Vitamin C Power Foods

Recently, our Dietetics and Nutrition department was featured at the Springfield Clinic sponsored Illinois Products Farmers’ Market. Our topic was “Vitamin C at the Market” and my goal was to help educate Market-goers on foods that are nutritionally dense in Vitamin C.

Farmer's Market

Juice is one of the first things that come to most people’s minds when they think of Vitamin C. You want to get rid of a cold faster? Drink some orange juice. How do you increase Vitamin C with breakfast? Drink some orange juice.

These old nutrition practices have been around for decades. The reality of the matter is that juice is no different than soda once it’s consumed. It is processed the exact same way in the body. Liquid sugar (juice) is one of the most rapidly digested food sources and quickly converts to glucose and enters the blood stream. So, the technical term for juice we should be using is “soda with a squirt of Vitamin C”.

Not only can we derive the same amount (or even more) Vitamin C from whole foods compared to juice, we gain greater benefits from their consumption. Whole foods provide us the benefit of fiber (something juice certainly does not have)! Fiber aids in digestion, helps control blood sugar levels and keeps you fuller longer. Juice is often overloaded with one particular vitamin or mineral. Whole foods contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and the synergistic consumption of all these nutrients has been found to have a higher absorption rate compared to large doses of one single vitamin or mineral.

Here are some additional sources of Vitamin C found in natural foods. The top 5 food sources are (and listed in order of Vitamin C content):

  • Red Bell Peppers. Enjoy them all year round. Add them to salads, omelets, sautéed with onions, zucchini and mushrooms or string them on a kabob.
  • Kiwi. Simply cut a kiwi in half and scoop out the middle with a spoon. They are great on their own or can be blended in a smoothie, added to Greek yogurt or mixed with strawberries and other fruit for a nutritious fruit salsa.
  • Strawberries. Best consumed in the summer time when they are in season!
  • Oranges. Opt for citrus fruits like oranges in the winter months when other fruits aren’t in season in the US.
  • Broccoli. A nutritional powerhouse full of fiber, folate, Vitamin K and antioxidants.

Juice is one of the first things that come to most people’s minds when they think of Vitamin C, but juice is no different than soda once it’s consumed. It is processed the exact same way in the body. Try these Vitamin C Power Foods next time instead of going straight for the juice!

Vitamin C has many functions in the body. It is an antioxidant that strengthens the body’s immune system, aids in collagen formation as well as wound healing and helps improve the absorption of iron. The latter is especially important for those who are anemic. A great tip to enhance absorption of iron found in spinach is to consume it with red bell peppers, tomatoes or strawberries. I know summertime screams strawberry spinach salads in our household!

How to Become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper


How to become a Savvy Farmers Market Shopper

Farmers’ Market season is off and running! There’s no quicker way to go from farm-to-table with your meals than by purchasing your ingredients at your local market. This also provides a great opportunity to communicate directly with your farmers on topics such as pesticide-use, growing conditions and whether or not the products are grown organically. Additionally, at the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market you can often find unique items such as hand-crafted soaps, gluten-free baked goods, organic meats and other hidden gems that may not be available at your local grocery store. Springfield Clinic registered dietitian, Jessica Stevens is a regular at the Farmers’ Market and offers these tips for your next trip:

  • Take your own reusable grocery bag and maybe even a wagon if you plan on buying a lot of produce and other goodies.
  • Purchase fresh herbs at the market when they are in season and also less expensive. Chop and place them in ice cube trays, add olive oil and freeze. You’ve just made your own herb oil and can use at any time by heating in a skillet or vegetable foil pack on the grill.
  • Ask the farmers how they personally use or cook vegetables that are new to you.
  • If you have questions about seasonal produce, ask! The farmers who grow them know best.
  • Best prices are found in bulk. Ask a neighbor, friend or family member to go in on shopping costs with you and share your bounty.
  • Try to have a meal plan in place so you do not feel like you waste fresh produce.
  • Get there early if you’re looking for specific things – the best produce sells out fast. If you want a good deal, you may find one if you get there late, but that’s not always a guarantee.
  • Bring small bills. Market vendors often only accept cash and don’t carry a lot of change.
  • Know your seasons and what produce grows in your local area. This can help you plan your meals around fresh and cheap produce! Visit our Springfield Clinic table each week, as we will be providing a featured recipe that includes in-season ingredients.
  • Bring a cooler. Fresh meat, cheese and eggs can be available to purchase at farmer’s markets so you’ll want to keep these items cool for those trips home. It will be 90+ degrees before we know it!

