Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Black-Eyed Peas

The United Nations has declared 2016 as the Year of the Pulse.  In the food world, the term ‘pulse’ refers to the dried form of seeds grown within pods.  Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are all considered pulses, as are this week’s Healthy Ingredient – black-eyed peas.  Pulses are prized for being a readily-available, inexpensive source of protein and other nutrients, and black-eyed peas certainly fit that bill.  Besides being high in hunger-satisfying protein, black-eyed peas are an excellent source of fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium.  They are a staple of Southern cuisine, most notably appearing the in popular dish Hoppin’ John.  They also work well in a variety of other dishes – the recipe below features them in an exotic twist on rice pudding.

Che Dau Trang: Vietnamese Sweet Rice and Black-Eyed Pea Pudding

Ingredients
½ cup dried black eyed peas, soaked overnight
¾ cup brown rice
¼ cup sugar
3 cups water, divided
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk, divided
½ – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Instructions

  1. Sort and rinse beans and soak overnight. Drain and rinse.
  2. In a small stockpot (at least 2 quarts), bring beans to boil in 2 cups of water; cover and reduce to a low simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Add rice, sugar, and all but ¼ cup of the coconut milk (set remainder aside). Simmer mixture for 15 minutes covered with lid slightly ajar to avoid boil-over.
  4. After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add more water (½ cup to 1 cup) to achieve desired thickness. Continue simmering with lid ajar, stirring every few minutes, until the rice is tender (about 10 to 15 minutes).
  5. When the rice is done, turn off heat, add vanilla, and allow to sit covered for 10 minutes. The pudding will continue to thicken as it sits.
  6. Serve hot, chilled or in a glass with crushed ice. Dollop a teaspoon of the reserved coconut milk on top. Serves 6-8.

 Recipe adapted from Fork Fingers Chopsticks 

Nutritional Concerns for Vegetarians and Vegans

Becoming a vegetarian or vegan, by forgoing consumption of some or all animal products, has been linked to many health benefits, including lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index.  While vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol – nutrients whose consumption should be limited anyway – they also tend to be lower in Vitamin B12, iron, protein, and calcium.  Deficiencies in each of these nutrients pose their own unique sets of concerns, so it’s important for vegetarians and vegans to take steps to eat a balanced diet that includes alternative sources of nutrients that might otherwise be lacking in a diet that excludes or limits animal products.

Vitamin B12, which helps the body convert food into energy and keeps the nervous system running efficiently, is found only in animal products.  While some plant-based foods like cereal are fortified with B12, it is recommended that vegetarians and, especially, vegans, talk to their doctors about receiving a B12 shot to ensure their levels are adequate.  A deficiency in Vitamin B12, unlike other nutrient deficiencies that can be resolved by taking mega-doses of supplements, is best corrected with a monthly shot.

Iron is an essential part of the body’s production of red blood cells; an iron deficiency can lead to anemia.  While iron is found in both animal (in the form of heme iron) and plant products (in the form of nonheme iron), the body absorbs heme iron much more efficiently.  Iron can still be absorbed from plant sources, and it is recommended that vegetarians and vegans include a variety of them in their diets.  Good plant-based sources of iron include nuts, seeds, beans, and green leafy vegetables.  Fortified foods are also a good option.

Protein helps the body build, repair, and maintain tissues (such as muscles) and organs.  As with iron, the body best absorbs animal-based sources of protein, as animal proteins contain all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that the body can’t produce on its own.  Two plant proteins – soy and quinoa – also contain all nine of these amino acids, so they are excellent choices for vegetarians and vegans to consume.  Combining different sources of protein – e.g., grains (like rice) and legumes (like beans) – to ensure adequate amino acid intake is also a smart strategy.

Calcium, crucial to bone health, is abundant in dairy products.  It is also naturally found in green leafy veggies and beans and is commonly added into fortified soy products and other non-dairy products like orange juice.  Again, calcium is best-absorbed when it comes from animal sources, but a carefully-planned diet rich in plant-based sources of calcium can usually meet the body’s needs for this nutrient.

