Ed Blonz is a busy guy: He’s a nutritionist, a consultant, an award-winning writer, and a professor. His syndicated column, “On Nutrition,” runs weekly in newspapers nationally and internationally. He’s won the James Beard Foundation Award for his writing. And he’s an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. We asked him about healthy eating (slow down and savor your food), extra virgin olive oil (it’s “the way to go”), and key items to have in your pantry.
What’s your advice for people who want to prepare and enjoy healthier meals?
When it comes to mealtime, I encourage all to slow down and savor your foods, especially people who are battling a weight problem. Our body doesn’t provide instant feedback about when it has had enough food. Pace your meals to a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes in length, keeping in mind that if you routinely eat rapidly until you’re stuffed it means you’ve had too much.
Consider also shifting the salad to the end of the meal. I love the flavor of fresh greens and salads. In the dinner meal I have a portion of the main course and any side dishes, and then I “fill up” on the salad as my final course. Moving salads to the end of the meal, similar to what is done in Europe, has served me well over the years.
I put extra virgin olive oil in a special class. Consider that corn oil and other refined oils tend to be solvent extracted; this means a food-source mash gets mixed with a solvent that separates the oil from the rest of the material. The solvent is then removed and you’re left with a pure oil, free of unwanted components or of flavors that can affect performance. Refined oils include typical “vegetable oils,” such as soy, corn, canola, and safflower.
By contrast, we can think of extra virgin olive oil as fruit juice, the olive being the fruit of the olive tree. I consider it the “way to go” because rather than being the result of solvent extraction, extra virgin olive oil is pressed out of the olive and it contains the full complement of the olive’s naturally occurring flavors and colors, together with its nutrients and phytochemical protectants. Other oil seeds and sources do not lend themselves to this approach. From a health and culinary standpoint there is nothing like extra virgin olive oil.
What other healthy pantry items you consider essential?
In no particular order (and certainly not a complete list): onions, garlic, garbanzo beans, black beans, canned tomatoes, whole grain cereals, nuts and seeds, nut butters, Better than Bouillon, fresh spices and seasonings, including peppercorn for fresh-ground pepper.
Here is an excellent side dish made from butternut squash: Peel a large butternut squash, cut in half and scrape out all the seeds, then cut in to 1-½-inch cubes and put into a roasting pan large enough to hold the squash on a single layer. Drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and toss, so that there is a light coat on all the squash. Season with salt, fresh-ground pepper, and 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme that’s been chopped finely. Put in a 425 F. degree oven and roast, stirring or shaking every 10 to 15 minutes. Depending on the size of the squash cubes, it should take 45 to 50 minutes to cook.