Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

Recently, on a trip touring the food and beverages of Aspen, Co, I had an ironic moment when an old Burger King ad jingle popped into my head at one of Aspen’s, and the world’s, most renowned restaurants, Mastuhisa. What in the world could an exquisite restaurant sourcing high quality and unique ingredients for both its menu and bar have in common with a global fast food chain?

In the 1970’s, Burger King ran advertisements touting its’ ability for customers to get their burger exactly the way they desired. The popular jingle, “Have it Your Way,” became a defining competitive stance.  So there I was sitting in Aspen amongst a group of journalists for a special lunch and this is what I hear “I’m lactose intolerant and I don’t eat meat, but I do like fish and eggs,” “I’m a vegan and I also don’t do well with fats,” “I am an omnivore – I like everything – bring it on” and, of course, then there was me, “I am a Qualitarian – can you tell me where the fish comes from…and the soybeans…and is that real wasabi root – how divine!”  To be fair, our food preferences and even interests weren’t news to the chef, they had already been conveyed to the chefs and the servers at every restaurant we attended and so as we sat similar menus were placed in front of us, customized to our preferences.

That said, Matsuhisa is no Burger King, nor is the Montagna, Rustique, Caribou Club, Cloud Nine, Zocalito, Ajax, nor even 39 Degrees at The Sky, the après ski spot –so what proved amazing was that in every instance, we each enjoyed “Have it Your Way,” menu items that were still completely five-star.  Vegan and vegetarian options were creative both from an ingredient, flavor and visual appeal standpoint. Vegan sushi looked like a work of art at Matsuhisa, risotto made without any fat tasted divine and the colors (beet purple and carrot orange) lit up the table at Rustique, there were no grasshoppers for several but instead bean dishes and guacamole, and chiles at Zocalito delighted, and up on the mountain, chef Ryan Hardy from Montagna made the non-cheese eating menu of pickled and fresh vegetables with mustards, toasted baguette and sautéed truffles taste and look as visually appealing as the fondue-experience.

Customization in fine dining has its’ fans and its’ nay-sayers. For example, I’ve seen menus that state “we politely decline any alterations to the menu” and have witnessed the more overt shunning of a customer by a chef when said customer requested parmesan on their pasta “it is not done that way – ever.”  But in an exclusive resort town, where the defining concept is to cater to the guest’s every whim, it was music to my ears to hear chefs and managers express their pleasure in carrying that over to food requests. Several of the chefs said they felt inspired or challenged (in a good way). The restaurant managers agreed. That said, as Todd Clark, general manager of Matsuhisa Aspen – who developed a gluten-free menu for food and beverages – remarked, “there are challenges – it’s almost always doable if we have advance notice, but we can run into an issue if we have someone who eats here at a less busy time of the year and we customize something for them that takes my chef a long time and then they come back in the height of the season bringing friends and wanting the same thing, it can be tricky if we can’t accommodate that at that moment.”

So next time you are planning a ski trip and you know that your crew may have differing opinions on just about everything, feel confident, that when in Aspen, all their mouths can be fed “their way.”

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Winter is here. We see it in our skin, hair and nails – the dryness, and the resulting little cracks that will prove to be excellent entrance ways for bad bugs that can lead to winter colds.

How do we spell protection against winter dryness and colds? HYDRATION

Sometimes hydration is only thought of as a summer issue – we are hot, we sweat, and so we remember to drink lots of water and eat water-based foods. We wear hats to shield our hair and skin from the sun and we lather on the moisturizer.

Habits change in the winter. We change from water-based vegetables to winter’s more starchy and less water-based vegetables; we trade raw salads for warm soups; and our iced teas often become hot tea with milk, hot cocoa, and hot cider which translates to: less water, more sodium = DEHYDRATION. Furthermore, we often forget our skin under all those clothes and while sun exposure may not be our issue (though winter sun should not be ignored), heaters/heating have a powerful, drying effect on our skin.

What to do? Follow these tips to improve winter health by way of HYDRATION:

1) Potassium intake: make sure to include potassium-rich foods and beverages which help bring water into our cells for hydration: coconut water (see this video to learn more about coconut water’s hydration benefits: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWOV_WRvVdc), bananas, potatoes, avocado, and even try supplement Ultima Replenisher for travel or in your workout bottle.

2)Sodium intake: be careful with excess sodium which keeps water outside our cells (dehydrating). Make your own soups or look for low-sodium options; use spices versus salt; and when using salt aim for a sea salt that contains an array of minerals; avoid canned and packaged foods where salt is used as a preservative, and choose fresh and frozen options (sodium can still be an issue in these packaged foods so read labels). In general, sodium should be less than 250mg PER serving but in some foods like soups it’s likely to be higher versus others like frozen vegetables where there should be zero. Check the Ashley Koff Approved lists on my site for good choices and always compare products in a category (i.e. cereal, soups etc.). http://www.ashleykoffapproved.com/approved/index.html.

