Eating Healthier the Canyon Ranch Spa Way

The top chef for the world-famous Canyon Ranch chain of spas offers tips for eating and living well.

From the WebMD Archives

If you're eager to begin a new healthy eating regime, or get back in shape after too much holiday indulgence, Canyon Ranch spa is the place to go. Since 1979, people have visited the original Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz. for rest, restoration, and support in developing -- and maintaining -- a healthy lifestyle. Today, Canyon Ranch has a sister site in Lenox, Mass., as well as spa clubs in Las Vegas, Kissimmee, Fla., and on board the Queen Mary 2.

Even if you can't drop everything and take a trip to one of it's facilities, you can still practice the Canyon Ranch way -- right in your own home. WebMD consulted Canyon Ranch corporate chef Scott Uehlein for tips on how to develop a healthy eating lifestyle.

Uehlein's first piece of advice: Don't diet.

"Don't do it," Uehlein told WebMD. "Don't tell yourself you are going to commit to a diet for a certain number of weeks or months and once you lose weight, then worry about what's next,"

Instead, Uehlein, who oversees menu development for the kitchens at all Canyon Ranch locations, suggests making lifestyle changes. Make small commitments, such as walking every morning or working out after work a couple of times a week. And when it comes to -- eating, "moderation not deprivation" should be the focus.

"If you try to deprive yourself of something, you will eventually want to have that thing you are depriving yourself of," Uehlein points out. "In the '80s, we deprived ourselves of fat, then starting in the '90s, it was carbs. Finally, I think we are coming around to pledging to lead a healthier, balanced lifestyle."

A good place to start is to simply eat less. "Whatever you are used to eating, cut by a third," Uehlein suggests.

In the spa's most recent cookbook, Canyon Ranch Cooks, Uehlein and colleagues established guiding principles for a healthy lifestyle. The book also offers advice on how to stock your kitchen for healthy cooking, and includes 214 recipes (and sample menus) so you can create fresh, flavorful Canyon Ranch-style meals at home.


The Canyon Ranch Way: Guiding Principles

Honor your individuality.

Genetics, health, medical history, eating preferences, lifestyle, and other factors all influence the way you eat. Assess your personal needs and goals. You may want to consult a nutritionist before you begin your new health regime.

Enjoy the sensual and social aspects of eating.

Eating should be a joyful experience that engages both the physical and emotional senses. Indulge your preferences for flavor and texture and treasure the social aspects of eating.

Consider the balance of your meals.

Go for variety, with generous amounts of vegetables and fruits, moderate amounts of protein-rich foods and whole grains, and small amounts of healthy oils and fats. Develop strategies for eating out, such as sharing entrees or ordering just a salad and appetizer.

Eat to gently satisfy your appetite.

Eat regularly to avoid extreme hunger, and learn to moderate portions by eating with awareness and attention to physical appetite. Be mindful of portion sizes and learn to stop eating when your hunger is satisfied. Learn to distinguish between actual physical hunger, and other reasons for eating, such as stress, anxiety, boredom or emotional hunger.

Focus on clean and wholesome food.

Choose fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits, foods free of preservatives, additives, hormones, antibiotics, and other unnecessary chemicals.

The Canyon Ranch Way: What types of Food to Eat

Uehlein and his staff follow these basic guidelines when developing their signature menus:

Eat 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Consider adding fruit to your breakfast, enjoy a medium-to-large salad every day, snack on fruits, and make sure every meal includes a vegetable. Choose organic produce whenever possible.

Emphasize whole grains and healthy carbohydrates.

Whole grains -- like whole wheat bread and tortillas, cooked barley, and brown rice -- provide fiber and stabilize blood sugar levels. Other great carbs include: beans, sweet potatoes, pasta cooked al dente, hummus, lentils, pea soups and vegetarian chili.

Use healthy fats and oils.

Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet. According to Canyon Ranch guidelines, 20% to 30% of calories in the average daily diet should come from fat. But fat in the diet should be the right kind of fat. Foods that contain monounsaturated fats are best, like extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocadoes, olives, and nuts. Include omega-3 fat to protect against heart attack and reduce inflammation. Use fresh walnuts and pumpkin seeds in salads; eat eggs that contain higher omega-3 fat in the yolk; and cook salmon several times a week.


Minimize saturated fat by choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy products, skinless chicken breast, and lean red meats. Limit consumption of foods made with butter and cream. Avoid trans-fats found in regular margarine, shortening, many fast foods, and food that contains the word "hydrogenated" on the label.

Balance meals with some protein-rich food.

Include protein in each meal to help control hunger and stabilize energy levels. Good sources of protein include: beans, soy foods, nut butters, low-fat or nonfat yogurt and cheeses, eggs, and poultry.

Limit sugar in your diet and avoid artificial sweeteners.

Go for the natural sweetness of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you must sweeten, go natural with small amounts of maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, or unrefined sugar. Choose fruit for dessert. Try cinnamon, vanilla, and freshly grated nutmeg as a substitute for sugar when you can. Artificial sweeteners can boost sweet cravings.

Be sensible about salt.

