment, most home kitchens are already there. You will need the usual equipment such as cutting boards; good, sharp knives (chef's, paring, and serrated); a good vegetable peeler; tongs; and long-handled wooden spoons. I also suggest glass baking dishes, nonreactive mixing bowls (those not made with aluminum), a roasting pan, and good, heavy saucepans with lids. A large, nonstick skillet is extremely useful.
Without doubt, you will need an accurate kitchen scale to weigh food. Once you get in the habit of using a scale, it will become indispensable, even after you get a pretty good idea of how to guesstimate and "eyeball" most foods.
I suggest you invest in a good steamer. I like the bamboo steamers that sit in a flat pan. Equally good are stainless steel steamers fitted with a perforated inset. What I don't like are those flimsy collapsible baskets—they are nothing but frustrating.
Beyond a steamer, I suggest you outfit your kitchen with a food processor and a good, heavy-duty blender. I would be lost without either one. The blender is essential for making smoothies, and smoothies are essential for me!
A good countertop grill, as well as the grill in the backyard, makes cooking easier. Grilling is a wonderful way to cook without added fat. In wintertime, the countertop grill steps in to do the job. Finally, a slow cooker is a handy appliance, especially if you lead a hectic life. And who doesn't?
Eating Out in the Zone
If you're lucky enough to eat out, enjoy it! This is a meal that you don't have to shop for or cook. You probably are with friends or family, and the atmosphere is festive. But remember to eat in the Zone whenever possible.
This means hold the rolls, ask for extra vegetables in place of rice, pasta, or potatoes, and order a lean protein without much or any sauce. Drink water instead of alcohol, and split a dessert with a friend. If you "blow it," don't despair. Just go right back to the Zone four hours later or the next morning. I go off the Zone from time to time, but when I do, I cannot wait for my next meal to get back to the program. Because of this, I always say there is no room for guilt in the Zone!
Keeping Active in the Zone
As with any healthy lifestyle, eating right is only part of it. Exercise, stress reduction, and good sleep habits contribute to your overall well-being and, along with your food choices, are inextricably intertwined.
Everyone who can should walk for at least thirty minutes a day. This should be a brisk walk, not so strenuous that you cannot keep a conversation going but rapid enough to get your heart rate up. Divide this into three ten-minute walks if that fits more easily with your routine, but please, don't ignore it!
Beyond walking, I urge everyone to work out with weights or other resistance training (such as push-ups) two or three times a week. Ask a trainer or consult another reliable source as to what is best for your age, weight, and fitness level.
Any and all exercise fits into the Zone lifestyle: running, swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, dancing, playing tennis, biking, working out on cardio machines at the gym—anything that gets the heart beating above its sedentary rate.
Yoga and Pilates are great for muscle toning and, when practiced regularly and correctly, are more strenuous than you might think. These disciplines also are beneficial to mental clarity.
All exercise reduces stress levels and relieves everyday aches and pains. Consult your doctor before you begin an exercise regime, but, happily, most of us can work out to some degree.
When exercise and nutritional food become part of our daily lives, stress levels go down and we tend to sleep better. This is good news, because, according to some statistics, nearly half of all Americans complain of sleep disorders at some time in their lives. I believe everyone should get at least seven hours of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep every night, although I know there are those rare individuals who exist on fewer hours. If you are sleep deprived, you have less energy, probably won't push yourself to exercise, and may eat more than you should.
If you feel tired rather than sleepy, a little exercise will help. Tie on a pair of walking shoes and hit the pavement! First, drink a glass of water; fatigue also is associated with dehydration.
Eating the Right Amounts
The Zone is devised on eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat every day. Everyone who eats a Zone-friendly diet should consume regularly scheduled daily meals and snacks that maintain a 40-30-30 balance. Sound scary? Too difficult?
It's neither scary nor difficult, as you'll discover once you get in the habit and begin cooking and eating the healthful recipes I have assembled here. You want to vary the proteins and carbohydrates you eat, and you never want to exceed the recommended amount of either. When it comes to fat, there is a little more leeway. I don't suggest filling up on sugary sweets, but a little extra olive oil won't hurt you unless you are truly trying to lose weight. Unlike carbs, fats don't affect insulin levels.
Once you get in the habit of eating in the Zone, you will be able to eyeball portion sizes and tell at a glance if you are in or out. Essentially, to be in the Zone, most of your plate should be filled with low-glycemic vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, green beans, artichoke hearts, pea pods, and other greens. Salad is always a good choice, too. Add some sliced strawberries or another fruit and you have the carbohydrates that make up 40 percent of the meal. The protein serving should be about as large and thick as the palm of your hand. Choose lean protein, such as white meat chicken, turkey, fish, and tofu. Finally, you need only a little fat to satisfy the final 30 percent. This means about a tablespoon or less of monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil or mashed avocados.
While monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, and the fats found in almonds, peanuts, cashews, tahini, and avocados) are considered good fats, polyunsaturated fats (such as soy oil, safflower oil, and corn oil) are only fair choices and so, when you have the option, go with monounsaturated fats every time. Saturated fats (those found in animal protein and dairy products) are not healthful. Consume them sparingly, and then only in the form of lean protein and low- or nonfat dairy.
Trans fats, associated with cardiac disease, diabetes, and even some cancers, are never good for you. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in a process call hydrogenation, which makes the fat solid at room temperature (think of margarine) and increases the shelf life of products. Not surprisingly, the food industry has had a long-standing relationship with trans fats, which turn up in all manner of processed foods such as cookies, potato chips, candy bars, and frozen foods. As of January 1, 2006, food companies are required to begin listing trans fats on nutrition labels, where they will get their own line just below saturated fats. As well as looking for trans fats on the label, stay away from the words "partially hydrogenated," which indicate their presence as well.
Before you're comfortable eyeballing your food, you may want to understand how I get to the 40-30-30 balance. Turn to page 269 for the mathematic formula. But don't worry too much. Throughout the book, I do the heavy lifting by figuring the nutritional counts; you need only count the carbs, protein, and fat grams to put together Zone-favorable meals. Start with the Seven-Day Quick Start on page 14 and the Seven-Day Plan for Living in the Zone on page 20, and then familiarize yourself with the Food Guide on page 265 to get the idea of how to assemble meals that are squarely and deliciously in the Zone.
I have put together a general outline of how most healthy men and women should eat to stay in the Zone. It's tricky to be precise, but I think you'll get the idea. (If you are overweight, please consult with your doctor before you decide on the Zone as a weight-loss program.)
Healthy women of average weight and height who exercise moderately (thirty minutes of walking a day, for instance) should consume approximately 1,100 calories. This breaks down to:
Total each day: 109 grams of carbohydrates, 82 grams of protein, and 39 grams of fat
Each of three meals: 29 to 33 grams of carbohydrates, 22 to 24 grams of protein, and 10 to 11 grams of fat
Each of two snacks: 9 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat
An easy way for a healthy woman to eat right would be to consume about 3 ounces of meat or poultry, or 41/2 ounces of fish at a single meal. Add a lot of fresh vegetables, a small handful of legumes, and fruit.
Healthy men of average weight and height who exercise moderately (30 minutes of walking a day, for instance) should consume approximately 1,500 calories. This breaks down to:
Total each day: 151 grams of carbohydrates, 113 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat
Each of three meals: 43 grams of carbohydrates, 32 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fat
Each of two snacks: 11 grams of carbohydrates, 8.5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat
An easy way for a healthy man to eat right would be to consume about 4 ounces of meat or poultry, or 6 ounces of fish at a single meal. Add a lot of fresh vegetables, a handful of legumes, and fruit.
It's just fine for both men and women to eat a smaller breakfast than I suggest (but don't skip it altogether!) and then increase amounts proportionally throughout the day. As long as you have eaten as the day goes by and consume the appropriate amounts, all is well.
If you exercise for more than two-and-a-half hours a week and consider yourself fit, you most likely fall into the "very active" category and therefore can eat a little more at each meal. Very active women can consume 1,300 to 1,400 calories a day and very active men, 1,700 to 1,800 calories a day. For more explanation and a chart of Zone-favorable foods, turn to page 265.
Elite athletes—those who run marathons or play professional sports, for instance—have different needs. To calculate yours more precisely, go to ZonePerfect.com or call toll-free 800-390-6690.
As you get more into the Zone way of life and as your energy increases, you will probably become more active. If so, you might feel the need to increase your intake of food. The important thing is to maintain the 40-30-30 ratio and to eat regularly, without ever allowing more than four or five hours to elapse between meals.
Welcome to the Zone!
I am so happy you have decided to join me in the Zone. I have never felt better and never been more content. When winter arrives at my New England door, I don't worry as much as I once did about getting colds or the flu; I get up every morning looking forward to the day ahead; and I tackle new projects and old problems with energy and calm determination. I attribute this overall sense of gratification to the Zone.
This way of life works for most people. However, a small percentage of the population is intensely carbohydrate sensitive. Others have thyroid conditions. Menopausal women may not respond as readily to the Zone as younger women. For these folks and others whose bodies don't react easily to the 40-30-30 way of eating, I urge patience and diligence. Try the diet for a week or so, and then adjust it to meet your needs. You may have to stay away from unfavorable carbohydrates (no cheating allowed!) or increase your activity level. But stick with it. It will work, and you will feel wonderful!
Excerpted from ZonePerfect Cooking Made Easy by Gloria Bakst. Copyright © 2006 by Gloria Bakst. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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