The Great Food Debate

When it comes to food, making the best choices for your body can sometimes be a frustrating process, especially if you have seen how quickly food can flip from the good list to the naughty list. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get when it comes to the great food debate.

White Rice or Brown Rice?

Answer: White Rice

I know this blows everyone out of the water, but I’m thinking about digestion. White rice is easier on the tummy, so if you have any problems with irritable bowels or inflammation, white rice should always be your choice.

Yes, white rice has a higher glycemic index, but most of the time when you eat rice, you should be eating it with protein and vegetables. This helps lower the glycemic load of the entire meal. It’s virtually identical to brown rice when it comes to calories, fats, carbs and protein. Brown rice may claim that it is higher in nutrients, but in all honesty, those differences are so miniscule it doesn’t really matter.

Regular Soda or Diet Soda?

Answer: Neither

This is an answer that no one wants to hear but let’s be real for a second: Soda is soda. It’s made of chemicals, food colorings and carbonation. It should never replace water as a source of hydration. Regular soda contains an absurd amount of sugar or, even worse, high fructose corn syrup. Both of these contribute to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugars. Diet sodas are loaded with artificial sweeteners. These fake sugars are now known to contribute to digestive issues, disrupt the gut lining and also cause your body to crave more sugar in the long run.

Butter or Margarine?

Answer: Butter

I’m a stickler when it comes to more natural food items. Butter is one single ingredient. It is the fat that is rendered off of milk or cream. Previously, we thought that the saturated fat found in butter was the cause of poor health and heart disease. Today, we know that saturated fats, when derived from natural sources, can actually be part of a very healthy diet! Margarine, on the other hand, is a concoction of chemicals and processed oils. These processed oils, such as vegetable or canola oils, are highly inflammatory in the body.

Have other food questions you need answered? Send us a message and we’d be happy to answer ‘which is better’!

Alternatives to frying

Many of us grew up with fried foods, and we all know they bring a sense of comfort, can be a quick and easy way to fix the main dish of your meal and are so very yummy! However, fried foods are not the most beneficial for your health. We know now that not all fats are created equal: healthier fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, natural saturated) are better for you and even desirable compared to unhealthy fats (trans fat). Frying food can eliminate everything that’s healthy about a food, so here are some terrific alternative cooking methods to frying.  

Sautéing/Stir-frying

This method of cooking can be quick and easy and give foods an enriched flavor. Plus, a lot more nutrients are saved through sautéing or stir frying. Sautéing involves cooking food, typically vegetables and proteins in a pan over high heat with oil (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter), liquid (broth or water added 1-2 tablespoons at a time to cook and brown food without steaming) or homemade sauce. Stir-frying is similar, except the food is cooked at higher heat and faster speed. It needs to be constantly stirred and tossed so it doesn’t burn.

Roasting/Baking

I recommend this form of cooking when you’re trying a new protein or vegetable. Roasting or baking caramelizes food with a dry heat, creating a sweet and savory flavor out of the natural sugars of the food. Season the food, add oil if you want, put on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and put in the oven.

What’s the difference between roasting and baking? Meats or vegetables that are a solid structure are roasted. Foods that don’t start as a solid structure (muffins, cakes, casseroles) are baked.

Braising/Stewing

Braising and stewing are best done with heartier vegetables and lean proteins, as the foods become soft and tender and full of flavor. You can braise in water, broth or any flavorful liquid. Put everything in a pot and cook over low heat for several hours. For the most flavor, I recommend sautéing the vegetables before adding them to the liquid. You can also use this cooking method in a slow cooker.

Grilling

I used to be afraid of grilling, as it’s easy to cook the outside and not the inside, especially with lean proteins. But, with practice, I’ve gotten much better at it. Grilling can provide a rich, deep, smoky flavor to all your foods, and vegetables caramelize as well while getting crispy. Marinate, season and place on the grill to cook. With vegetables, so they don’t fall through the slits, wrap in oiled aluminum foil.

Steaming

When I recommend steaming, many people think of bland and stringy food. However, when done right, food, especially vegetables, can become tender and flavorful while keeping most of their nutrients. Delicate foods, such as most vegetables and fish, are good candidates for steaming, but there are other possibilities. I recommend steaming over the stove or in the microwave.

