About Dr. Gourmet

My name is Timothy Harlan and I am both a physician and a chef. This blog is a general collection of information and random ideas on eating great food and eating healthy.

You can find out more at the Dr. Gourmet web site. Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

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Antidepressants and Weight Gain; Oxidized Cholesterol; More : Ask Dr. Gourmet

Dear Dr. Gourmet,

Q: I have been eating grits instead of oatmeal because it stays with me longer then oatmeal. The main reason I switched from oatmeal is because it has more sugar in it then grits does. I am a type 2 diabetic and I have been trying to lower my blood sugar as best as I can. Although I have heard that oatmeal is better then grits for someone with type 2 diabetes, I am not convinced. The only way to give oatmeal any flavor without adding some sweetener to it seems to be impossible. Now I admit I do like oatmeal. I started an oatmeal for breakfast routine back sometime last year, which was ok, but it did not stay with me very long before I wanted something else in between to get me through to lunch time. I welcome suggestions if you can give me.

A: This is a great question. We know that higher fiber foods can be beneficial in helping control blood sugar. The prototype of that is oatmeal, and if I had a nickel for every time a physician said to a diabetic, “Eat oatmeal for breakfast,” I would retire today. We don’t recommend grits very often and I think that’s because they have been refined. Note, also, that grits are more calorie dense (all measures are for precooked grits or oats). Grits vs. oatmeal »

Q: I took Zoloft for about a year. I have been completely off the drug now for nine months. While on it, I gained 10 pounds. I workout 5-6 days a week, avidly. I am a cyclist and currently ride seven hours a week, and I lift free weights a couple of times a week. This was my level of activity before going on Zoloft as well.

So far, I have not been able to lose any of the weight, no matter what I’ve tried. … Is there anything you know or can suggest to help me? (I’m 5′5″ 135 lbs – prior to SSRI I was 125 lbs)

A: From your description it sounds like you are very healthy. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is well within the normal range at 22.5.

There are reports of weight gain on anti-depressants. This is not very well understood but it does appear to be an issue for some people. From what you say in your email you worked very hard at staying healthy during the time you were on the medication with the combination of aerobic exercise and weight training. After antidepressants »

Q: I have read in a couple of places that scrambled eggs are not good for you. One site said that by scrambling them, the cholesterol will oxidize. I love scrambled eggs so I hope this is not true.

A: The idea that oxidization of dietary cholesterol might be an issue comes from a number of sources. The problem is that none of these has been specifically linked to scrambled eggs. Oxidizing cholesterol »

Have a question? Send it to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and your question may be answered in this newsletter. Dr. Harlan regrets that due to time constraints, he can not answer all questions submitted. Your question may already have been answered in our Ask Dr. Gourmet archive.

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Two Bowls from Amy's : Reviews by Dr. Gourmet

Vegetable Penne & Marinara and Pesto Tortellini

Over the years we’ve enjoyed the vast majority of our frozen meals from Amy’s. For quite a while it seemed we’d reviewed everything they produced that fit our requirements for salt levels, so it was nice to see a “NEW!” gracing an Amy’s package. That new item is from their Bowls line – a Vegetable Penne & Marinara – and we picked up another Bowl that we’d previously avoided because of its higher sodium content: their Pesto Tortellini. Two Bowls from Amy’s »

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Nuts, cancer, and heart disease : Dr. Gourmet's Health and Nutrition Bites

Over the years we’ve written Health & Nutrition Bites on nearly a dozen peer-reviewed studies that focus on nuts and their impact on all sorts of conditions, including poor cholesterol scores, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t include those articles written about a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes nuts as one of its nine dietary components.

An international team of scientists, including representatives from Italy, Poland, and the United States, recently pooled the data from multiple prospective studies to look at the effects of nut consumption on the risk of death from all causes or specifically cancer or heart disease (Am J Clin Nutr 2015;101:783-93). Prospective studies are considered far more meaningful than cross-sectional studies, as prospective studies follow participants from one point in time to another, while cross-sectional studies look at a single snapshot in time.

The authors of today’s research found 7 prospective studies that looked at all-cause mortality, 6 that looked at risk of death from heart disease, and 2 that looked at risk of death from cancer. In pooling the data from these studies, the effective total number of participants was over 350,000 people. Nuts, cancer, and heart disease »

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Pregnancy and Supplements; Olive Oil; More : Ask Dr. Gourmet

Dear Dr. Gourmet,

Q: Thank you for your informative article about multivitamin use and breast cancer. I just started taking multivitamins a week ago because I am vegan, live in the Pacific Northwest, and am trying to conceive so I need B12, vitamin D, and folic acid. Would you say that I could interpret this new study to say that I should toss the multivitamins and just take individual supplements for those ingredients I listed above? I would really appreciate your input in this matter as I have PCOS and Endometriosis and therefore have an abundance of estrogen which would seem to place me in higher risk according to this study.

