Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Fall – The Season of Sweet Potatoes

Taking advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables is a cost-effective way to consume healthy and nutritious foods all year long. The sweet potato is one fall vegetable that happens to be one of my favorite starches. If you asked me a year ago if I liked sweet potatoes, I probably would’ve responded with a big “Yuck!” The first time I tried sweet potatoes was at Thanksgiving. They were smothered in marshmallows and brown sugar and in my opinion, were a mushy mess. I later tried sweet potato fries and was also very disappointed. Knowing that sweet potatoes were good for me, I was bound and determined to find a way to prepare them that was to my liking.

steamables_sweet_lgDid you know sweet potatoes are actually not related to the potato family? They are a member of the morning glory family. Personally, I enjoy sweet potatoes with my eggs in the morning or roasted with mixed vegetables as a side dish for lunch and dinner. My favorite way to spice them is with garlic, sea salt and pepper. However, most people prefer using cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves. Sweet potatoes served with egg whites also make an excellent post-workout snack. If I’m in a rush, I grab a bag of steamable sweet potatoes at the supermarket and can have a quick side dish on hand in a matter of minutes.

A small sweet potato (about 5 inches long or about 1 cup) contains 112 calories, 2 grams of protein, 3.9 grams of fiber and is also a good source of potassium and Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are most known for their content of Vitamin A and the antioxidant, beta-carotene which is excellent for skin and eye health. Beta-carotene is found within the deep orange pigment of the sweet potato. Other sources of (orange-pigmented) beta-carotene include carrots, pumpkin and squash and it is also found in green-pigmented vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Beta-carotene is best absorbed when it is consumed with a small amount of fat. This can be easily accomplished if you use a small amount of olive oil when sautéing or roasting your sweet potatoes. They also are a good source of Vitamin B6 which is essential for red blood cell formation and protein metabolism.

Using sweet potatoes in unconventional ways is a great method for consuming nutrients, especially for individuals with food allergies.  Here is a kid-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free recipe for making:

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2-1 large banana
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
  • Canola, olive or coconut oil (for cooking)
  1. Wash and pierce potatoes with a fork; cover with a paper towel and microwave for 5-6 minutes until soft.
  2. In a food processor, add the scooped out portion of the flesh of the sweet potatoes, eggs and ½ – whole banana (for sweetness) and puree until smooth.
  3. Add baking soda and spices, to taste.
  4. Heat oil on skillet over medium heat. Scoop ¼ cup batter onto skillet and cook 2-3 minutes on one side. Flip carefully and cook an additional 1-2 minutes on other side.
  5. Serve with fruit, yogurt or your favorite breakfast protein for a balanced breakfast or serve by itself for a healthy, sweet treat.

A zesty way to roast potatoes in the oven:

Baked Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

  • 2 sweet potatoessweetpotatowedges
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Olive oil (1-2 tsp)
  1. Preheat oven to 350oF.
  2. Slice potatoes into even wedges.
  3. Combine spices in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, add potato wedges and drizzle with olive oil. Add spices and lime juice; lightly toss together.
  4. Spread potatoes on baking sheet and bake 30-35 minutes, turning half-way through.
  5. Enjoy!

 

**Extremely high intakes of Vitamin A can lead to toxic levels in the body. Please consult with your physician if considering taking a Vitamin A supplement.

 


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Building Better Salads – Part 1

Rabbit food. This is the word my husband has coined for my side and entrée salads that I prepare for many of our lunch and dinner meals. It must be part of the guy-code manual that every male must make fun of eating salads. strawspinachsaladDespite his constant teasing, I will add that he continues to gobble up these salads every time I prepare them. (I’ll take that as a wife-win!). The key to making a great salad is to add just the right amount of ingredients to create a variety of nutrients and textures.

Salads often go hand-in-hand with health foods. However, sometimes salads can be some of the unhealthiest items on the menu. Beware of these common salad ingredient villains.

