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Friday, October 29, 2010

Weight Loss: Complex Carbohydrates

Ever since the advent of Atkins, it seems like carbohydrates have been viewed with the same back-and-forth ridiculousness that our culture applies to many other necessary aspects of our diet. Low-carb diets are effective ways to lose weight, sure, but they are very unhealthy. Why? Because you are depriving your body of something that it uses on a cellular level. Carbohydrates aren't bad, and neither are proteins...both are necessary for energy and cell reproduction!

So why all the negative press? Well, simple carbohydrates, defined as those with one or two sugars, are quickly converted to fat instead of used as energy. These carbohydrates are bad in large amounts and should be limited as much as possible. Complex carbohydrates, those with three or more sugars, should be a large part of your daily diet. They break down more slowly, providing you with energy that lasts longer and many of the nutrients that your body needs. Simple carbohydrates occur naturally in fruits, honey, and in some vegetables. They are also present in refined sugar, which is part of why foods containing refined sugar and flour should be avoided.

Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, in legumes and in starchy vegetables. All of these foods contain more than just carbohydrates, they also contain vitamins and minerals...which is why they should be used liberally in your daily diet. In fact, ideally you should be getting 40-60% of your daily caloric intake from complex carbohydrates.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recipe! Gypsy Soup. [Vegan]

I...really can't say enough about this delicious, amazing soup. Really. It's so good, so filling, so low on calories and so high in nutrition. My whole family loved this soup, even the carnivores!

Originally listed on Cooking Books, I made a few slight modifications to this amazing recipe but not many. The heat can be adjusted (just add more or less cayenne pepper), but other than that I would encourage you to use the seasonings as described. For once, I don't recommend messing with too much...although you could if you wanted to. I imagine it's pretty hard to go wrong with his soup.

We had it with a simple, delicious brown bread (recipe to come!) and were all stuffed. You could add a salad as well. For the original recipe and for gorgeous pictures see Cooking Books. And not miss out on this soup. It's cheap, delicious, hearty, and healthy...and did I mention easy? It doesn't get any better than that!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Exploring Anxiety: Food and Emotion Pt. 2

(Starting today, I'll be on vacation until November 5th or so. Blogs and recipes will still be posted, but I wont be around on Twitter or here to reply to comments. Please enjoy the blogs, regardless!)

In Monday's entry, I talked about modifying your relationship with food...the relationship that was forged during the earliest years of your life. But I don't want to give the wrong impression...I don't believe that food should be viewed strictly as a necessary part of life that's entirely pragmatic and unrelated to pleasure or stress relief or anything else. Cooking, eating, can be it's own art form, and flavors, textures, and forms can be endlessly intriguing.

Consider the current leanings of pop culture and food. Chefs have never been so celebrated in America as they are right now, and many cities are embracing whole new palates of flavor from all over the world. Food Network has done a great deal to further our embrace of rockstar-chefs and our own abilities to create delicious dishes at home, but many other avenues of communication and entertainment are plugging into the trend as well.

But far beyond the current pop-culture food climate, food has represented so much for thousands of years, often used as everything from currency to peace-offerings to a sign of respect or a measure of wealth. Why deny all that history and heritage by reducing eating, and thus food, to a strictly functional thing with no pleasure involved?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe! Fall Baked Apples

So maybe I'm going a little nuts with the fall recipes...but why not? It's a delightful way to appreciate a season that is, in my opinion, far too short. The flavors of fall, the seasonal foods, the weather, the crunch of leaves and the smell of the's the perfect time of year!

Eating these apples after a dinner of soup and fresh bread felt about as close to heaven as anyone can get on this earth. We added a little almond milk or heavy cream to them and ate them with forks...they were amazing. If you are pressed for time, you can steam them in a pan without about 2 inches of water first and bake until the topping is crisp and delicious. Brown sugar can be replaced with agave for a cleaner approach. All in all, this dessert fits the dessert criteria while remaining low calorie.

Try it and enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Exploring Anxiety: Food and Emotion Pt. 1

There's no doubt that food carries with it a great deal of connotation. Our relationships with food are something forged very deeply in us, often during our childhood...and like anything cemented during our formative years, this relationship can shape and define us. This relationship, in America, is made even more complex by the glut of food that is available, and the conflicting nutritional information available around every turn.

