Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fruit Snack Challenge

Growing up in Iowa the foods I remember most about summer are muskmellons, sweet corn, cucumbers(especially on cucumber sandwiches), and tomatoes from my dad's garden.  Now that I live in georgia I'm enjoying the absurd amounts of fruit that have come in to season all at once.  While getting groceries today Ryan and I ended up with a bag of florida pink grapefruit, 3 mangos, 4 peaches, and 1 cantaloupe in our cart.
cut up mango and 1/2 a cantaloupe

Earlier this year, while doing lots of reading and random research on the internet I decided to challenge myself to eat more fruits and vegetables.  If I have to tell patients and clients to eat more of them, I figured I should probably make sure that I'm eating my fair share too.  The biggest change I made was to bring cut up vegetables, fresh fruit, or fruit/yogurt parfait to work as snacks instead of granola bars.  I'd say I've been quite successful.  While this does take a little planning, it really does not take that much time or effort.  Lets compare:

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar: 190kcal, 6g fat, 160mg sodium, 12g added sugar, 2g fiber,          4g protein.  At $0.67 to $1 a bar that's 0.0035 cents/kcal, but very few vitamins and minerals.

1oz Plain Potato Chips: 153kcal, 10g fat, 147mg sodium, 1g fiber, 2g protein.  At $0.75 a bag that's 0.0049cents/kcal.  Again, not much in the way of vitamin's or minerals.

While I do not eat potato chips as a snack, I see a lot of people at work dining on them.  But it was interesting to notice that besides the amount of added sugar, the rest of the nutritional content was not that different.  Something to think about the next time you grab a cereal/granola bar instead of a potato chip bag.

1 cup of cubed cantaloupe: 54kcals, 0g fat, 26mg sodium, 1g fiber, 13g natural sugar, 1g protein, 108%DV for vitamin A, 98%DV for vitamin C, as well as a myriad of other vitamins and minerals.  At $2 a mellon that comes to approximately 0.0061cents/kcal since we got about 6 cups of mellon after cutting it up.

1 cup sliced mango: 107kcals, 0g fat, 3mg sodium, 3g fiber, 24g natural sugar, 1g protein, 25%DV vitamin A, 76%DV vitamin C, 9%DV vitamin E and K, 11% DV vitamin B6.  We purchased ours at 3 for $2, making this snack cost $0.0047cents/kcal

So as we can see... with a little extra thought and a few minutes, a healthy snack full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is just as affordable and convenient as opening a potato chip bag or granola bar.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Salads

Today may be one of the first official days of summer, however it's felt like summer in South Georgia for about 2 months now.  During my dietetic internship a fellow intern scaughed at me one evening in the winter while I was eating a salad; stating that it definitely was not salad season.  While this may have been slightly true, I'm happy to say that according to Lucy it is officially salad season.  As I discussed in a previous posting, salads at restaurants can sometimes be the most expensive item on the menu; and much of the time they are not a healthy option.  Today I'd like to encourage you to eat more salads!  This does not mean they have to be made of just limp lettuce and mealy tomatoes, salads can be any combination of fruits and vegetables with endless numbers of toppings and dressings.  

Lately I've started throwing together what I call "Kitchen Sink Salads." Because they contain just about everything but the...kitchen sink.  I have a large glass salad bowl in which I toss together any combination of lettuces (spinach, romaine, spring mix, arugala...) and any cut up fresh produce such as peppers, squash, onion, and carrots.  I keep the bowl covered with saran-wrap and store it on the top shelf in my fridge.  Whenever I want a salad to take to work or eat as a side with dinner, I just grab the bowl and portion out what I need.  Then to jazz it up a bit, I add whatever other toppings I want.  Much of this depends upon what is in season and what I have on hand.

Today I topped mine with raisins, left over black beans, raw almonds, cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, and a little cottage cheese.  Depending upon my mood I usually choose either store bought honey-mustard dressing (Bolthouse farms, yogurt dressing -pictured)  or homemade balsamic vinaigrette(Half olive oil, half balsamic vinegar and any combination of spices/seasoning).  I also added 1/2 a whole wheat pita topped with spinach/artichoke hummus that I whipped up last night.  Other great additions might include: Feta cheese, grilled chicken, canned salmon, olives, strawberries, mandarin oranges, edamame, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus....you get the idea.  I've even used breakfast cereal as extra crunch instead of croutons.

As I mentioned above, salads do not have to be just lettuce.  My wonderful boss has a garden and was inundated with cucumbers which she is sharing with me..  Since Ryan likes dill, I decided to make a creamy cucumber dill salad.  I used a recipe from my new America's Test Kitchens Best International Recipes book, but the link above will take you to Ina Garten's recipe which is almost identical.  I will recommend backing off on the amount of yogurt/sour cream used, otherwise it will be overly creamy. Also try using low fat or fat free Greek yogurt to lower the fat and calorie content. This also negates the need to strain it.  Over the past several days I've added fresh cut up cucumber to my mix for extra crunch.  It's as if the bowl is never ending!  Even Ryan who normally does not like this type of dish said it was pretty good.
Salads are a great way to try new fruits and vegetables.  Much of the time they are colorful, flavorful, inexpensive, convenient, and as long as they are not drowned in ranch dressing; very nutritious.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Squash Galore

Ryan and I do not have a garden, unless you count the four pots of herbs sitting on our sunroom windowsill.(See above)  My sister likes to post pictures on her Facebook page of her beautiful garden in Chicago...it just make's me jealous.  Luckily, Ryan and I both have coworkers who do have gardens and who like to give their bounty away.  Apparently squash is very much in season.  Last week we received a box full of very large summer squash along with a few jalapeno peppers.  There were a few small crookneck squash in the box as well, which I cut up on salads; but I had no idea what to do with the big ones.
I kept my feet in the picture to demonstrate how big they are.  There was enough here to make two casseroles and the soup.

After surfing the web and consulting my cook books here are two that I came up with.
Tex-Mex Summer Squash Caserole
Summer Squash Soup with minted yogurt

Both recipes were absolutely delicious. The minted yogurt is  must with the soup, it adds an amazing new layer of flavor.  If using large squash such as the ones we received, make sure to remove the seeds since they 1) do not get soft when baking. 2) do not blend up well in a blender.  Ryan and I found this out the hard way.

Here are a few reasons to eat yellow summer squash:
1 cup contains approximately 36 calories, 8g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein, and is a good source of Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Copper.  It is a very good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, B6, Folate, Potassium, and Manganese. (nutritiondata)

I do not have a cost or calorie count on either of the recipes, but be assured they are very cheap to make and obviously very good for you.  The spices in the soup may add up if you do not have them on hand (we did not have any saffron, and it was fine without it).  Also, squash is a very cheap vegetable if you have to buy it at your grocery store, even in the middle of winter.  It's usually about $1.5 per pound. During the summer try grilling it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper or tossing some in a salad.  In the winter it is great sauteed in butter or roasted in the oven.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Corn Syrup Moderation

Often times people (RDs included) will say, "Anything in moderation is fine."  One place we have heard it a lot lately is in connection to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  I'm sure you have seen the commercials of the happy couple sitting on a picnic blanket eating a pop-sickle, or the moms at the birthday party debating the healthfulness of the kids juice drink.  Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the Corn Growers Association.  HFCS is not ok in moderation, and currently the average American is probably consuming more of it than what they think.  Here are just a few foods where you will find it: Catsup, Yogurt, Bread, Cereal, Pop, Ice Cream, Granola Bars, BBQ Sauce, Mustard, Pickles, Canned Fruit, Cottage Cheese, TV Dinners, Frosting, Salad Dressing, crackers, waffles...The list keeps going.  Which makes me wonder how we are supposed to consume HFCS in moderation when in reality it's in a whole lot of foods? And what does moderation really mean?  According to Webster's Dictionary moderations means: 1) to lessen the intensity or extremeness. 2) an avoidance of extremeness in one's actions, habits, or beliefs.  Well that all sounds extremely subjective to me.

First off HFCS is sugar, and wether or not scientists can find a statistically significant correlation between it's consumption and obesity/diabetes/cancer does not matter.  It's sugar, it's an additive, and we do not need to eat it.  Even in moderation.   When fructose is digested it is transported through the small intestine lining and travels through the blood stream to the liver.  In the liver it is metabolized and the end products are glycogen(our muscle/liver storage form of glucose), fatty acids, and triglycerides(think cholesterol).  By itself, fructose elicits a very small insulin response and has been recommended as a 'sugar substitute' for people with diabetes.  Honey and agave nectar both have high concentrations of fructose(38% fructose, 31% Glucose, and 30+% other stuff).  However, HFCS contains a high enough glucose (45%) that it still causes a significant rise in blood sugar and the need for insulin.  High levels of circulating insulin have been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes, as well as non alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Yes, fructose is found in fruit.  But remember, fruit also contains essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.  HFCS does not.

