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With its stacks of greens and bushels of succulent fruit, the farmer's market is a feast for the senses. It's also the secret to a leaner body. This freshly picked bounty can help you lower your calorie intake without feeling deprived. "You can eat big portions but still keep your calories down," says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania, and co-author of The Volumetric Weight-Control Plan (Quill, 2000).
While it's low in fat, a farmer's market diet is packed with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help prevent diseases. "I see every cancer specialist in Seattle at the farmer's market each week," says Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the nutritional science program at the University of Washington, in Seattle. "That should tell you something."
Read on for an eight-point plan for a diet rich in flavor and nutrition.
There you are, thinking that squash is too boring to eat, when you come upon a basket of tiny zucchini and, well, suddenly squash is on tonight's menu. The cuteness -- and the taste -- of baby vegetables is inspiring. "They're picked long before they reach maturity, so they're sweeter, milder and less fibrous in texture than their full-grown counterparts," says Joan Carter, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Plus, they're convenient -- for instance, you don't have to take the time to tear up baby spinach for a salad. Pint-size produce to look for:
Baby Swiss chard. Rinse, and cook in a covered pan over medium-low heat, until wilted. Season with salt and pepper or a sprinkle of hot-pepper flakes.
Baby artichokes. Remove the outer leaves until the remaining leaves are half yellow, half green. Steam or saut
Baby beets. Roast in a covered pan at 400 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove skins. Add to salads, or enjoy as a side dish.
Yukon golds, ruby crescents, and Russian bananas -- these are not your mother's potatoes. These spuds can help you save big on fat and calories. Yukon golds have such a buttery flavor, you won't need to add the real thing -- a savings of 100 calories and 11 grams of fat. Eat the paper-thin skin for an extra dose of potassium to help prevent high blood pressure. Other novelty spuds that don't need additional fat for flavor: the tender, purple-blue Peruvian potato and the Ruby Crescent, which has such a creamy texture you won't miss mashed potatoes.
Potato salad. Traditional potato salad, loaded with mayo, also comes loaded with 243 calories and 15 grams of fat in a 3/4-cup serving.
Our farmer's market potato salad is packed with flavor, not fat. Toss 1 1/2 pounds boiled and quartered new potatoes with 2 chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and red-wine vinegar, cilantro and tarragon. Makes six servings at 143 calories, 4.8 grams of fat.
Pasta. For 400 calories, you can have a single cup of spaghetti in an Alfredo sauce.
For the same number of calories, you can fill your plate with a cup of spaghetti combined with 2 1/2 cups of fresh vegetables and 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
Toss greens with a tablespoon each of basil, parsley, and marjoram and you can get by with just a dash of dressing. Likewise with potato salads. "Snip a little dill into a potato salad, and who needs mayonnaise?" says Richard Ruben, author of the Farmer's Market Cookbook (Lyons Press, 2000). The surprise of new flavors livens up a low-calorie diet. Try lemon verbena and other lesser-known herbs, as well as variations of popular types, such as cinnamon basil or curry rosemary. A few suggestions:
You'll save 6 grams of fat by making your tuna salad with herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice rather than mayo: Combine one 6-ounce can of water-packed tuna with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon each of chopped rosemary and thyme leaves. (Makes two servings at 140 calories, 5.3 grams of fat each.)
To make a lean sauce for fish or chicken, puree 2 tablespoons each of mint, parsley, and cilantro with 1 cup nonfat yogurt. Stir in 1 chopped scallion and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. (Makes four servings at 45 calories, 3 grams of fat each.)
Instead of cheese (about 57 calories, 5 grams of fat), top crackers with a sweet and savory tablespoon of caramelized onions and thyme (only 17 calories, .6 gram of fat per serving): In a nonstick skillet, cook 1 pound of thinly sliced onions and 2 sprigs of thyme in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, until golden brown. Remove thyme sprigs and season onions with salt and pepper.
Soup can help you lose weight. Here are two quick meals that require just a quick trip to the market and a few minutes in the kitchen.
Broccoli-Apple Soup. Brown 2 peeled and chopped apples and 1 large chopped onion in 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Add 1 bunch of chopped broccoli and 3 cups of water. Simmer until broccoli is tender. Puree mixture in batches in a blender. Season with salt and pepper, and top with low-fat yogurt. (Makes two servings at 135 calories and 5.3 grams of fat each.)
Vegetable Puree Soup (adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison). In 2 teaspoons of oil, saute 2 sliced scallions and a small potato, peeled and chopped. Add 2 cups water; simmer until potato is tender. Stir in 1 cup vegetable puree (made from any steamed vegetable). Season with salt and pepper. (Makes two servings at 103 calories, 4.8 grams of fat each.)
Growers who sell locally pick their fruit close to peak ripeness. "Farmer's market fruit is often riper, sweeter, and juicier than the fruit in the supermarkets," says Joan Carter. When fruit is that sweet, it satisfies a sugar craving without the waist-expanding calories of a candy bar. The top five sweetest fruits when in season: peaches, nectarines, honeydew melon, strawberries, and Bosc pears.
Farmer's markets offer a bounty of apple ciders, freshly baked pies, and other homemade goods. But many of these products are either packed with calories and fat or provide little in the way of nutrition.
The farmer's market, always changing with the seasons, brings you things you can't find in the store -- and keeps you from getting bored. "Some markets carry as many as two hundred varieties of tomatoes, one hundred varieties of apples, and sixty varieties of potatoes," says Joel Patraker, assistant director of New York City's greenmarket program and author of The Greenmarket Cookbook (Viking, 2000). "There's always something new to discover." The farmer's market specialties, below, can help keep your low-calorie diet interesting:Lemongrass
Diet plus: Adds concentrated flavor of spice and lemon to food.
How to use: Slice bottom white portion of stalk on the diagonal into large pieces and add to chicken broth or steep in hot water for tea (but don't eat it -- it's very fibrous). To use as a rub for meats and fish, combine 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 garlic cloves, 3 lemongrass stalks (bottom white portion only), 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/2 cup basil leaves, 6 scallions, 1 jalapeno chile (remove seeds to lower heat), and 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper. Process in blender until smooth.Tomatillos
Diet plus: These small green tomatoes pack a lot of tang, at only 21 calories per half cup.
How to use: In a fresh salsa as a dip for vegetables, spooned over chicken and fish, or stirred into rice. To make a zingy green salsa: Blend 1 pound of quartered tomatillos (remove husks and wash first), 2 chopped jalapenos, and 1/2 cup water in a blender until chunky. Add 1/2 onion, 2 bunches of cilantro, and salt to taste. Puree.Chioggia beets (candy-cane striped)
Diet plus: Sweet-tasting, a single cup will net you 34 percent of a day's folate.
How to use: Blanch in boiling water (or use raw beets), then grate with carrots to make a salad. Roast in a 400 degree F. oven until tender; slip off skins, slice, toss with a little dressing, and serve on a bed of arugula.Persimmons
Diet plus: For a mere 32 calories, each is packed with 43 percent of the RDA of vitamin A.
How to use: Cut into fruit and green salads, or stew with other fresh fruits to make a compote.Napa cabbage
Diet plus: Adds satisfying crunch to dishes and is one of the cruciferous family of vegetables believed to have cancer-preventive properties.
How to use: Slice into ribbons and add to a salad of carrots, cucumber, green onion, and mint. Toss with an Asian-style dressing. Also holds its crunch in a stir-fry.Broccoli rabe
Diet plus: A slightly stronger-tasting alternative to common broccoli that's packed with vitamin C.
How to use: In a stir-fry with ginger, garlic, and cilantro. In pasta with a touch of olive oil, garlic, and red-pepper flakes.Fava beans
Diet plus: Low in calories (about 95 per half cup) and a good source of fiber.
How to use: Shell and cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and peel away outer skin. Add to a vegetable melange or combine with pasta.
Daryn Eller, a health writer in Venice, California, has written for such publications as Parenting and Self.