If you choose to forgo some or all animal products, a healthy, balanced diet should be able to meet most of your nutritional needs.  However, in some cases, supplementation – with B12 and other vitamins and minerals – may be necessary, so make sure to speak to your doctor to determine a plan of action.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Satsumas

Last week, my sister brought me what looked like a clementine with a stem and leaves attached.  I had never seen a citrus fruit quite like this one – and I had never tasted one as juicy, either.  This mystery fruit was a satsuma, one of the juiciest – and sweetest – members of the orange family.  While prized for their taste, the nutritional value of satsumas should not be overlooked.  They’re a great low-calorie snack that is also high in Vitamin C and a good source of potassium and fiber.  The best-tasting satsumas are usually sold like my sister purchased them – with the stems and leaves attached.  Don’t let this extra baggage fool you, though – satsumas are extremely easy to peel (and eat, and cook with).

Oven-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Satsuma Tapenade

Ingredients
½ cup fresh satsuma orange juice (about 2 satsumas)
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons grated satsuma orange rind
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy fillets, drained (optional)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 (8-ounce) bone-in chicken breast halves, skinned
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Satsuma orange wedges (optional)
Flat-leaf parsley sprigs (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook until reduced to ¼ cup (about 3 minutes).
  2. Place juice, olives, and next 3 ingredients (and anchovies, if you choose to include them) in a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon oil; process until well blended.
  3. Preheat oven to 425°.
  4. Sprinkle chicken evenly with pepper. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 3 breast halves to pan, meat sides down; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Place chicken on a jelly-roll pan. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 ½ teaspoons oil and remaining 3 breast halves.
  5. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve with tapenade. Garnish with orange wedges and parsley, if desired.

Recipe from Cooking Light, December 2008 

Office Work Isn’t Easy on the Eyes – Here’s How to Treat Them Right

If you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, you may be putting your eyes at risk.  Poor lighting and an improperly placed monitor, especially one that you’re looking at for a prolonged period of time, can lead to eyestrain and irritation; watery eyes and red, swollen eyelids; double vision; a decrease in the ability to focus your eyes and see clearly; headaches from straining to see clearly; and neck and back pains from hunching over to see small items.  Chances are, you’ve probably experienced at least one of these issues at some point throughout your career, but you may not have been sure of what caused them – or of how much of an effect they were having on your productivity.  Research has shown that even slight eyestrain can reduce workplace productivity by up to 20% – if you’d like to feel more focused and productive, here are some tips to avoid eyestrain and related problems:

  • Brighten up the place by placing an extra light above your workstation or on your desk. If your workspace is naturally dim, this “task lighting” can help you see more clearly.
  • Place your computer monitor at a 90-degree angle to any nearby windows and close window blinds to reduce glare from the sun.
  • Keep the top of your computer monitor even with or slightly below eye level – the top task bar on your Internet browser or computer program should be parallel with your eyes.
  • If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, adjust your monitor so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to see clearly, or look for progressive lenses with reading, mid-distance, and long-distance prescriptions.

Even if you’ve adjusted your workspace to reduce eye problems, it’s a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 Rule throughout the workday:  Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. Giving your eyes a break, even if it’s for a few seconds, should help make your workday more productive and less stressful – on your body and your mind.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Sorghum

You may have never heard of sorghum, but it has been a staple of African and Asian diets for centuries.  Its popularity is currently on the rise here in America, thanks to its status as a gluten-free grain.  Sorghum flour can be substituted for wheat flour in a variety of recipes, and whole sorghum grains can be popped like popcorn for a satisfying snack.  Sorghum is a good source of fiber and iron, and some varieties are high in antioxidants.   If you’re looking for a different grain that can be used in the same ways as more familiar ones, give sorghum a try!

Sorghum Salad

Ingredients
1 cup sorghum
3 cups water
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup peeled, chopped English cucumbers
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring the water to boil in a medium saucepan, then add the sorghum.
  2. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until somewhat soft, similar to cooked rice.
  3. Cool sorghum to room temperature, fluffing with a fork occasionally.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and add the cooked sorghum.

Recipe adapted from the Oldways Whole Grains Council

Is Your Diet Too Good to Be True?

It’s January, which means advertisements for diets and diet-related products are everywhere.  While it may be tempting to try out the eating plan or supplement you saw on tv that promised that you could lose weight quickly while eating fast food all day and never really leaving your couch, most of these plans and products are too good to be true – and likely not very safe.  How can you sort out the good from the not-so-good when it comes to diets and supplements specially-designed for weight loss?  Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself when it comes to choosing a weight-loss aid:

  • Does it sound too good to be true? Does it promote rapid weight loss or promise results without having to make dietary, exercise, or lifestyle changes?
  • Does it involve a pill, cream or patch? Can you continue to eat whatever you want and not exercise and still see results?
  • Does it over-emphasize restrictions on what you can or cannot eat? Are certain foods praised or criticized excessively?
  • Does it eliminate certain foods or entire food groups? Are you prohibited from eating grains, dairy, or other major food groups or types of food due to the “evidence” against their consumption?
  • Does it encourage fasting? Are you supposed to go hours or days with eating little to no food in order to “kickstart” your metabolism?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the diet or product you’re considering is probably not a safe – or effective – option.  The best diets are lifestyle-based, meaning they promote and encourage a balanced diet and regular exercise – without the use of any “extras” like specially-formulated supplements.  They also are fairly easy to follow, have a high safety track record, don’t leave you feeling hungry, allow occasional room for foods you enjoy, and result in weight loss of about 1-2 pounds a week.   If you’re in search of a better-for-you diet and are unsure of where to start, U.S. News and World Report just released their yearly Top Diet rankings.  Whether you decide to look further into any of these diets or not, remember that the best diets are not actually diets at all – they’re lifestyles that you can sustain even after you’ve reached your desired weight.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Kumquats

Kumquats, a citrus fruit popular in Asia, are currently in season here in America and worth trying.  They’re a good source of fiber and high in Vitamin C and, unlike some of their citrus-y cousins, can be eaten with the skin intact.  Try snacking on kumquats in place of clementines or oranges, or incorporating them into a sauce to accompany chicken, pork, or beef.

Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Kumquat Marinade

Ingredients
1 ½ cups vertically-sliced onion
½ cup halved, seeded, and vertically-sliced kumquats
½ cup carrot juice or orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons freshly ground mixed peppercorns or black peppercorns
4, 4-ounce beef tenderloin steaks, trimmed (about ¾-inch thick)
Fresh chives (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir in rice vinegar, and let cool.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge steaks in pepper.
  3. Add beef to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with marmalade; garnish with chives, if desired.

Recipe from Cooking Light, December 2002

Mastering the Art of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the practice of focusing all one’s attention and awareness on the food in front of them.  It’s the exact opposite of the mindless eating we so often perform in front of the tv, in the car, at our desks, and anywhere else where our focus is on something other than food.  Those who eat mindfully are better able to determine when they’re full, more likely to feel satisfied by the foods they eat, and therefore less likely to overeat.  If you’d like to change your habits for the better and start eating more mindfully, here are some easy strategies to try:

  • Eat your meals sitting down at a table rather than at your desk, in your car, or standing up.
  • Eat away from your computer, tablet, smart phone, or tv.
  • Eat in a quiet setting where you can clear your mind and focus only on your food.
  • Place your silverware down between bites to help pace yourself.
  • Chew your food slowly (ideally 15-20 times) before swallowing.
  • Use your senses to fully experience the food you’re eating – smell your food, taste it, and notice its textures.