The sheer availability of food is huge in our culture; we have so many options put before us and galvanized with so much advertising that choosing how we are going to eat and live becomes an every day battle. Food can be a very disheartening part of an anxiety disorder and the combination of the two can lead to eating disorders and unhealthy deprivation habits. There's a medium that has to be struck between monitoring your daily diet to optimize your mental and physical health and obsessing about it, and for many, that can be a very difficult medium to reach.

So if you are struggling with food, with eating things that are unhealthy or eating "too healthy", with eating portions that are far too large or far too small, with binging every few days and following it with days of deprivation, or any other mentally-based, unhealthy food-related activity, there are a few things that you can do to try and self-correct. Of course, you need to use your judgment and seek medical help if necessary, but if you catch any problems early enough, it shouldn't need to come to that.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lifestyle: Weight Loss and Guilt

I feel like this weight loss issue is becoming a bit of a series, but I imagine it's a good idea to get it out of the way so that we can focus on other aspects of the anti-anxiety lifestyle. Eating according to these standards in no way guarantees weight loss, however, if you are overweight and you eat small portions of this healthy food, I imagine that you will lose weight. This isn't a diet in the way that those other fads are diets, which is exactly why it works so well. It's not difficult to live with or to follow.

I guess what made me think of all of this was my recent foray into diet consultation with my friend...I think what makes this whole thing so much different is that it can't be approached the same way that fad diets are. You aren't denying yourself anything. You aren't forcing yourself to live without. When you choose to make a lifestyle change for your mental and emotional health, you are finding new and better ways of living. It's rewarding in and of itself because you will feel better, and soon enough, you wont want what you aren't supposed to have.

The anti-anxiety diet isn't about deprivation and therefore, if you are trying to lose weight or if you are trying  to address a health issue or if you are just trying to eat a little better, guilt shouldn't be a part of it. Being raised in a religious background, I've often felt the burden of all sorts of unnecessary guilt, as though everything I did was somehow encroaching on someone else. A lot of this attitude made itself evident in my eating patterns, until finally I became so overwhelmingly frustrated that I just quit caring how I ate.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Recipe! Clean Eating Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

In my family, we're a little bit gypsy and a lot Irish. We have some other nationalities in us, but I think they lay dormant in fear of those two. We've always laughed about how much we love typical Irish fare, meat and potatoes, butter and's all used with gusto in our house. I cook a lot of Irish food, and I love trying Irish recipes (I need to make Irish Butter, but that's another post), and I love the simple, rustic flavors used in Irish cooking.

One Irish staple that I've not often made but that I will definitely be making more is soda bread. Tiffany at The Gracious Pantry provided a wonderful recipe, which I am going to post here with her permission. The recipe uses whole wheat pastry flour...providing a delicious alternative to the usual white flour version. If you aren't used to making bread, this is a wonderful way to begin! It's easy, simple, and wonderfully wholesome. Eat with butter and honey or dip into the Potato Cheddar Soup for maximum deliciousness.

And most of all...enjoy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lifestyle: Alternative Medicine Part 2

So week one of oil pulling is behind me, and as promised, I've come to you with an update!

As far as my sinus infection, I'm beginning to think that I should have just seen a doctor. It appears to be going away, but so slowly that it's beginning to get ridiculous...and frustrating. However, I am grateful for it in some ways. Without it I would never have discovered oil pulling, which would have been a shame, because in one week I've noticed some pretty incredible results!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recipe! Amazing Irish Potato, Cheddar, and Corn Soup

It's more than a little likely that I'll be posting copious amounts of soup recipes this fall and winter. Mainly, this is because soup is a wonderful meal, stretches to feed a family, and you can explore a million different flavors and still have a warm comfort food...not to mention that it can be very low calorie. This one is not particularly low calorie...but it's easy, comforting, and absolutely delicious. We had surprise guests over when I made it, and no one could stop talking about how good it was. It even tasted delicious reheated!