Save Your Burnt Out Metabolism

Save Your Burnt Out Metabolism

Did you know that one of the most common mistakes that individuals make when trying to lose weight is not eating enough? Consuming too few of calories is a sure-fire way to burn out your metabolism—basically disarm your body’s ability to burn calories effectively throughout the day. In fact, I can usually tell within the first five minutes of a patient’s assessment if they have a properly working metabolism or not.

Characteristics of a person with a malfunctioning metabolism can include:

  • Frequent meal-skipping habits
  • Not snacking when appropriate
  • Low energy levels
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Over-exercising without adequate nutrition compensation
  • Weight gain over a very short period of time (example: gaining 5 lbs over a weekend)
  • Weight loss plateau despite good exercise and healthy eating habits

Dealing with a burnt out metabolism can be one of the most frustrating experiences. In fact, I have had several patients tell me, “I don’t understand why I can’t lose weight. I hardly eat anything at all.” Again, “hardly eat anything” is the red flag here and is quickly the focal point of our conversation. Patients are quite surprised to find that I actually recommend them to eat more in order to lose more. This can be a difficult phenomenon to grasp but I’ll try to illustrate it here.

Imagine your metabolism as a big, glowing fire. Like any fire, you must continuously feed the fire wood or fuel in order for it to keep burning. The wood represents the food and snacks you consume throughout the day and the fire represents how efficiently your body is burning calories. Now, envision you skip your lunch meal. This is symbolic to throwing a bucket of water on your fire. Once the fire goes out, your body now enters “fuel-storage” mode rather than being in a “fuel-burning” mode. Unfortunately, once the fire is burned out, it doesn’t necessarily restart right away. So, even if you choose a super nutritious dinner of grilled chicken, salad and broccoli, your body is going to store all those calories vs burn them up for fuel. This is why my number one rule is: Don’t Skip Meals!

This is why myAlso, you don’t want to go too long without eating either. A healthy metabolism needs to be fed as often as every 2-5 hours (depending on activity level). Frequent eating also helps one establish better portion control throughout the day. For example, when I have a protein-rich afternoon snack, I notice that I don’t take nearly as big of portion sizes at my dinner meal. A popular trend in weight loss today is the practice of intermittent fasting. While this practice has shown slight positive effects in small study populations, we still have no idea how well it works in diseased or severely obese populations. I also understand how tempting it is to read articles that highlight, “eating breakfast doesn’t matter” or “you can skip meals and lose weight.” Most of the time, these study designs are severely flawed and do not apply to the general population.

If you feel this article speaks to you, consider switching up your eating routine. You may just need to start with eating three meals per day, and try to consume those meals 4-6 hours apart. Focus on including good protein sources with both meals and snacks such as chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese, tuna, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butter or protein bars. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day with a long-term goal of consuming 7-9 servings a day. Don’t be afraid of fat. The right kinds of fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs, olive oil and coconut oil can actually help your body more efficiently burn its own fat! Just like the wise Bruce Springsteen once said, “you can’t start a fire…you can’t start a fire without a spark.” I am a firm believer that that “spark” is frequently nourishing your body with meals and healthy snacks!

Tilapia & Strawberry Mango Salsa

Healthy? Check. Fast? Check. Delicious? Check.

Personally, I think tilapia and broccoli are two pretty bland menu items; however, they are excellent sources of nutrition! Tilapia is an incredibly lean protein source and broccoli provides an abundance of Vitamin A, Vitamin K and folate. All these dishes needed were a little love from some spices and herbs, and they were instantly transformed into a flavorful dinner meal.


Baked Tilapia with Strawberry Mango Salsa and Sautéed Broccoli

For the Tilapia

  • 2-4 tilapia fillets (fresh)
  • Your favorite zesty seasoning (I used my Tastefully Simple Fiesta Party Dip Mix)

For the Broccoli

  • 2-4 crowns of broccoli, chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

For the Strawberry Mango Salsa

  • 1 pint of strawberries, diced
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 2 small avocados, diced
  • At least 2 Tbsp of lime juice (add more if desired)
  • 4-6 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425o Spray a foiled baking sheet with non-stick spray. Lay tilapia on baking sheet and generously cover with zesty seasoning. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add chopped broccoli to oil with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 8-10 minutes. Be sure to move your broccoli frequently in the pan as it can burn easily. Once cooked, add brown sugar and Parmesan, reduce heat to warm and cover with lid.
  3. Mix all salsa ingredients together in a bowl. Serve over the tilapia.

Sweet and Spicy and Low Carb Nice-y!

If you have been following my blog, then you know how much I love spaghetti squash. One of the primary reasons I cook with it so much is because my husband is not very tolerant to wheat, so spaghetti squash is a safe (and lower calorie) alternative to pasta. If you have tried spaghetti squash before and didn’t care for it, I highly recommend you take one more stab at it with this recipe.

Spaghetti Squash with Sweet Spicy Sauce

  • 1 spaghetti squashbroccoli
  • 2 lbs lean ground turkey
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 5 cups spinach
  • ½ red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ zucchini, diced
  • Coconut aminos (gluten-free soy sauce alternative)
  • Smoked paprika, ground chipotle powder, cumin and salt to season turkey
  • Coconut oil

For the Sauce

  • baby spinach leaves in bowl2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 ½ Tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce (for extra heat, replace hot sauce with siracha)
  • ½ Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tsp sesame oil
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 425oF. Cut squash in half. Lay flat sides down on baking sheet and bake from 30-35 minutes until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat some coconut oil in large pot over medium heat. Once heated, add turkey, coconut aminos and seasonings. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until browned. Remove cooked meat with a ladle and set in a separate bowl.
  3. With some of the leftover cooking juices from the turkey, add the broccoli, pepper and zucchini. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until cooked tender. Add spinach and cover with lid and let steam for a couple minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk all ingredients for sauce together in a separate bowl.
  5. Finally add turkey and spaghetti squash into pot with cooked vegetables. Pour sauce over mixture and let cook on low for a few minutes before serving.

Sweet and Spicy Spagetti Squash

Recipe inspired from Paleo OMG. I have omitted the garlic since it is in the same FODMAP family as wheat.

Squash: The Flavor of Fall

Butternut squash is one of my favorite flavors of fall! It pairs well with other roasted vegetables, can be consumed in soups and is strong enough to stand alone in its own dish. Many people enjoy butternut squash when its sweetness is enhanced from cinnamon, nutmeg or brown sugar; however, I prefer the more savory spice flavors. I came across a scrumptious looking seasoned-breadcrumb squash recipe. The problem I faced with this recipe is that my husband needs to follow a gluten-free diet, which makes Italian seasoned breadcrumbs a no-no in our household. I decided to be creative and make my own gluten-free version of Italian bread crumbs. The flavor profile is spot-on but it didn’t crisp up like normal breadcrumbs do. To help the breadcrumbs crisp up, turn your oven on broil setting and cook at a high temperature for the last 5-10 minutes.

butternut squash

For the Squash

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4cup grass-fed butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (recipe below)
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp dried parsley

For the Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375oF.
  2. Prepare the breadcrumb recipe in a small bowl. Simply mix all ingredients together. Add parmesan cheese and set aside.
  3. Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add minced garlic and cook for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn the butter or garlic. Remove from heat after about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Peel and slice butternut squash into even 1-1.5 inch cubes. Cut the ends off first and then slice the butternut squash in half, long-ways. Once it’s halved, you can easily peel the skin and chop up.
  5. Put chopped squash in casserole dish and then pour garlic-butter mixture onto squash and toss so it’s evenly coated. Season with salt, pepper and dried parsley. Finally, add gluten-free breadcrumb and parmesan mixture on top.
  6. Cook squash for 30-40 minutes until fork tender. You also have the option of turning oven to broiler setting at the end to help brown gluten-free bread crumbs.