When you make a conscious effort to eat mindfully, you’ll probably enjoy your food more and end up eating less of it – a win-win situation for those focused on weight loss, weight maintenance, or healthy eating in general.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Coffee

I’m often asked about the nutritional value of coffee and whether it can be part of a healthy diet. Coffee is an excellent source of phenolic acids and tannins, potent antioxidants that also have anti-inflammatory properties.  On its own, coffee is virtually calorie-free, a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin, and contains many other B vitamins as well as potassium and magnesium.  Coffee becomes less nutritious when excessive amounts of sugar and high-fat dairy products are added in; if you do choose to sweeten or lighten your coffee, stick to 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and low-fat or skim milk.  When it comes to the caffeine content of coffee, it’s all about knowing your personal tolerance.  Caffeine has few, if any, effects on most people, but if you experience heart palpitations or a jittery feeling after drinking coffee, or you have trouble sleeping at night, try cutting down your intake and refrain from consuming coffee and other caffeinated beverages after noontime.  Coffee can be consumed any time of day without these effects, however, when it’s incorporated into dishes like the one below.

Three-Bean and Coffee Chili

Ingredients
¼ cup olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chili powder
¼ cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2, 28-ounce cans no-salt-added crushed tomatoes (with purée)
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup strong coffee
2, 15-ounce cans low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
2, 15-ounce cans low-sodium kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1, 15-ounce cans low-sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 roasted red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
  2. Mix in chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook 1 minute.
  3. Mix in tomatoes, honey, and coffee. Add drained beans, red pepper, chicken or veggie stock, and remaining spices. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 60 minutes uncovered or until mixture thickens. If mixture consistency is too thin, use a potato masher or immersion blender to smash a portion of beans to thicken the chili.
  4. Optional: Top with nonfat sour cream, chopped avocado, grated low-fat cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, or jalapeño peppers. Serves 8.

 Recipe adapted from WebMD

Did You Resolve to Exercise More in 2016? Try These Tips to Stay Motivated All Year Long!

January is often the time we decide to take charge of our health and resolve to change our eating and exercise habits for the better.  The new year brings along with it a fresh start, and a perfect blank canvas to create new, healthy habits.  However, these habits don’t last long for most of us – according to data from Gold’s Gym, most people end up breaking their resolutions (at least the ones related to exercise) on February 18.  If you’d like to make your resolution to exercise more a habit that lasts all year long, try these tips to stay motivated until February 18 – and beyond:

  • Set realistic goals. If you’re a couch potato who vowed to exercise 7 days a week come January 1, chances are good that your resolution has already been broken.  Setting reasonable expectations for yourself will ensure you have the time, energy, and interest needed to help you reach your goal.
  • Start slowly. Like setting realistic expectations, starting slowly will help you feel like your goal is more attainable, and you’ll be less likely to suffer fatigue or burnout if you ease into your healthy transition.
  • Think about how much better you feel when you’re active. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why you don’t want to exercise, but it’s even easier to think of how good you’ll feel after you do.  The next time you claim you’re too tired to be active, think back to a time you managed to fit in a quick workout and remember how good your mind and body felt afterward.  Use that memory to help fuel your next exercise session.
  • Schedule some exercise on your calendar. If you’re like me, you rely on a calendar (whether on your desk, phone, or Outlook) to keep your schedule straight.  You know you have to attend a meeting or perform a work-related task if it’s on your calendar, so why not pencil (or type) a regular workout in there as well?  You’ll be more likely to commit to exercise if you look at it as part of your schedule.
  • Think outside the box – try a new activity. It’s understandable to lose interest if you stick with the same types of activity day in and day out.  When you feel your motivation slipping, think about activities you haven’t performed before, but are interested in, and give them a try.  Who knows – you might just find the workout you’ll want to stick with for years to come.
  • Use the buddy system. Exercising with a buddy is a great way to stay accountable and receive the support you need to work out regularly.  Remember that your buddy is probably looking forward to working out with you and wants to get healthy together – you wouldn’t want to let him or her down, would you?  Think of your exercise buddy as your own personal cheerleader, and use them to your advantage whenever you don’t have the motivation to exercise.
  • Add exercise in whenever you can.  Physical activity doesn’t have to take the form of a 60-minute exercise class or a long run.  Challenge yourself to be active in creative ways at work, at home, and when out with friends.  Anything that gets your heart rate up – walking meetings, cleaning the house, or going bowling after work  – counts as activity.
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