A: In a case such as yours it would be good to consult with your Obstetrician about which are the best vitamins to take. You are correct that making sure to get enough folate and Vitamin B12 is both important for women of childbearing age but especially so for you, since you are a vegan. This is the sort of case that the new guidelines speak to…. Pregnancy and Supplements »

Q: I was told to go on a low salt diet. Are the salt substitutes a good alternative, or are they just as bad for you?

A: There are a lot of different salt substitutes on the market, and you can find these in the same aisle as the spices and the salt. Most of them use forms of potassium that do a fair job at mimicking how sodium binds to the salt taste buds. There are also some herb preparations that call themselves salt replacements but they usually rely on lemon, which can help. Salt Substitutes »

Q: I have a question I’m having a hard time getting answers to. I use olive oil for almost everything, having been raised Italian. But I’m trying to diversify (assuming that this is a good thing, as with other food groups) and also, there are times when olive oil just isn’t the right choice, such as with stir fries. As someone who knows nutrition AND good taste, what are some oils that you think would be good to use AND still be great for cooking?

Also, a side question on this, I have heard that cooking with olive oil is actually NOT good and that it should really only be added after cooking. Is there any truth to this?

A: My first choice is generally olive oil. I use the best quality extra virgin olive oil for those dishes that I am not going to cook. The main reason for this is that I want the rich, fruity flavor to come through in my dressings and the like. There’s no reason to waste that expensive extra virgin olive oil. Save it and use virgin olive oil that’s less expensive for your cooking. Using Olive Oil »

Have a question? Send it to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and your question may be answered in this newsletter. Dr. Harlan regrets that due to time constraints, he can not answer all questions submitted. Your question may already have been answered in our Ask Dr. Gourmet archive.

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Mustard Thyme Penne with Chicken : Dr. Gourmet Newsletter

Dr. Tim Says….

I am working on a presentation for an upcoming conference. It’s a lot of work, and in general I enjoy doing it, but because I am so busy doing so much other stuff it is hard to find the time. I am always late submitting my PowerPoint slides (physician meetings are ALL about the slides). When I say always late, that means Every. Single. Time. I can’t remember if the PowerPoint has ever been in by the deadline.

Getting started is the key, and once I do get started the process tends to flow fairly well. It’s easier if it is a topic that I choose, especially if I find it interesting. The title of the presentation that I am working on now is “Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Better Nutrition.” That seems straightforward enough, but the first problem is that I don’t recall agreeing to that as a subject – even though I am on the planning committee for the meeting. (Honestly, I probably wasn’t paying attention, or as is more often the case, it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Best Diet Strategies »

Mustard Thyme Penne with Chicken | Low Sodium Mustard Thyme Penne with Chicken

One key to this dish is being bold with the heat while cooking the mushrooms. There’s not a lot of oil in the pan and the high heat will help the mushrooms caramelize quickly. While cooking they will release some of the water as steam and the combination of that, the oil, and the hot pan will help them brown, but you have to watch the pan closely and toss the mushrooms frequently to keep them from burning.

The caramelized mushrooms are what forms the foundation of the sauce. Combined with the mustard they create a great umami flavor.

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Three Versions of Mac and Cheese from Momma B's : Reviews by Dr. Gourmet

Momma B’s

Homestyle Mac & Cheese, Truffle Mac & Cheese, and Spicy Pepper Jack Mac & Cheese

People do love their Mac & Cheese. From Kraft’s version with day-glo orange “cheese” to the most decadent lobster mac and cheese with black truffles sold at high-end restaurants, this comfort food comes in just about every variety you can imagine (and some you really don’t want to). We here at Dr. Gourmet have tested quite a few, but even so people keep bringing new varieties onto the market.

One that just came on our radar was through an email sent by Carol M. of Lafayette, Louisiana, asking what we thought of Momma B’s Mac & Cheeses. “At $3.99 apiece at Winn-Dixie I’d rather know if they were any good before I let my kids eat them,” she wrote. While for $3.99 per serving you could make a lot of home made mac and cheese, one of the reasons we do reviews of frozen foods is because we realize that life isn’t perfect: you don’t always have time or the inclination to cook, and when you don’t, a lot of people eat frozen foods. We test those frozen foods for you so you can make the best decisions about which frozen foods you’re going to eat. Three Mac ‘n’ Cheese Varieties from Momma B’s »

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Spicy Broccoli Salad : New Recipes @ DrGourmet.com

Spicy Broccoli Salad

I was having lunch from a very nice buffet recently. The spread had a broccoli salad similar to this but with a somewhat boring white dressing. It wasn’t bad: a good, solid salad with a creamy texture and a bit of lemon flavor.