Although I took the original recipe from Whole Foods, the comments seemed to suggest that the soup was bland. When I started making it, I could see why...the only spices used were salt and pepper! I don't understand a potato soup that doesn't include garlic, and we used quite a lot. Along with the rest of the spices, we could not have had a more flavorful soup. The taste wasn't overpowering at all, which allowed each element to come through perfectly.

We served the soup with whole wheat Irish Soda Bread and had baked apples for dessert....both recipes to come! I'll be posting some amazing soup recipes this fall and winter, but this makes an excellent start to the season. Feel free to play with the seasonings, and most of all....enjoy!!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Healthy Weight Loss: Calorie Restriction Without Starvation

On Friday, I mentioned that the way anyone could lose weight was restricting their calories...which is true. But Professor Haub's experiment proves that there are healthy ways to do this...and unhealthy ways. Eating only 1200 calories a day will help you lose weight, but eating 1200 calories of Twinkies and the occasional vegetable is very terrible for you, and can no doubt cause all kinds of health issues. I would venture to say that those people who are interested in losing weight generally want to keep it off, right? Which means eating healthy foods while still restricting calorie intake. (And building lean muscle, but we'll get to that in another post.)

With all the millions of diets out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. In the checkout at the market they intersperse homemaking magazines (each advertising the latest fad diet) with beauty magazines (each displaying the latest air brushed figure), a powerful form of suggestion. In fact, it's less like suggestion and more like being beaten over the head with a blunt object loosely designated as "marketing". But the fact is that all of this rigmarole is a little unwarranted. When trying to lose weight, you're best off eating whole foods, plenty of raw foods, and getting the bulk of your calories from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which you can eat a lot of without reaching 1200.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lifestyle: Weight Loss...the Healthy Way.

I've talked briefly about the difference between eating healthfully and unhealthily before, but today I'd like to expand on that the realm of weight loss.

Losing weight is something that our culture is extremely interested in...and yet our waistlines are growing by the day. How can we be so obsessed with one thing while doing it's polar opposite? Well, it has to do with how we go about trying to lose our weight. We do this fad diet and that fad diet, we starve ourselves and restrict our foods, we put ourselves through hell only to regain that weight later. It's no wonder we have such trouble!

All of this is on my brain because a friend asked me to help her lose weight this week...and I realized that diet consulting is more difficult than it looks! I've been trying to come up with a workable plan, including teaching her how to cook and shop, but I'm certainly not a dietitian. I have more respect for the profession, but I'm also enjoying the challenge. I've never tried to actively help someone reformat their eating habits before...I think that the experience will improve this blog and the advice I give out in the future!

But for now...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe! Marinara, Semi-From Scratch!

I absolutely love making sauces. There's just no substitute for an amazing sauce over whole wheat pasta or rice or on the grill. I've been making marinara sauce in particular for years, and my sauce has become almost legendary among those who have eaten it. One friend who lived far away demanded that I make huge batches of it whenever I would come to visit, so she could save it and eat it long after I was gone. I always considered this to be very high praise.

Unfortunately, I've never had a green fact, I don't even have a pale yellow thumb. My gardening thumb is nonexistent, which I've always found odd; my mother and grandfather are and were both avid gardeners. nevertheless I basically can't stand gardening, and thus I never find myself in the happy position of having more tomatoes than I can handle. This is why I use canned tomatoes, which can be purchased rather cheaply at any market, and though I don't doubt fresh tomatoes would make the sauce even more delicious, I think they serve as a good substitute.

The most important aspect of this sauce is the seasoning. You can tailor this aspect to your liking...make sure that it has a good flavor before you start to simmer it, and the more you simmer it, the more complex the flavors will become. But if it's bland when you start to simmer, don't expect a long simmer to magically cure it. I'm going to include a short, easy recipe and a longer, more involved pick what works best, based on how much prep time you've got.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lifestyle: Alternative Medicine.

Ah, alternative medicine. Defined by as "A variety of therapeutic or preventive health care practices, such as homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, and herbal medicine, that do not follow generally accepted medical methods and may not have a scientific explanation for their effectiveness." Alternative medicine is always going through various turns, sometimes being scoffed at, other times treated as something of a one really seems to be able to make up their mind about it.