Use salt moderately, and try substituting with other herbs and spices.

Drink plenty of water every day

Eight large glasses a day is a good rule. To make it more tempting, use a beautiful tumbler, and add ice and a slice of lemon or lime.

The Canyon Ranch guidelines are probably not very different from common sense, good-health rules you've heard before. The key is to slowly incorporate these practices into your day-to-day life.

To get a clearer picture of how to do that, WebMD asked Uehlein to describe exactly how he puts the Canyon Ranch philosophy into action, meal by meal.

The Canyon Ranch Way: Meal by Meal


"If you like eggs, then use two egg whites and one whole egg to make an omelette," Uhelein said. This cuts down on egg yolks, which contain a lot of fat. Be sure to use canola oil -- not butter -- for frying.

If you don't like eggs, choose whole grains and fruits at breakfast time. In Uehlein's home, which he shares with his wife and three daughters, the flour jar contains a mixture of half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. Uehlein uses that flour for all bread products, including pancakes. For a quick breakfast, go with yogurt and a piece of fruit. If you like crunchy textures, you can add some low-fat, all-natural granola to the yogurt.



Lunch can be "the most dangerous meal" of the day, Uhelein warns. The temptation is to grab fast food or, in the spirit of healthiness, go to a salad bar. "A salad bar can kill you," Uhelein says. "You can load up on calories before you know it and those fat-free dressings are loaded with gums and all kinds of stuff."

If you want to make a good healthy-eating resolution, Uhelein suggests you take your lunch at least three times a week, instead of going to a restaurant. You can make it quick and simple; for example, you can wrap sliced turkey breast in a whole wheat tortilla and pair with a veggie and some fruit. Go for balance. "If you can pack it, pack it," Uhelein urges. "You will gain so much more control that way and you'll see a huge impact."

Snacks and Beverages

If you have to wait a long time between lunch and dinner, you will likely need a snack. Nuts and fresh fruit are the best options, according to Uehlein, but have no more than one ounce of nuts. (Uehlein himself prefers almonds because they "give you a full sensation.") Avoid visits to the vending machine for sugary soft drinks and highly-processed snacks. "I won't tell you to never drink a soda. That's a diet," Uhelein said. "But drink fewer of them."


At dinnertime, try to eat at home as often as possible, recommends Uhelein. Cook well-balanced meals that fall within the Canyon Ranch guidelines. Uhelein acknowledges that most folks can't eat like they are at Canyon Ranch every day. "We are much more about fine dining; that's why we are a utopia," he observes.

But that doesn't mean that home cooking can't reflect the Canyon Ranch approach to flavor. "When I'm developing a recipe, I always incorporate sweet, sour, bitter and salty," Uhelein said. "There will be a little bit of fat, for mouth feel, but the focus is on flavor."

Uhelein says home cooks need to concentrate on dishes that satisfy with flavor and meet their family's individual likes and dislikes. "If you like crunchy, then add some crunch. If you don't like tofu today, then don't cook tofu."


Cooking ahead can help. "If we cook brown rice on Sunday, we'll have some to use for the next few days. If we roast some vegetables, then we can toss some on a frozen pizza later in the week," he said.

And with three daughters, ages 2, 11, and 13, Uhelein knows from experience that sometimes there simply isn't time to cook dinner. But even on busy nights, the chef tries to eat at home, relying on carefully chosen convenience foods. He keeps pizzas with whole-grain crusts in the freezer along with a selection of healthy frozen entrees. (Uhelein is a big fan of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods markets for both fresh and convenience items.)

Canyon Ranch Recipes

Roasted Butternut Squash, Apple, and Pecan Salad

Delicious, dense-textured, vitamin-packed butternut squash is the tastiest of all the winter squash. To peel, use a sharp cleaver or large knife and hack off the stem and then cut the long part off the bulbous base before you start peeling. It's easier to attack the two shapes separately.

2 pounds peeled butternut squash, deseeded and cubed

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice mix

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup maple syrup

5 Granny Smith apples, cored and cubed

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix squash with oil in a bowl. Sprinkle in the spice mix and toss to coat. Spread squash on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.

In a small bowl, combine vinegar and maple syrup, pour over squash and bake for 5 more minutes. Place apples and pecans in a large bowl and add hot squash mixture. Toss lightly and allow to cool before serving.

Makes 10 servings. Each 1/2 cup serving contains approximately: 115 calories, 17 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gram protein, 4 grams sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Beef Tenderloin with Adobado Paste

You can make the adobado paste in quantity and store it, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It's also terrific with chicken and fish.


For the Adobado paste

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chili powder

1 pound lean beef tenderloin, cut into 4-ounce fillets

Preheat grill or broiler. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and chili powder. Mix to a smooth paste. Spread 1 teaspoon paste on each side of beef tenderloin fillet. Grill or broil to desired doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

Makes 4 servings. Each serving contains approximately: 215 calories, 7 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fat, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 25 grams protein, 112 milligrams sodium, trace fiber.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on February 07, 2007


Source: Scott Uhelein, corporate chef, Canyon Ranch; author, along with kitchen staff, Canyon Ranch Cooks.

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