3) Water – yes, you need it…8 glasses or take your weight in pounds and divide it in half and that will give you your daily ounces requirement (if you wight 150 pounds then that’s 75 ounces and there’s 8 ounces in a cup so you need between 9 and 10 cups daily).

4) Oil Up – when you get out of the shower or after you wash your face add some oils like coconut oil or argan oil to your skin to lock in moisture. Also, you can spray a hydrosol on your face in the day and reapply a dot of oil to the nose and lip areas which tend to get dry the quickest. Choose alcohol-free skincare products to avoid extra dryness.

5) Shroom ‘n Good Bugs: Yup, adding mushrooms like maitake and shitake to the diet or taking a daily supplement like LifeShield from New Chapter are great ways to boost your immune system. Also, consume probiotic-rich foods like coconut water kefir and cultured veggies as well as taking a supplement (I recommend and work with Align).

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History Sets the Table

When the Indians and Pilgrims gathered to the table, there were no artificial ingredients, no chemicals, no science lab experiments, and there were lots of veggies – When it comes to Thanksgiving, let’s take a play from History’s playbook and try to have whole, real foods this year – mostly plant-based.

But how can we do this and not have Thanksgiving boring and thus ruined. Focus on making veggies that people will want to eat. Roasted veggies, Brussels with chooped nuts or cheese, add some pomegranate or cranberry to a salad mixture or cooked greens, a vegetable pie, a vegetable loaf, vegetable pancakes, vegetable stuffing…the options are endless.

And remember, the goal for THE eating occasion is the same as all the others – nutrient balance (1-2 servings each of carb,protein, healthy fat + unlimited vegetables) so be strategic. If you know you want pie, pass the potatoes or have just a taste (but count it) and save the other bites for the pie. What about beets,beans, bread, battered shrimp (ok was just seeing if you were paying attention) – make sure to take your AKA menu worksheet list and check it at least twice before the holiday so that you know what all counts as a carb, a protein etc. Have your eating occasion, then be done and yes, you can have leftovers as long as they are part of the next nutrient balanced eating occasion.

And finally, get active! With the day off, there’s really no excuse to not get in at least an hour if not 90 minutes of activity.

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Check out my advice in this Hoffington Post on acai.

It’s happened to so many stars before, a sweetheart is discovered, she succeeds on her merit and talents, but then eager to get a piece of her success, some build her up so high she can only help but fall (in someone’s eyes) and she often loses fans as people are left wondering was she ever really “all that.” Is this the story of a Hollywood starlet or that of a Brazilian berry? For me, this is the story of my relationship with the Brazilian berry — açai.

I remember several years ago when açai came to the U.S. I thought that the little berry with big flavor offered a great option for antioxidants and noticed that it also contained fiber and an array of omega fatty acids. Was it more olive than blueberry, I wondered? When I saw that it was organic and fair trade, I decided it was worthy of my recommendation and added it to a coconut water smoothie recipe in my first cookbook (“The ProHydrator” Recipes for IBS) to provide antioxidants to athletes and those suffering from digestive inflammation, and all those in between. I played with frozen plain açai and found that its lack of sweetness (minimal fruit sugar natural to the berry) allowed me to use it for savory and sweet dishes. And all was açai berry sweet in the world. (more…)

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AKA Contest Begins

AKA Contest Begins: What’s your favorite healthIER product and why?
Tweet @ashleykoff and tell me in 140 characters or less and if I pick yours you win a month FREE of that product – go on! Winners selected based on creativity, AKAness, and my discretion – winning entries will be posted here at the AKA fanpage. Ready set Tweet!

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How does the state of our agriculture today compare to twenty years ago? How similar are our farming issues and healthcare ones? Can they even be separated? Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chuck Benbrook PhD, chief scientist at The Organic Center to discuss the findings in a new provocative report comparing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations in the 1989 NAS/NRC report “Alternative Agriculture” and the June 29, 2010 NAS/NRC report “Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century.” The later report assesses and updates the former, and since Benbrook served as the executive director on  NAS/NRC board that produced the “Alternative Agriculture” report, I find his perspective on the updates particularly insightful.  My interview follows:

AK: Since 1989 what do you see as the biggest changes that have occurred / are occurring in Agriculture?

