Nutrition, Weight Control and Great-Tasting Food (cont.)

column_webmd: I hope this doesn't sound silly, but what's the key to making a good red sauce? One that doesn't taste "canned"?

Dr. LaPuma: Red sauces are as individual as cooks. My model for red sauces is Marcella Hazan, but there are lots of good other models. The way many Mediterranean tomato sauces start is with sauteing yellow onions in olive oil, adding garlic and then adding tomatoes and spices. This is a time tested way of cooking and works every time. I like to roast tomatoes under a broiler and roast red chilies under a broiler before blending them with onions and garlic and cooking them for 20 or 25 minutes until the fire from the chili is gone. The best cook I know of for this kind of red sauce is Rick Bayleff for whom I worked at Topolo Bampo for four years.

Moderator: And the chili recipe is pretty spicy?

Dr. LaPuma: Actually, it tastes more like the flavor of the chili than the spice. And, if you cook it as Bayleff does, as I've learned to do, a lot of the flavor of the chili remains and the heat or spiciness just remains in the background.

chartres_webmd: Is tofu really all that? Do you know any good tofu recipes? It seems so bland.

Dr. LaPuma: The best tofu cookbooks I know are This Can't Be Tofu! by Deborah Madison, and the book I mentioned previously by Lorna Sass. Tofu is bean curd and, by itself, it is about as appetizing as it sounds. But, in a book I'm working on (called RealAge Cafe with Michael Roizen), we have some baked tofu recipes that are excellent and a silken tofu dessert that really rocks.

chartres_webmd: So which is it for a perfect omelet? Two or three eggs?

Dr. LaPuma: It depends how many eaters. I use three egg whites for every single egg yolk. One whole egg, plus two egg whites. For me, that creates a lot of richness and also gives the omelet more lift than it might have if it was all egg yolks and egg whites.

column_webmd: How do you determine your particular caloric and dietary needs?

Dr. LaPuma: It depends on your age and your gender (and on any medical problems that you happen to have, plus any medical problems that you want to prevent). But, a simple way to start is by looking at several web sites, including that of the American Dietetic Association and of Tufts University. They both have basic, accurate nutritional information about calorie requirements and vitamin requirements. These are effectives requirements in preventing a lot of medical problems. I like Dr. Andrew Weil's new book called Eating Well For Optimal Health and I think it does a good job in outlining basic nutritional needs both for now and for the future. Actually, so does the book, RealAge by Michael Roizen, although we hope to improve on that in RealAge Cafe with some of Chef's Clinic recipes.

chartres_webmd: Were you a chef or an MD first? Those credentials are quite impressive.

Dr. LaPuma: You're very kind. I was an MD first and became a chef second. Now, I'm trying to do both. I went to medical school ten years before I went to cooking school. I practice medicine now and I love my patients. I like the kind of practice we're trying to build where we focus on people's real food and fitness needs.

chartres_webmd: Are there any cautions people should think about when eating sushi? How can you tell if the fish is fresh?

Dr. LaPuma: It's very hard, but fish that is fresh does not smell fishy. In fact, it usually does not smell at all. It has a clean, unscented, clear look and smell. So if your sushi smells like fish, send it back. In Japan, sushi chefs are very carefully trained and, in fact, have to apprentice for months or even years before being permitted to select fish. In America, unfortunately, we don't have those safeguards. And, although I just ate sushi yesterday (and loved it), I think you have to use your nose and your eyes. HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) standards are now required in restaurants. These are standards that require proper refrigeration and cleanliness of all products, not just fish. But many restaurants don't adhere to them and so, unfortunately, even those aren't a guarantee. So, use your nose and your eyes and once you've decided to eat, enjoy it. In some parts of California, some health departments give restaurants sanitation grades and have them posted in the window. I like this idea and hope it becomes more widespread.

janewilson_webmd: Is honey better than sugar or is it the same, just in a different form?

Dr. LaPuma: Nutritionally it's the same. I think honey tastes better and its flavor depends on the kind of pollen that the bees used when creating it. But neither sugar nor honey is any place to look for nutrition, though they both have a role in cooking and baking.

dusty11_webmd: Thank you for your responses. Do you have any general tips for good health?

Dr. LaPuma: Try to eat in season. Buy what's fresh, what's colorful and what's easy. Number two, try to cook in quantity. Buy a really good chef's knife and take a simple class and learn how to use it. Number three, do something physically active every day, walk, bike, go outside. Number four, save some time for yourself, quiet time where you are away from distractions of all kinds. And, fifth, try to enjoy food, the more flavor the better.

Moderator: You recommend cardiovascular exercise?

Dr. LaPuma: Yes. I think both aerobic exercise and strength training have a role in fitness. We teach both in our clinic. People who want to lose weight should start, I think, with aerobics and add weight training. One of my patients is a body builder and came into the clinic more muscular than I'd seen any one in a couple of years, but he wanted to lose weight because he was 6'5" and 280, and even though much of that was muscle, he was carrying a spare tire. So, we actually increased his aerobic regimen and decreased his strength training regimen, and enticed him with Boca burgers and guacamole instead of steaks and beer. And, he can now spring up 14 flights of stairs without taking a deep breath (he's a firefighter).

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors