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Why It's So Hard to Get Healthy... and So Easy to Be Fooled

08/12/2014 11:53 am ET | Updated Oct 12, 2014

Are you tired of being hoodwinked, misled and preyed on by misinformation, omission and deception?

I know I am.

We read scary statistics about the decline of American health. We watch TV shows that help people to turn their lives around and lose weight only to discover that unrealistic and sometimes unhealthy methods are used to achieve dramatic weight loss for the creation of scintillating television. As a culture, we are obsessed with information on health, fitness, calorie intake, carbohydrates, protein and fat and their impact on our weight and health, and yet 78.6 million of us are obese. (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html)

With conflicting statistics, dubious information and profit as a driving force, it's hard to figure out what to do to create health and still enjoy delicious, satisfying food. So imagine my delight when I saw an article by a respected Italian chef in the September issue of Men's Health magazine telling men that they can have "Pasta Without the Pounds." Woo-hoo!

The sub-head reads: "Yes, lasagna is rich but that doesn't mean it has to induce a food coma. Swap the meat, make DIY sauce and sneak in vegetables -- without sacrificing flavor."

Okay, so you know I don't love the thinking that we have to "sneak in" vegetables for people to enjoy them, but let's see what this lasagna has to offer at a mere 460 calories a serving. (Typically, lasagna made with meat and cheese can weigh in at 800-1000 calories a serving, so this is a substantial savings.)

Made with ground chicken and pancetta (chicken being the meat swap, I guess for beef?), butter, whole milk, Parmesan and low moisture mozzarella, it got my full attention. What was going on here? There was garlic and tomatoes for the sauce...o h, and zucchini! I guess that's the veggie they snuck in.

Seriously?

The recipe instructs you to make Bolognese sauce with chicken and pancetta and tomatoes. Season and simmer. Then you make a second sauce, a sort of Béchamel of butter, whole milk, and flour to use in place of ricotta (which is weird because 1 cup of Béchamel weighs in at 428 calories and 1 cup full fat ricotta is 400, so not much of a savings to merit the extra work).

Here's the real kicker. The recipe calls for you to butter an 8-inch baking dish. Eight inches! In case you don't have a sense of that, it's just two inches bigger than a dollar bill. The instructions go on to say this recipe makes 12... 12 servings! That means, you're getting a 460-calorie piece of lasagna that is approximately 2 inches by 2 and 5/8 inches. It could fit in the palm of your hand with plenty of room left over.

I don't know about you, but I cook for a lot of people... fit, healthy... hungry people. And if I served any one of them a piece of lasagna that size and told them the calorie count, they would wonder if I had lost my mind. Of course it won't pack on the pounds; of course it's only 460 calories. It's a serving smaller than the size of a playing card! Oh, but wait... the recipe doesn't say you won't still be hungry after eating this, just that it's 460 calories.

So why go the trouble of publishing this kind of recipe? It's not really healthier for people, with pancetta, whole milk, butter, cheese and chicken. It's not like lasagna was revamped in such a way that a guy can have a hearty piece; enjoy it thoroughly and know he didn't clog his arteries or expand his gut. It's not like it's so loaded with veggies that a guy is seeing that massive benefit.

So what is it? To sell some magazines that mislead a guy into thinking he can have guilt-free lasagna if he just makes his Bolognese with chicken and adds a few skimpy slices of zucchini to it? What happens when someone does the work, makes the two sauces, puts it all together in the teeny tiny 8-inch pan and then realizes he can only enjoy a wee slice that is one-twelfth of the pan? I would imagine you have a pretty ticked off cook.

Why imply that something is healthy and won't pack on the pounds when the truth is decidedly different? I am the first one to say that our portion sizes are getting the better of our health. I am the first one to make the joke that it takes more than one waiter to deliver our platter of pasta in a restaurant. I deeply believe that we need to eat reduced portions of calorically dense foods.

But this just feels like... deception. It's not like the recipe is so easy it practically makes itself. We have to make two sauces instead of one. The end dish has 25 grams of fat in that little portion.

Why wouldn't Men's Health simply create a different kind of pasta recipe that gives the satisfaction of a richly flavored dish like lasagna but truly without the guilt... and that could be enjoyed at a portion that was a bit more substantial than the elf-sized lasagna in this article?

Like these recipes...

BAKED ZITI

Who doesn't love baked ziti?. Cheesy, gooey, and rich, this complete indulgence is loaded with fat, right? Not my version -- and not one ounce of flavor was lost in the translation. Plus it's fast and easy.

MAKES 6-8 SERVINGS

1 pound whole-wheat ziti, cooked to 80 percent done, drained, do not rinse
1 recipe Pomodoro Presto Sauce (see recipe below)
2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella cheese substitute
Fresh basil leaves, shredded
Fresh oregano leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.

Mix cooked ziti with pasta sauce, 1 cup of the "cheese," and herbs to taste. Cover tightly and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remaining "cheese" and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the top is browned and bubbling. Serve hot.

POMODORO PRESTO

MAKES 4-5 SERVINGS

Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
½ red onion, diced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can of diced tomatoes (organic, if possible)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3-4 sprigs fresh basil or parsley, coarsely chopped

Place a generous amount of oil, garlic, and onion in a deep skillet over medium heat. When the onion begins to sizzle, add oregano, a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, but do not let the onions brown. Stir in tomatoes and paste, season lightly with salt and peppers, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove cover and adjust seasonings to your taste. Simmer for 4-5 minutes more. Stir in fresh herbs before use.

BROCCOLI RABE AND TOMATO LASAGNA
With this lasagna, it can be summer all year long. The rich-flavored sun-dried tomatoes are in perfect balance with the delicate bitter essence of broccoli rabe. Hearty, satisfying and magnificently flavored, this main course brings a wee bit of July into dreary winter days.

MAKES 8-10 SERVINGS

½ cup densely packed dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes
1¼ cups boiling spring or filtered water
About 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, split lengthwise, rinsed well, thinly sliced
Sea salt
3 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unsweetened organic almond or soy milk
2 cups canned tomato purée
9 to 10 cups diced broccoli rabe (remove tough stems before dicing)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup spring or filtered water
12 uncooked, no-boil lasagna noodles
2 to 3 cups vegan mozzarella substitute, grated

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them to soak. When
the tomatoes are soft, drain them well, reserving the soaking liquid. Mince the tomatoes. Set aside.

Place about 1 tablespoon of the oil, the garlic and leeks in a deep skillet over medium heat. When the leeks begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for three to four minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out skillet and set aside.

Place 3 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and a pinch of salt and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and slowly add the reserved tomato soaking liquid and almond milk, whisking frequently.

Cook, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and tomato purée and set aside.

Place about 1 tablespoon of the oil in the wiped-out skillet over medium heat. Stir in the rabe, season lightly with salt and add the red pepper flakes. Sauté until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the cover. Stir in the cooked garlic and leeks. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly oil a deep 9 × 13-inch baking dish.

Spoon 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Lay 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce. Stir the broccoli rabe mixture into the remaining sauce and spoon half of it over the noodles. Sprinkle about one-third of the veg mozzarella over the sauce. Lay three lasagna noodles on top and cover with half the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with half the remaining veg mozzarella. Lay the final three lasagna noodles over the cheese, spoon the remaining sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with the remaining veg mozzarella.

Cover tightly with foil, tenting slightly to prevent it from sticking to the top of the lasagna. Bake for 35 minutes.

Remove cover and bake until the top is golden and bubbling. Allow the lasagna to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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