Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Apples to Apples

Apples are one of the most iconic fruits of the fall season. Fall marks back to school themed apple decor and the fun tradition of bobbing for apples. Apples serve as a symbol for healthy eating. Many families use apples in theirapples everyday diet from a snack to an apple pie.  In fact, most are familiar with the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But is there any truth behind this old proverb? This happens to be one saying worth repeating.

  • Apples under the microscope:
    • Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples has been studied for its possible protective benefits against prostate cancer.
    • Researchers at Cornell University showed that nutrients found in the skin of apples inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43%.
    • The National Cancer Institute released a statement saying that the flavonoids, like the ones found in apples, may reduce the risk of lung cancer by as much as 50%.
    • Other studies have shown that apples can also help reduce the risk of asthma and possibly type 2 diabetes.
    • Apples contain pectin, which is a valuable source of soluble fiber (1.0 gram per medium-sized apple). Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels and possibly help control blood sugars. The average apple contains 3-5 grams of total fiber, which can help support digestive health.
  • Choosing your perfect apple:
    • Apples come in many varieties. They can be sweet, tart, crisp, soft, red, yellow, green; the combinations are endless! I personally love a sweet, crisp apple so I tend to stick with Gala, Fuji or the Honeycrisp varieties. Picking the perfect apple can depend on your usage of the apple. Different varieties are recommended if you’re simply snacking or using apples for cooking/baking purposes. Below is a list of apples, their profiles and recommended uses. appleVarietiesChart

    Eating an apple a day can definitely be part of a healthy diet. The phytochemicals and antioxidants found in apples help our bodies defend itself from oxidative stress. However, processed apple products, such as juice, typically do not retain these nutritious properties. When choosing an applesauce, opt for the no-sugar added variety. You can naturally sweeten it with cinnamon, if needed. For a balanced snack, combine an apple with 1-2 Tbsp of peanut butter or a low-fat cheese stick. Apple chunks can be added to salads, cereal and make creative slaws and salsas! Apples are so versatile; everyone can enjoy the fruit of the season!

 

 


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Holy Guacamole!

Avocado on whiteYes, one of my favorite fruits is the avocado. In fact, I eat half an avocado almost every day. If I don’t slice it on top of my eggs in the morning, it usually tops a salad later on in the day. Historically, avocados have had a bad reputation because of their high fat content. We now know the fat found in avocados and other plant-based foods like nuts, peanut butter and oils is actually very good for us!

Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fat, specifically omega-9 fat that can also be found in olive oil, canola oil and nuts/seeds. The reason it is important to include these healthy plant-based fats in our diet is because monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) can actually help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. Reducing the bad cholesterol level can help reduce one’s risk for heart disease. Research also indicates that this type of fat can also help insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is very important for those with diabetes. MUFAs also help our bodies absorb specific vitamins. These are just some of the reasons why fat is important in our diet.

Avocados also contain antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for their role in eye health. This green fruit is also a good source of fiber and potassium. An avocado is ripe for eating when the skin gives gently when pressed on. If you buy a hard avocado, it will usually soften within a few days. There are many varieties of avocados and they ripen at different times of the year. This is why avocados are in season all year long! Avocados are a mildly sweet fruit and can be combined in many traditional dishes. Here are few ideas to get the molé rolling:

  • Slice avocados and add to your favorite breakfast egg dish (omelet, scrambled, frittata, over easy)
  • Add slices of avocados on top of sandwiches or salads.
  • Mash ½ avocado on 1 slice of whole wheat toast and top with 1 egg and low-fat cheese for an on-the-go breakfast.
  • Top whole grain cracker with avocado slice and smoked salmon for a delicious appetizer.
  • Create delectable salsas by combining avocado slices, tomato chunks, onion, black beans or corn kernels with cilantro, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Remember “fat-free” and “low-fat” products are often more processed and contain higher amounts of sodium and added sugars. Consuming only fat free products may put your body at risk for becoming deficient in certain vitamins and essential fatty acids. However, consuming too much fat (even the good kind) can lead to excessive caloric intake. A healthy fat intake level is achieved when 20-35% of total calories consumed come from good fat sources. Monounsaturated fats are one of the foundations of the Mediterranean diet, which in most studies has been linked to lower rates of heart disease. Check out this Mediterranean semi-gourmet sandwich http://www.tastespotting.com/features/green-goddess-grilled-cheese-sandwich-recipe for a great Sunday brunch idea!

For even more ways to incorporate avocado into your diet, Check out these amazing recipes adapted from www.theamazingavocado.com

Avocado and Citrus Salad with Dijon Avocado Vinaigrette http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/avocado-and-citrus-salad-with-dijon-avocado-vinaigrette/

Portabella Burgers with Avocado Spread http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/portabella-burgers-with-avocado-spread/

New York Breakfast Pizza http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/new-york-breakfast-pizza/

Have you ever heard of a BLT stuffed avocado? Neither have I until I came across this fantastic twist on an old classic: http://www.farmgirlgourmet.com/2013/01/blt-stuffed-avocado.html

**For healthy recipe substitutions, choose mayonnaise that has been made with olive oil and use whole wheat bread instead.