Alternative medicine is tricky...but earlier this week, when the flu I had last week developed into a sinus infection and I didn't have money for a doctor, I started Googling. My search led me to natural remedies, not only for sinus infections and other infections but for...basically everything you could imagine. I stumbled upon oil pulling, and after reading up on it all over the internet, decided to give it a go. I bought my organic sesame oil and started yesterday morning...I'll blog about how it goes.

Anyway, I think it's important to approach natural medicine with the same balanced perspective that we strive for in all other areas of the anti-anxiety diet. There have been advancements in medicine that can not be equaled by a natural equivalent, and that is a fact. However, going to the doctor for every cold, flu, and headache is costly and largely ineffective. Doctors were incredibly helpful when I needed surgery on my ankle, and incredibly ineffective when I needed help with issues that were a little less clear cut. There are times when seeing a doctor is your best option, and that shouldn't ever be ignored.

However, there are also times that a simple, natural, or old-fashioned remedy might be just exactly what you need. The entire anti-anxiety diet, for example, is a form of alternative medicine. It wont have the same effect as anti-anxiety drugs, but some people (like myself!) are looking to avoid those effects. I don't think that diet alone can be a cure for anxiety...but it can be the first step in creating and maintaining a lifestyle as free from anxiety as possible. The foods that you eat will help your body and mind function at their best...which in turn will help to alleviate anxiety and give you a chance to focus on correcting other aspects of your out-of-balance life.

I've grown up in a family that used alternative medicines and remedies while still visiting the doctor when necessary. Perhaps I can thank my mother, grandmother, and aunts for instilling the idea in me that natural and alternative medicines can be very helpful, effective, and reasonably priced. At the end of the day, it's worth it to try something, to see if it works. My large bottle of organic sesame oil ran about $10, but if it has half of the good effects that other user reported? It will have been more than worth it.

There can be a concern of over-usage with alternative medicine. I think it's important to bear in mind that very little good can come from extremes. Now, if you are dealing with a very severe illness, then perhaps extremes should be taken. But for the average person with perhaps uncomfortable but not life-threatening problems, a balanced use is best. Taking too much of any vitamin or herb can become toxic. Drinking too much water can cause you to drown internally. Don't take anything to an extreme, practice moderation and control, and your alternative and natural remedies can be extremely effective.

As for oil pulling...we'll see if it's effective. I'll write next Wednesday and let you know!

-The Calm Cook

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recipe! Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Oh, autumn...there's nothing about autumn that I don't like. Falling leaves, falling temperatures, soups, quickbreads, pumpkins, Halloween, Thanksgiving, shorter name it! But one of my favorite things about autumn is pumpkin bread...and pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin latte...I'm a bit of a pumpkin fanatic, and judging by the food-blog buzz, I'm not alone. If there's any flavor that says "autumn", it's pumpkin.

Traditionally, many of these pumpkin treats are far from healthy, and well off the beaten path of the anti-anxiety diet. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who is a better cook than I am and fantastically good at adapting recipes) spent ages perfecting this pumpkin bread recipe. It is not only whole-grain, but also vegan...and it is moist and delicious and essentially the perfect pumpkin bread.

Luckily for us all, I convinced her to hand over the recipe and obtained her permission to publish it here. I've made it twice in the past two weeks and will probably be making it most of the fall. I use canned pumpkin but my sister-in-law roasts her own. This recipe makes two loaves, but she says that she generally doubles it, and that a good sized pumpkin will make 10-12 loaves. That sounds like a lot, I know, but it goes so fast. Anyway, without further ado:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shopping Smart: Making over your pantry, painlessly!

One of the most difficult steps in making a lifestyle change is breaking yourself of unhealthy eating and drinking habits that have become second nature. Even more so in modern American society, where these habits are not only suggested by our surroundings, but reinforced with marketing dollars, convenience, and a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors. Out on the go and thirsty? There are a thousand places to get a soft drink cheaply and quickly, but you'll pay two to five times more for water...and you can forget a healthy meal on the go if you're strapped for cash. The snack machines in the office are full of sugar and sodium, your morning bagel made of refined white flour, your lunch-on-the-go comprised of sub-par ingredients full of hormones, pesticides, and inorganic chemicals.