CB: On the public health side, the dramatic upward trajectory in the rates of obesity and diabetes is triggering a long overdue awakening of interest in health promotion, as opposed to disease treatment.  We are finally beginning to take seriously the notion that what and how we grow food, and what we eat, impacts health outcomes.  The growing frequency and severity of reproductive and neurological problems – especially autism, ADHD, and other learning disabilities in children – have focused more science on the impacts of chemicals in food.  Pressure will continue to grow on farmers, the food industry, and government to clean up the food supply.  About time. (more…)

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Seafood Safety Guide – Good Morning America Health

This spring, a confluence of events has exponentially increased my passion for saving our oceans, and those that inhabit them. I was invited to Monterey Bay Aquarium (if you’ve never been, run there asap!) (www.montereybayaquarium.org) for their annual media conference on Sustainable Seafood (Cooking Solutions). I learned so much about the innovative and intensive efforts that chefs, food companies, and farmers are doing to save and improve our waters. In April, I held a panel for the media on Fish Oil / Omega 3 supplementation as a means to explore what’s good (purity), what’s different (wild Alaskan salmon oil versus Peruvian anchovy and sardines), and how should we define “sustainable.” Did you know that 30 percent of fish caught today goes to making fish meal / fish oil – which largely goes to feeding farmed fish and livestock. In May, I attended an evening (more…)

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I was recently sent the below blog “Organic Food has a ‘Health Halo,’ Too” and wanted to add my two cents.

First cent, the most important point is that organic food deserves a health halo, and deserves it more than many other halos given out today in the food arena (i.e., Super Foods, Non-GMO and most certainly, versus “All-Natural”). Organic means Food (period). So organic warrants a health halo because it provides us food without genetically modified seeds, without the use of pesticides, and with an optimal nutrient load (i.e., that which a plant or animal develops naturally).

Second cent, the blog raises a good point – that the health halo effect of organic can be one that some consumers and manufacturers can abuse by ignoring the principles of optimal nutrition. These principles include portion control and nutrient balance (I choose to emphasize this over calorie control because it: a) accomplishes calorie control and b) recognizes the need for nutrient balance – some carb, protein, and healthy fat versus the dominance of one nutrient over another sheerly for caloric control. Another principle of optimal nutrition is choice – such as making choices to have chocolate one day and wine another or to choose to have neither and to enjoy organic berries and avocado (incidentally, you can make a wicked dessert parfait from avocado and berries).

So, if one looks to organic Oreo versions and makes the choice to have a portion and accounts for their carbohydrate and fat servings, and consumes some healthy protein with them as well, then yes, organic cookies can be part of a healthy diet. What’s more – after my recent trip to Brazil and to Native’s organic sugar cane farm, I am all the more convinced that if we exchanged sugar intake from chemically-processed to organic (and there’s is even from a biodynamic farm!) we would see health improvements, as well as environmental ones (as if we could separate those two!)…and if we addressed portion control, nutrient balance, and choice as well – we’d have the whole nutrition for optimal health package! Yes you can enjoy organic sugar containing products like Crofter’s spreads (incidentally only 35 calories per serving – not that we are talking calories, but…), several Nature’s Path cereals and granolas, Late July cookies, and organic chocolates…but you can certainly enjoy whole food options without sugar at all as well like Earthbound Farms organic produce, Vital Choice wild Alaskan Salmon, Organic Valley eggs and more. (more…)

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I was just reading a great article in Natural Solutions magazine that I wanted to share with you. Since its summer, I get the question a lot, is white wine as good for me as red? I’ve often felt that it must be – thinking of my real and my French “grandma” (the woman who housed me when I lived in France) both of whom used to have a glass or two daily and lived to a ripe and active old age. But I also knew that red wine has resveratrol which isn’t in the white wine (its found in the skins of red grapes) so I started to doubt myself (but never “grandma”).

It appears that – according to Drs. Das and Bertelli of Connecticut and Milan respectively – white wine derives its cardio-boosting effects from two antioxidants – tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol – which are also found in olive oil. Interestingly, these antioxidants, like resveratrol trigger a gene that may slow aging, and have benefits for diabetes prevention and kidney function.

Keep in mind that these and other benefits of drinking wine relate to “moderate” consumption meaning 1 glass daily as a max for most of us.

So go on – love your summer whites. You can even upgrade their health benefits by adding some organic berries for extra antioxidant potential – and remember to hydrate as well with plain coconut water or a refreshing sparkling water like Knudsen’s Sparkling Essences. Speaking of organic, the article also points out that for optimal health benefits, when you drink any wine “reduce your exposure to toxins and help protect the environment” by making it one made with organic grapes. Check out Natural Solutions magazine June issue for examples of great tasting whites made from organic grapes.

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In this month’s O Magazine, I advise how to avoid weight gain each decade – and to loose if need-be – to avoid the health risks of excess weight as you age.

Eating Through the Ages

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