But I craved more. This spicier version is perfect for a summer picnic or served as a side with a piece of roasted whitefish like cod or halibut.

Roasted Mixed Potatoes

When I travel for conferences there will often be a breakfast spread. The quality is often dubious but recently one of the buffets had very nice roasted potatoes. The twist was red and purple potatoes along with yams and Yukon Gold. For once, they were not too greasy. This is a version of that but with a pinch of cayenne thrown in for a bit of zing.

If chives are out of season, you can use a couple of thinly sliced green onions instead.

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Eggs OK for Diabetics, Too : Dr. Gourmet's Health and Nutrition Bites

Sometimes it still seems to be an uphill battle to let people know that for the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol in your food) has virtually no effect on your cholesterol scores. Every now and then I still get an Ask Dr. Gourmet question about the cholesterol in a recipe, but the good news is that the word does seem to be getting out that eggs are good for you. That said, there’s been lingering concern about eggs increasing the risk of heart disease or stroke in diabetics (JAMA 1999;281(15):1387-1394), so those with diabetes or pre-diabetes are often told to limit their egg consumption.

As always, it’s great to be able to report on a study that looks at the issue directly. A team in Australia recruited 121 overweight or obese men and women who had been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes to participate in a three-month dietary study known as DIABEGG (Diabetes and Egg) (Am J Clin Nutr 2015;101:705-13). Half were assigned to a “High Egg group” and half were assigned to a “Low Egg group.” Diabetics can eat eggs, too! »

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Quality counts! : Dr. Gourmet's Health and Nutrition Bites

I’ve been saying for years – no, decades – that it’s the quality of the calories you put in your mouth and body that really count. Since I’m an allopathic, evidence-based physician talking about health and nutrition, people assume that I’m all about weight loss. The truth is, I’m not. Yes, it’s true that having a normal weight according to the Body Mass Index means a reduced risk of many chronic illnesses. But when patients come to me for treatment, I’m far more interested in improving what they eat than in whether they need to lose weight.

One of the easiest changes for people to make when they’re improving the quality of the calories in their diet is to improve the quality of the carbohydrates they’re eating. I’ve written columns on improving your carbohydrate choices, but tips include choosing brown over white rice; whole wheat pasta over white pasta (or quinoa pasta over rice pasta, if you have Celiac disease); and forgoing sugary cereals in favor of oatmeal or whole-grain cereals like Total® Raisin Bran.

Researchers in Spain made use of data gathered in an ongoing study (Eur J Clin Nutr 2015;69:297-302) to see if the quality of the carbohydrates people ate would actually help prevent them from gaining weight. Quality counts! »

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Wine : Ask Dr. Gourmet

Dear Dr. Gourmet,

Q: Does having a glass of wine every night affect weight loss?

A: Even though that glass of wine has about 150 calories, those who drink alcohol on a regular basis have a lower risk of being obese. In a study published in 2005, Drs. Ahmed and Rohrer looked at over 8,000 participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 46% of the respondents were classified as “current drinkers.” This group was much less likely to be obese. In another study of Danish adults, researchers found that those having between 1 and 7 drinks per week had the smallest waist circumference. Wine and weight loss »

Q: I’ve had chicken piccata in restaurants, but didn’t realize the sauce was wine based. I’d like to try your recipe for Chicken Piccata [here's Gluten-free Chicken Piccata], but since I abstain from alcohol I’m concerned about the wine content. Is all the alcohol cooked out of the sauce or is there an alternative to using wine?

A: Usually Picatta recipes use wine or an alcohol. Not all do. With the cooking process the alcohol is evaporated for the most part.

In a tablespoon of wine there’s not a lot of alcohol to start with. There’s about 2 cc of alcohol (240 cc in a cup / 16 Tablespoons / 14% alcohol). That’s less than a half teaspoon. And the alcohol is pretty volatile and evaporates faster than the water. Wine in cooking – and alternatives »

Q: Is there a substitute for red wine? Perhaps grape juice made from grapes rather than concentrate? I do not drink alcohol at all and would not do so even for the benefits of red wine.

A: There is good evidence that drinking grape juice has many of the same benefits as drinking red wine. The antioxidant polyphenols in red grape juice have been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol in the same way as red wine. Much of the research that has been done is in the test tube and there are not large scale trials in humans to support this yet. That said, the action of the red grape juice acts very much like red wine. Wine or grape juice? »

Have a question? Send it to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and your question may be answered in this newsletter. Dr. Harlan regrets that due to time constraints, he can not answer all questions submitted. Your question may already have been answered in our Ask Dr. Gourmet archive.

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