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The Unknown World of Vegetables and Kids

picky-little-eaterKIDS and VEGETABLES—two words that are usually not found in the same sentence and many times not in the same meal.

Many children in today’s society have grown accustomed to pre-packaged, processed food items. In fact, researchers in 2005 discovered that 2/3 of three year olds were able to identify the McDonald’s golden arches. Favorite foods such as mac n cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza are packed high in fat, salt and added sugars. Fruit is typically consumed in the form of juice or fruit snacks and vegetables are commonly offered from a can or box mix such as green beans, corn or potatoes.

Yes, I agree that some fruits and vegetables are better than none, but what’s concerning is the lack of fresh ingredients in kids’ diets and the overall poor quality of nutritional intake.

Researchers have been investigating children’s eating behaviors and identifying strategies to get them to eat healthier. A recently published study in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012 http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S0002-8223(11)01498-2/fulltext found that vegetable consumption (specifically broccoli) increased in pre-school aged children when a dip was offered with the vegetable. These findings support many other studies of its kind. What we are discovering is that young kids are more likely to consume raw vegetables when they have something to dip them in! One possible reason why this method is working is that a dip may help offset bitter flavors that some vegetables have. But let’s face it—dip adds fun!

Light Ranch dressing may be the easiest dip/dressing to use, but there are many other nutritious, homemade concoctions that can be created:

  • Make your own dressing by using light sour cream or Greek yogurt mixed with Ranch seasoning. In fact, you could use any spice/herb blend to create new flavors.
  • Peanut butter provides a good source of protein when added to celery or carrot sticks.
  • Hummus which is made from chickpeas provides fiber, a scarce nutrient in most kids diets. Hummus doesn’t have to be bland! You can infuse garlic, roasted red pepper and other flavors to give this dip an interesting twist.
  • Dips for fruits can be made too. Try vanilla yogurt or add a small amount of honey or cinnamon to Greek yogurt to make a great dip for strawberries, bananas, apples, grapes or pears.
  • Be cautious with unhealthy dip varieties. Dips like caramel, marshmallow crème and chocolate sauce contain excessive amounts of added sugars and unwanted calories.

If the dip method still doesn’t make your young one want to consume more fruits or vegetables, it may be a good idea to experiment with blending and pureeing these foods. Steamed cauliflower can be easily pureed and mixed in with carrotmashed potatoes or mac n cheese. Shredded carrots or zucchini can be added to spaghetti sauces or casserole dishes. To make it less noticeable and less chunky, puree the vegetables with the sauce before serving. Two great resources that provide recipes for these nutritious puree blends are: The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine http://www.amazon.com/Sneaky-Chef-Strategies-Healthy-Favorite/dp/0762430753 and Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld http://www.amazon.com/Deceptively-Delicious-Simple-Secrets-Eating/dp/006176793X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370628568&sr=1-1&keywords=deceptively+delicious

The goal for fruit and vegetable consumption is five servings per day. For additional tips and ideas for increasing your child’s fruit and vegetable consumption, please visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet11KidFriendlyVeggiesAndFruits.pdf


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School’s Out for Summer!

Well, maybe our kids have replaced the lyrics of Alice Cooper with the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift, but the story remains the same. No more pencils, no more books, and a lot more freedom to eat, play and watch TV as children please.

appleIt’s important as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods at home. By improving access to healthy food options and limiting unhealthy selections, you can feel more confident knowing that your children are consuming well-balanced meals and snacks at home. As a 12-year-old, my days usually started with a big bowl of sugary, sweetened cereal, followed by mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs and an unhealthy dose of soap operas. While I was also very active with swimming, riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, my diet certainly had room for improvement. It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids about nutrition and well-balanced meals. The simplest way to illustrate a healthy meal is using the plate method. The plate method encourages you to fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein and one fourth with grains (preferably whole grains).myplate

Here is a list of examples to help your kids put together healthy, well-balanced meals.

Grains:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat or corn tortilla
  • Popcorn

Proteins:

  • Chicken
  • Fish,
  • Turkey
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans

Dairy:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese/string cheese
  • Smoothies

Fruits:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Pears

Vegetables:

  • Green salad
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Red, yellow, green bell peppers
  • Cucumbers

Sweetened cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms are not the best start for the day because they lack many important nutrients and contain excessive amounts of added sugars. Here’s a tip for weaning kids away from these sugar-packed cereal varieties: encourage kids to mix a healthier cereal such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Mini Wheats or other high-fiber variety into their favorite cereal. This will help reduce the portion size of the sugary cereal and help improve the nutrient intake of fiber. Apple chunks, blueberries, banana slices, chopped nuts or dried fruit can be easily added to oatmeal to make breakfast more well-rounded. Whole grain tortillas spread with peanut butter and banana slices or eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and beans make two great protein-packed breakfasts.celery

Lunch meals tend to be heavy on the starches. A turkey sandwich, chips, granola bar and dessert were the typical items packed in my lunch when going to summer camp.