Back to the formation of fatty acids and triglycerides.  Studies now show that consuming a single meal high in HFCS will show a marked increase in triglyceride levels 24 hours later.  For people with high cholesterol, especially high LDL cholesterol this is bad news since triglycerides are incorporated into Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL).  VLDL then travels through the blood stream and deposits the  triglycerides in the lining of the blood vessels, ultimately leading to the formation of plaques and atherosclerosis (Heart Disease).  The VLDL is now LDL.

The reason HFCS is in so many foods is two fold. 1)The government placed taxes or tariffs on the sugar coming from mexico and other countries making it more expensive to use in foods.  2) The government gives subsidies to corn farmers. I'm sure you can connect the dots between the two.

Do you still want to consume HFCS?  If not here is a list of products that Ryan and I have on hand or choose to purchase when needed which do not contain it: Bread(Arnold, Nature's Own, Nature's Pride, Earth Grains, Publix Honey Whole Wheat)  Dairy(Stoneyfield, Fage, Breakstone's, Friendship, Trader Joes, Publix Organic, Breyers All Natural, Dannon All Natural)  Cereal(Barbaras, Kashi, Trader Joes, any cereal without added sugar)  Misc.(Annie's, Claussen Pickles, Uncle Stubbs BBQ sauce, Smucker's Simply Fruit, Bolthouse Farms and Newman's Own salad dressing)  Produce(Anything not found in a can, AKA Fresh)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Organic, Fair Trade, Shade Grown

While walking all over Seattle, Ryan and I had a chance to sip countless cups of coffee.  Several of the cafes that we visited, and hundreds that we didn't are proudly roasting, brewing, and selling organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee beans.  But what does that all mean?  And why is it important?  

As the organic/all natural movement continues to gather steam many people are learning the nuances of their meaning.  In general, organic refers to produce grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage, genetically modified organisms, and has not been treated with radiation.  For meat/fish/poultry/and dairy organic means that the animal in question are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.  However, this does not mean they are out roaming around on green pastures.  For that you have to look a little closer on the label and find out if they grass fed and free range.  For more in-depth information on the different classifications of organic labeling and products check out www.organic.org 

It's similar to the minimum wage here in the U.S. but applies to farmers in developing countries.  Farmers who grow specific crops (coffee, chocolate, bananas, cotton...) become fair trade certified and are able to sell their goods at or above market value. This encourages companies to pay sustainable wages and helps prevent discrimination and abuse.  While farmers must be paid at minimum the market price, they are able to earn more if people are willing to pay it.  This is called a premimum.  The use of the extra money is determined democratically by a comittee of that specific plantation/farm and must be invested in some form of social, environmental, or economic project.  (Ex: coffee growers in Costa Rica were able to plan more shad trees to help prevent erosion as well as purchase special furnaces which burn coffee shells and dried macadamia nut husks).  Fair trade may not necessarily be organic, however by using their premiums to implement more sustainable farming practices, many of them head in that direction.  To learn more about fair trade or where to buy products visit www.fairtrade.org.uk or www.greenamericatoday.org

 Coffee plants evolved to thrive under the shade of taller tropical plants and trees, this helps create a biodiverse ecosystem. Unfortunately much of the coffee grown today is raised plantation style where trees are planted out in the open under the harsh rays of the sun.  This is possible through clear cutting and burning of healthy forests and genetically modified coffee beans which are better able to tolerate the direct sun light.  Unfortunately this has dire consequences on the environment.  Like any single crop farm land, the coffee trees deplete the soil of nutrients and increases erosion.  These trees also need  more pesticides and fertilizers than shade grown trees.   Thankfully, conservationists recognize the importance of the whole forest and how trees, plants, and animals interact.  Today more and more growers are switching to organic and shade grown practices which make up approximately 1% of the coffee bean market in the United States.  Want to know more?  Check out these sites for information on the benefits of shade grown coffee.