Truth be told, it's overwhelming...which is why so many of us fail when we set out to eat more healthfully. Our society literally works against that goal with an unbelievable tenacity. Many companies have latched onto this conundrum, and instead of creating genuine, healthful products, they've marketed their same old unhealthy mush as health food. So how does anyone maintain a healthy diet in this country?

Well, ideally it would be wonderful to just completely reform and change in a day and be healthier and happier and more productive...but this is real life. Stress has reached such peak levels that one in every seven Americans has an anxiety disorder of some caliber, and the last thing that we need is another strain on our minds. So...make healthier eating virtually painless...make over one part of your pantry at a time!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dessert: Doin' it Right...And Rich!

Because this week has been all about comfort food, relaxation, and feeling better (after my bout with the flu, it was pretty much all I wanted to think about!) I figured...what better way to end it then to talk about one of my favorite comforts...dessert? Honestly, the topic of dessert is one very near and dear to my heart. Not just because it's amazingly delicious, but because I feel that desserts get a bad rap. It's like we can't enjoy the indulgence because we are too busy either 1) feeling bad about eating it or 2) making it so low-calorie and fat free that it isn't even good anymore. In my opinion, if dessert isn't utterly, sinfully indulgent, then it isn't worth the calories!

Which brings me to my real point! So many times, people focus on these plasticy desserts with no sugar, no calories, no fat, and no flavor. I...take another approach. The key is making very high-quality desserts from very delicious ingredients that are rich enough that a small-to-moderate portion is all that you really want and need. Thus you can indulge, and perhaps your dessert is high-calorie, but every vice is fine in moderation, right?

Leave the frozen-food aisles desserts for the "dieting" masses. You are not "dieting", oh anti-anxiety aficionado! You are making a lifestyle change, and if you don't enjoy this new lifestyle, then what's the point? This sort of dessert isn't can be as simplistic as dark chocolate truffles (see the recipe below!) or as intense as flourless chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream (recipe to come at a later date!)...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recipe! Barbecue Baked Beans

Baked beans, in my family, appear to be a source of contention. My little brother and I are fond of the barbecue variety, my mother and sister aren't. Then again, both admitted that they had only ever tried the store-bought variety, which are no doubt chock-full of yuck. Making baked beans without the high fructose corn syrup, extra sodium and preservatives is easy, delicious, and absolutely worthwhile.

As far as beans are can certainly buy yours in a can. This works well if you're pressed for time or if you are unfamiliar with cooking your own beans. However, it's cheaper and more delicious if you do cook your own, and it's really quite simple! Whole Foods Market has a great tutorial on cooking white beans, which rightfully points out that beans can be made ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated for recipes throughout the week. I soaked my beans the night before, cooked them the morning of, then used them for the recipe that worked out well!

These beans took a few tries to get perfect...the seasonings and flavors had to be brought out to their full potential, but even the doubting Thomas' in the room loved them. My sister ate her helping right up, and had the leftovers for lunch the next day! Everyone agreed that they were the best baked beans they had ever tasted...they were a smash hit! We had them as a side dish for grilled BBQ chicken (still perfecting the barbecue sauce recipe...) and with pumpkin bread for dessert (keep your eyes peeled for that one...), but if you are making these as a main dish, or for a crowd, you'll probably want to double the recipe.

Contention no more! We can all agree that when it comes to baked beans, this recipe is the bees knees. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lifestyle: Making it Through Flu Season, Sanity Intact.

It's been more than suggested that stress and anxiety can take heavy tolls on health. Not only do they carry with them their own ever-growing lists of related disorders and diseases, but they also lower immunity, making those who suffer from them more susceptible to everything from the common cold to much more serious infections. Anyone with undue stress and anxiety is already far too tightly wound to throw another problem into the mix, therefore a severe cold or a bout with the flu can cause life to because very overwhelming very quickly.