Whichever method you choose to prepare your foods—if it’s not frying, it’ll be beneficial to not only your health, but also your waistline!

Bake or Bake not—But there is no fry!

Popular fried foods include fish, chicken strips, corn dogs, cheese and French fries. But thanks to our Illinois State Fair, we have learned that you can deep fry just about anything.

What’s the difference between fried and baked food?

The main difference between a fried menu item and one that is baked is the amount of calories and fat. When foods are deep fried, they lose their water content and absorb more fat. Depending on the food item, the caloric value can double or even triple when fried. If your goal is to lose weight or even maintain a healthy weight, fried foods are not a good choice.

We now know that fat is actually very healthy for us. Unfortunately, fried foods have the highest content of trans fat, which is a terrible source of fat for your body and arterial health.

What are some healthy fat sources?

Healthy fats like those found in salmon and avocados are excellent for reducing inflammation in your arteries and joints. However, the oils most often used for frying contain high amounts of inflammatory fatty acids. Consuming fried foods can cause inflammation in the gut and aggravate joint and muscle pain.

One last thing…

Don’t be fooled by frozen fried foods. Those frozen chicken strips and French fries that you are “baking” in the oven? They were fried prior to being frozen. Baking is simply the method preferred for reheating them.

Ready to try a non-fried fish meal? Check out my easiest salmon recipe ever for a delicious and nutritious baked dinner!

Italian Chicken Sandwich

In the days after big cooking holidays, you might feel like you never want to step foot in your kitchen again—or at least not until Thanksgiving. But for some reason, your kids and spouse still need to be fed, so try out this easy Italian chicken slow cooker recipe for a week’s worth of sandwiches.

Italian Chicken Sandwich
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Ingredients
  1. Tomato mixture
  2. • grape tomatoes, sliced
  3. • garlic, minced
  4. • balsamic vinegar, to taste
  5. • salt, pepper & oregano, to taste
  6. • olive oil
  7. Italian chicken
  8. • 4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (frozen or fresh)
  9. • 1 packet Italian dressing
  10. • 1 jar pepperoncini, juice and all
  11. Sandwich
  12. • whole wheat buns
  13. • Dijon mustard
  14. • mozzarella slices
  15. • Italian chicken
  16. • tomato mixture
Instructions
  1. Tomato mixture instructions: Heat olive oil in a skillet and add garlic.
  2. Once the garlic is sizzling, add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper.
  3. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until tomatoes are mushy.
  4. Italian chicken instructions: Line slow cooker with liner, and then spray the liner with cooking spray.
  5. Put frozen or thawed chicken breasts, Italian dressing and the jar of pepperoncini (juice and all) into the slow cooker.
  6. Note: If your family doesn’t do spice, leave the pepperoncini whole and remove after the chicken is done cooking.
  7. Cook on low approximately six hours.
  8. After the chicken is done cooking, use two forks to shred it in the slow cooker. Take the pepperoncini out.
Something to Chew http://somethingtochew.com/

Hormones: How to Restore Balance in your Life

Hormones have profound effects on the body. They help regulate metabolism and appetite, steer our energy levels, make fertility possible, manage body temperature and control the body’s ability to lose weight or even gain muscle.

Effects of hormone imbalance on the body

When someone is experiencing hormonal imbalances, it can feel as if the world is crashing down on you. Many people go through unintentional weight gain despite following a healthy diet. Others feel sluggish all day and still have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. These symptoms, among many others, can wreak havoc on emotions and temperament. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices but can also occur naturally with age, including when women reach menopause.

As women age, production of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, declines. It may seem like you have absolutely no control over this, but there are ways to continue to keep these levels balanced, even though overall hormone production is lower.

Bring balance back to hormones through healthy eating 

Eating healthfully is important throughout a person’s life, and it’s no different for women going through menopause. Many women experience weight gain—especially around the belly—mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. They are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

You don’t have to be a slave to your changing hormones. Try to bring them back into balance with these dietary tweaks.

What to eat more of: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage (Try to have at least one serving of these hormone-balancing veggies every day.)
  • Dietary fiber: oats, berries, avocados, beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, pears, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, squash (Dietary fiber helps with liver clearance of estrogen.)
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs, all nuts and seeds including chia seeds and flaxseed, grass-fed beef, salmon, quinoa

Also increase sleep and exercise. Both help reduce stress. Weight training can also have further benefits on improving metabolism.

What to eat less of:

  • Processed foods: boxed meals, pre-packaged shelf-stable or frozen entrees, frozen pizza, premade breads and bread products, pre-packaged meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs, artificial sweeteners, fake cheese, excessive condiment use, Pop-Tarts®, snack mixes such as pretzels, crackers, chips
  • Added sugars: cereals, packaged sweets like Twinkies and Cinna-Buns, regular and some Greek yogurt varieties, sweetened milks, soda, juice, sweetened tea, granola bars
  • Drive-thru meals: Processed meats, refined grains and fried menu items can cause inflammation in the gut. They also are poor nutrient sources of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Alcohol: One alcoholic beverage is processed as 29 grams of sugar or one serving of M&Ms.
  • Caffeine: For some, caffeine can be a source of inflammation.
  • Foods associated with inflammation such as gluten and lactose. Foods made from or using ingredients with wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. Milk and ice cream are two high-lactose containing dairy products.

Remember, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet all at once. But by increasing the good and decreasing the bad, even slowly, you can bring balance to your hormones and improve your quality of life.

 

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

Last Black Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought an Instant Pot®. Yes, I had to find out for myself what the craze was all about, so I actually bought in. And Instant Pot® is a programmable pressure cooker that is supposed to speed up cooking considerably. This week, I want to share what I’ve done with my Instant Pot® and how I’ve made it work for my family.

What’s the best part about an Instant Pot®?

First and foremost, what I absolutely love to make in my Instant Pot® is hard-boiled eggs. You may be asking, aren’t eggs bad for you? Despite their occasional negative portrayal, eggs are a fantastic protein source, as long as you aren’t going overboard with the number you eat.

I typically hard-boil about eight to 12 eggs a week for our family of five. The Instant Pot® makes it super-duper easy to do so. Here are the instructions:

Megan’s Hard-boiled Eggs

  1. Put one cup of water and however many eggs you want into the pot.
  2. Program five minutes of pressure, followed by five minutes natural release, followed by 5 minutes cold water bath.

I don’t shell them right away, but put them in a bowl in the fridge to stay fresher for longer. We shell them as we eat them.  

What else can you use the Instant Pot® for?

I also have made a whole chicken with my Instant Pot®, although this is not something new to me. I usually buy whole chickens when they are on sale and freeze them. Typically, I’ll thaw the chicken and put it in the crockpot with all the seasonings I want—by the evening, we’ve got chicken. I’ll shred the leftover chicken and freeze into patches so we can use it for subsequent meals, such as chicken spaghetti, chicken tacos, white chicken chili and BBQ chicken.

How does the Instant Pot come into play? One time, I forgot to thaw the chicken the night before. I placed the whole frozen chicken in the Instant Pot® with the seasonings and a little water. In no time, the chicken was cooked. This is a definite plus of having the Instant Pot® around.

What are some of the lesser-known features of the Instant Pot®?

My last favorite I’m going to talk about today is burrito bowls. When making this recipe, I use more than just the pressure cook feature. You can make the whole burrito bowl meal in the Instant Pot® and not dirty another dish, thanks to the fabulous sauté feature.

Megan’s Burrito Bowl for the Instant Pot®

  1. Put oil, peppers, onion and garlic into the pot.
  2. Use the saute feature to cook, and then add beans, salsa, chicken, rice and low-sodium chicken stock.
  3. Close the lid and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Quick release and ladle out. Add some fresh cilantro, cheese and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and serve.

This is always a fun, full meal for my family, and it leaves behind great leftovers.

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

There are some great features for the Instant Pot® outside of pressure cooking. It has a learning curve, and it’s a little difficult to use and get used to. Sometimes when recipes say “10 minutes,” it’s actually longer because it takes time for the pressure to build. And, I will be honest, it takes up a lot of space if you don’t have much in your kitchen. All that being said, the Instant Pot® can be right for a lot of people and would be a good addition in your kitchen. Happy Instant Potting!!

Instant Pot image from https://instantpot.com/