  • Breaded proteins. Protein is an important ingredient for a salad, especially if it is going to be considered as an entrée salad. Breaded and fried chicken/shrimp will increase the amount of saturated and trans fat in your salad. The good news is that most restaurants will let you substitute a grilled protein for a breaded one. Other excellent protein choices include grilled/baked flank steak, salmon, tuna, shrimp, turkey, ham, hard-boiled eggs or even beans.
  • Croutons and chow mein noodles. These items provide a nice crunch factor in our salads, but they come in next to last place for their nutritional value. Try adding sunflower seeds or heart-healthy walnuts instead to provide a healthier, crunchy substitute.
  •  Bacon and cheese. Here are two ingredients that can make a salad’s saturated fat and sodium content go through the roof. If you can’t forego both items, try to at least opt for one or the other and be mindful of portion size. A serving size of cheese is 1 oz or ¼ cup which is about the size of 2 dominos or 4 dice.

Wimpy salads (as I call them) that only include iceberg lettuce, cheese and dressing are not only nutritionally inadequate, but just plain boring to eat! Start with a dark leafy green mixture and add any combination of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and proteins for a more decadent salad. If you’re looking for ideas, here are few salads I commonly throw together:

Strawberry-Spinach Salad:man-salad

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Feta cheese
  • Walnuts
  • Red onion
  • Grilled chicken (optional)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

Modified Greek Salad:

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Grilled onions
  • Avocado slices
  • Roasted red bell peppers
  • Feta cheese
  • Grilled chicken or flank steak (optional)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

California Salad:

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Sweet corn kernels
  • Avocado slices
  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • Grilled chicken
  • Slivered almonds
  • Ranch dressing
  • Cilantro to garnish

Read on for Building Better Salads Part 2.


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It’s Zoodle Time!

zuc boatsLet’s serve up some Zoodles for dinner tonight!

“I don’t buy vegetables because they go bad too quickly!” It’s an all too familiar phrase I hear in my office. Often, people purchase vegetables with healthy intentions, consume them once and then forget them in the fridge to sadly go to waste. Before you throw in the towel with buying vegetables, there are a couple ways to better handle this situation.

1) Plan Ahead. Individuals who jot down a week’s worth of menus before grocery shopping are more likely to purchase the right amount of food for the week. If you simply walk through the produce section aimlessly, you may be more likely to take more food than what you actually need before your next shopping trip.

2) Think Outside the Box. One of my favorite ways to use vegetables is to come up with unconventional ways to prepare and serve them. Start simple. Spinach should not be reserved only for a salad. It can be added to any sandwich, folded into an omelet or blended in a smoothie. Each week, feature a new vegetable an try to come up with at least 3 ways to prepare and serve it.

Remember the nursery rhyme, “There was an old lady who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” That is how my cousin, Marianne, felt except instead of children; she was dealing with a surplus of zucchini from her garden. Her family quickly became tired of having sautéed or grilled zucchini with meals, so she surprised them one night by making zucchini lasagna. Replacing noodles with long zucchini slices creates a low-carb, gluten-free twist on this classic dish. For detailed recipe directions and nutrition facts, please visit: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2009/02/zucchini-lasagna.html.

Zucchini is an excellent source of potassium and is also a source of antioxidants that play an important role in eye health. It is also considered a “high-volume” food meaning a large serving of zucchini contains a low amount of calories.

For the Kids: You can thinly slice zucchini with a julienne peeler to create “zoodles” and substitute for spaghetti noodles. Try making Zucchini boats for a healthy, gluten-free treat:julienne peeler

  • Slice zucchini in half (long-ways) and top with mozzarella cheese, fresh veggies and basil.
  • Place “boats” on a baking sheet and cook and bake for 30 minutes at 350oF.
  • Remove boats from oven and top with parmesan cheese.