This topic stands near and dear to my heart today, as I had a touch of a sore throat and a few sneezes Saturday afternoon, and by that evening was so sick I could barely move. I spent Sunday and Monday sleeping, sneezing, coughing, and generally feeling like death, and it is only today (after sleeping another eleven hours and taking copious vitamins) that I can think somewhat least straight enough to type up a blog. Needless to say, I got hit pretty hard, which I suppose is my penance for avoiding H1N1 and any of the other nasty strains of flu that were floating around last season.

Interestingly enough, no one else in my household has felt a touch of the symptoms...lucky ducks. Nevertheless, I come from a family that always used a blend of the homeopathic with the more traditional medications, and it is my opinion that my swift offensive kept me from making a visit to a doctor that I can't afford. So, how does one avoid the flu? And if you do come down with it, how do you fight it? When should you go to the doctor, and when can you safely stay home? I'm not a doctor, but I can offer my opinions...and tell you what worked for me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recipe! Whole Grain Corn Bread.

There are certain kitchen secrets, here and there, that are passed down from generation to to make biscuits or perfect meringue, baking bread or selecting a perfectly ripe piece of fruit at the market. Little tidbits of information here and there that add a unique flavor to each cook's dishes, so that you can almost trace a pedigree by tasting a red sauce or slicing up a loaf of quickbread.

I was taught to cook by my mother, my grandmother, several aunts, and a few other miscellaneous sorts along the way, but it was my mother and grandmother who transmitted their 'secrets' to me most effectively. One of these secrets, passed down since god-knows-when, was the secret for perfect cornbread. Its so simple...just one ingredient, but I can hardly stomach a piece of cornbread without it. Why? Well, because for all of it's delicious simplicity, cornbread has a few terrible faults. Perhaps the first that comes to mind is how terribly, terribly dry it can be. There's no pleasure at all in a cornbread that crumbles like ash in your mouth!

However, the secret ingredient passed down through the cooks in my family eliminated this unpleasant attribute, while simultaneously providing just a touch of sweetness. It goes equally well smothered in chili or beans as it does slathered with butter and honey, but I always preferred the latter. Fresh, hot cornbread is something I remember quite fondly from my childhood...and luckily enough, corn flour is a whole grain! (Just make sure the ingredient's list doesn't say "degerminated"). For this whole grain version of cornbread, I used white whole wheat flour and finely ground cornmeal...and of course, the secret ingredient: one finely grated carrot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Challenging Perspectives: What is "Healthy" anyway?

 I happened upon a news story the other day about a Kansas State nutrition professor who is eating little besides junk food and losing weight. He's decided to go on a diet that challenges the notion of "dieting", proving that one can lose weight while eating only the most unhealthy of foods. Next month, he's going to be eating only whole grains and fruits and vegetables and, supposedly, gaining weight. According to Professor Haub, its an academic demonstration - not a medical experiment - and the point of it is to "challenge the entire 'junk food versus health food' dynamic, suggesting that foods regarded as nutritious may, in fact, be unhealthy, while foods regarded as junk may have some benefits." [Quote is directly from AOL news].

I've noticed that, in many ways, healthy eating can become a near-obsession. In fact, they have a name for it...Orthorexia Nervosa. For those already battling anxiety disorders this can be a very real and present danger. Using caloric intake and nutritional value as a means of controlling the chaos and unpredictability of life can be downright tempting, and anyone could slip into it quite easily. This is why I recommend stocking your pantry with healthy things, making a general plan (like eating a vegetable and whole grain with every meal) and not getting overly hung up on details, unless allergies or medical problems require constant vigilance.

So, all that aside...what does constitute healthy eating? In a culture where the front of a box can say "all natural" while the ingredient's list contains all manner of non-pronounceable mush, it can sometimes be difficult to tell. Growing up with a health-conscious family who still ate pretty unhealthfully, I'll be the first to say it's not as easy as discounting this and lauding that.'s a constant learning experience! Finding what is healthy, what isn't, and how to combine and cook them is a lifelong learning experience, and even moreso with additional concerns, such as eating to curb anxiety. However, there are things that you can do now, things that don't take a team of scientists to figure out. Ways to eat and live that are not impractical, but still rather healthful. And isn't that the real goal?