The results of this lunch meal: Starch=5, Protein=1, and Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy=0.

To make this lunchbox healthier, we can swap the chips with low-fat yogurt, trade the granola bar for carrot and celery sticks with one tablespoon of low-fat ranch, and include a clementine for the dessert. Mac ‘n cheese is okay to eat still, but it should be featured as a side item rather than the entrée. Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits and measuring individual containers of peanut butter, hummus, yogurt or low-fat ranch for dips can make healthy selections much more accessible.

Another valuable lesson to learn early on in life is that snacks do not equal desserts. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun. Try to create snacks that include at least two food groups. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
  • Celery logs topped with peanut butter and raisins
  • Small oranges with low-fat string cheese
  • Slice apples to make a mini peanut butter, granola sandwiches
  • Top a whole grain cracker with low-fat cream cheese and grape halves
  • Mix yogurt with fresh fruit chunks

grapesSometimes, rules need to be enforced on how much screen time is allowed each day. It is recommended that kids spend no more than two hours per day watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc. If you find  your kids do spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV, try setting limits like “TV may only be watched from 1:00-2:30.” Physical activity should always be encouraged in a positive light and never used as a form of punishment. Encourage safe, outdoor activities; it’s summer time after all!


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Label Reading 101, Part 2

Label Reading 101, our first lesson on label reading educated us on how to understand the serving size, calories and amount of fat values that are listed on the nutrition facts label. We know to be aware of individually packaged food items like chips because they often come with this hidden message: “You got served…twice!” It’s also important to look at the bigger picture, such as amount of added sugars or sodium, when selecting an item with reduced-fat or fat-free labeling.

Today, we’ll tackle some of the other important nutrient information that is posted on the label:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • “Sugar-free”

Carbohydrates. Total carbohydrates is a very important value to monitor, especially if you are a diabetic and need to watch your carb intake. Remember, the gram amount listed is per the indicated serving size of the product. I know what you’re thinking—isn’t sugar more important to observe? When it comes to carb-counting, it is more important to look at the total carbohydrates number. Fiber and sugars are indented underneath this value because they are components of the sum of total carbohydrates in the food item. The other missing components are starch and sugar alcohols, which are not required to be listed. It is a good idea to compare the sugar content when looking at two like items. One cup of Cheerios contains just one gram of sugar, while one cup of Frosted Flakes packs in almost 15 grams of sugar. Clearly, the Cheerios would be the better choice in this scenario.

Fiber. Did you know that the average American needs at least 25 grams of fiber per day? Fiber is a wonderful nutrient that can help control appetite, improve feelings of fullness, help reduce cholesterol levels, promote a healthy colonic environment and possibly help improve blood sugar control. It can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and nuts/seeds. Choosing healthy foods includes incorporating foods that are high in fiber. When looking at the label, try to choose foods with at least three to four grams of fiber per serving. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of water if consuming foods that are very high in fiber such as beans, legumes or fiber-fortified cereal products, such as Fiber One or Fiber Plus.

Sodium. When you think of someone who needs to watch their sodium intake, we typically think of Uncle John, who had a heart attack last year, or your neighbor, Jess, who has had two kidney stones. In reality, everyone should be monitoring sodium intake. A good rule of thumb is to limit meals to no more than 600 mg of sodium. Keeping up with these recommendations becomes very difficult when consuming a lot of processed food items. Choosing fruits, vegetables and fresh lean proteins are easy ways of consuming foods with lower sodium contents. Using fresh spices and herbs is another way to add flavor and zip to our meals without adding to our sodium intake. Check out this article on finding the herb/spice that’s right for you.

Calcium. Individual calcium needs range from 1000 mg to as much as 1500 mg per day. A common question is, “how much calcium am I consuming if it’s listed as a percentage on the food label?” Here is a little secret: add a ’0′ to the percent value listed for calcium and that is how many milligrams the item contains. For example, one eight ounce serving of almond milk reads it has 45% of calcium; this means it contains 450 mg per eight ounce serving. Keep in mind that calcium is the only nutrient this trick applies to. When monitoring calcium intake, remember that your body only absorbs about 500 mg in one sitting. This is especially important for individuals who are taking calcium supplements and monitoring calcium intake.

“Sugar-free.” Become more aware of sugar-free products as this “health halo” tricks a lot of us. Many studies have found that when people perceive an item to be healthier, such as foods with low-fat or sugar-free on the label, we tend to consume larger portions of them. Using Calorie King, I compared Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Russell Stover Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups.

Serving Size

Calories

Carbohydrates

Reese’s
Peanut Butter Cups

2 pieces (1 pkg)
1.5 oz

210

24 grams

Russell Stover
Sugar Free
Peanut Butter Cups

4 pieces
1.3 oz

180

17 grams

One important message to take away from this is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. If you are someone who is monitoring your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to always check the labels, whether an item is sugar-free or not.

Reading food labels is very important for monitoring your nutritional intake. Some of the best foods for us don’t even have a label: fruits, vegetables or fresh proteins. Try to do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store and limit purchases from the center aisles for improved nutrient quality of food choices.

food-vs-product

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