Cauliflower used to be a vegetable I could only consume if it was dipped in light Ranch dressing. Now I love eating cauliflower mashed, roasted, steamed, grilled and as a pizza crust! In fact, I hardly ever eat cauliflower raw. Anymore, which is how most people typically consume it. Unique for its white pigment, cauliflower often gets overlooked in the produce section. We have always been told that the best diets are rich in color. White colored items also get a bad reputation because they are commonly associated with white bread, white pasta, white rice, donuts etc. As a part of the cruciferous family, cauliflower has actually made a name for itself as a potential cancer-fighting food.

For the Kids: Creating “fauxtatos” is a simple trick for increasing the amount of non-starchy vegetables your kids will consume.

  • Chop one head of cauliflower into florets.
  • Fill sauce pan with ½ inch of water. Place florets in pan and cover.
  • Steam cauliflower for about 10 minutes or until fork tender.
  • Drain any excess liquid and run steamed florets through a food processor until it reaches a “mashed potato consistency”.
  • Season with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter or lemon juice and serve. This can be served by itself or even blended in with potatoes.

Vegetables are one of the least-consumed food groups, which is sad because vegetables are such an important source of nutrients in our diet. Being creative with the way you prepare vegetables can breathe new life into our old, traditional meals.


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Dinner’s Ready

Dinner time is often the one chance for everyone to sit down together, share a meal and discuss life’s events that day. However, in today’s busy world, this Norman Rockwell scene often is replaced with everyone jammed into the car and going through a drive-thru window. Did you know that families who sit together at home for three or more meals per week are more likely to consume:Norman-Rockwell-Freedom-from-Want-1943

  • More fruits and vegetables
  • Less fried food and soda
  • Less saturated fat and trans fat
  • More fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins B6, B12, C and E

When you think about these facts, it makes perfect sense that a home-cooked meal is going to be more nutritious than one purchased from the fast-food, drive-thru window. Most fast-food purchases include fried foods (chicken nuggets or chicken tenders, fries, fish fillets, onion rings) and a sugary-sweetened beverage, resulting in meals that are loaded with saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. When meals are prepared at home, they are more likely to include a fruit and/or vegetable, a lean protein that has been grilled or baked, a whole grain product and either water or low-fat milk to drink.

Two nutrients that most American kids do not consume enough of are dietary fiber and potassium. Additionally, we are not getting enough plant-based foods. Eating more plant-based foods can help easily increase both dietary fiber and potassium intake. Foods that are excellent sources of potassium include: acorn and butternut squash, avocados, baked beans, bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, mushrooms, nectarines, kiwi, spinach, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, oranges, tomatoes. Dietary fiber can be found in whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta, nuts and seeds, beans (all varieties), berries, apples, pears, oranges, oats and peas to name a few. Adding these foods to familiar recipes or serving them by themselves is a wonderful way of improving nutritional intake at the dinner table.

Eating together as a family not only sounds like a great idea, research is showing that there are both social and health benefits that can be experienced by all family members.1 Additionally, children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are2:

  • More likely to be in a normal weight range
  • Have healthier eating patterns

Additional benefits of family meal times include:

  • Better academic performance
  • Better connectedness and communication at home
  • Better language and communication skills
  • Opportunities to model healthy eating habits
  • More family time

As our families grow and take on more extracurricular activities, it can be more difficult to have everyone sit down at the same time for dinner. Making time in everyone’s schedules for a family meal has benefits that go beyond nutritional health. In a report published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2011, they found that teens who consumed dinners with their families 5-7 times per week compared to those who sat down with the family less than 3 times per week were3:

  • 4x less likely to use tobacco
  • 2x less likely to use alcohol
  • 2.5x less likely to use marijuana

To limit distractions, make mealtimes a no-phone zone and turn off the television. Remember to make family meal time fun! Discussing bad grades or negative events should not occur at the dinner table. Positive family talks can be stemmed from questions like:

  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • What was the funniest thing you saw or heard today?
  • Did you learn anything new today?
  • If you could eat the same vegetable every single day, what would it be?
  • What has been your favorite memory so far this year?

1.Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

2.Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Relate to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. May 2011.

3.The Importance of Family Dinners VII. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. September 2011.

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