Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Celery

Although celery isn’t the most glamorous of vegetables, it has a lot going for it.  Celery is a good source of fiber and Vitamin A and an excellent source of Vitamin K.  Celery is also extremely low in calories and is sometimes considered a “negative-calorie food.”  Although it does contain calories (16 per cup), most people end up burning more calories digesting celery’s fibrous coating than they consume from the actual celery.  Most often, celery is served alongside other foods, so you won’t experience a calorie deficit every time you eat it.  You can, however, ensure that you’re supplementing celery’s health benefits by serving it alongside other nutritious foods, like in the recipe below.

Tuna with Celery and Walnuts 

Ingredients
4 ounces tuna packed in water, drained
2 tablespoons very finely diced celery
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon finely minced olives
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
12 whole wheat crackers

Instructions

  1. Combine the tuna, celery, walnuts, olive oil, olives, parsley and lemon juice in a medium bowl and season with pepper.
  2. Top the crackers with the tuna mixture and serve.

Recipe adapted from Food Network

Healthy Baking Swaps

I love to bake, and I do it quite often.  While I occasionally bake specifically for other people, I mostly bake for myself, as I really enjoy homemade “treat” foods such as brownies and cookies.  As a nutritionist, however, I can’t justify gorging myself on high-sugar and high-saturated fat goodies every single day, so I try to make my baked goods as healthy as possible while still ensuring that they taste good.  Through much trial and error, I’ve added several healthy baking swaps to my repertoire; these swaps help cut fat, calories, or sugar and increase fiber content without sacrificing flavor.  The next time you decide to bake a new or favorite recipe, consider trying one of these swaps to instantly make that recipe a little healthier, yet every bit as delicious as the original.

 

  • Applesauce.  Applesauce was my first foray into baking swaps, and it has remained my go-to swap for the past seven or eight years.  Applesauce can be used in place of two different types of ingredients:  eggs and fats.  If you’re using it as a substitute for eggs, 3 tablespoons of applesauce equals one egg.  This substitution works best in cakes and cookies; I’d stick with real eggs or EggBeaters if you’re making brownies.  Applesauce is also more commonly used as a substitute for butter, margarine, and oils.  It can be used in a 1:1 ratio, so ¼ cup of applesauce can substitute for ¼ cup butter in most recipes.  Using applesauce in place of butter or oil may change the consistency of your dish, so if you are new to this substitution, I’d recommend substituting only half the oil/butter with applesauce to start.  I have found that using applesauce in place of butter and oil works best when making sweet breads (like banana bread) and homemade pancakes.
  • Mashed or Pureed Fruit. Most baking recipes call for some sort of sweetener, usually in the form of sugar, which can add a lot of calories and zero beneficial nutrients.  While you may be tempted to turn to zero-calorie sweeteners like Splenda or Stevia to cut calories, you’re better off using a more nutritious substitute in the form of mashed or pureed fruit, which contains natural sugars, as well as filling fiber.  Choose soft, ripe fruits like bananas or dried fruits like dates or prunes, and experiment with the ratio of fruit to sugar called for in the recipe.  Oftentimes, you will need to use some sugar in order for your dish to achieve proper consistency, but you can reduce the added sugar count drastically by swapping some of this sugar for real fruit.
  • Whole Wheat Flour.  When baking from scratch, I try to substitute at least half of the white flour called for in a recipe for the whole wheat variety.  Whole wheat flour adds fiber and results in a more filling, less processed dish.  Whole wheat flour is denser than white flour, which means it can alter the consistency of a dish, so it’s best to start out with a 1:1 ratio of white to whole wheat flour and add a little more whole wheat flour to a dish each time you make it until you reach your desired taste and consistency.

 

There are many more healthy baking swaps, and I’m sure all of you other home bakers out there have a few favorites.  Feel free to post a comment on your favorite healthy swap, and it may be featured in an upcoming blog post.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Grapefruit

Grapefruits, like oranges, are citrus fruits, which means they’re high in Vitamin C.  Thanks to their vibrant hue, grapefruits are also high in Vitamin A, which sets them apart from their other citrus counterparts.  Grapefruits are also a good source of fiber and potassium, and they contain a host of other vitamins and minerals.  They may not be so healthy, however, for people who are on certain prescription drugs such as cholesterol-lowering statins.  Grapefruit can interact with these medications and cause them to reach dangerous levels in the bloodstream.  If you’re on a statin or any other medication, make sure to read the medication facts sheet provided by your pharmacy to ensure grapefruit isn’t off-limits.  If it’s not, then you’re free to enjoy grapefruit and all of the nutrition it provides.

Broiled Grapefruit with Cinnamon Sugar

Ingredients

1 large ruby red grapefruit
2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to broil.
  2. Cut the grapefruit in half across its equator. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut around the inside edge of the grapefruit half. Then make small, deep cuts next to each segment’s membrane, to loosen the fruit from the membrane
  3. Sprinkle each half with cinnamon sugar and put in an oven-safe dish, sugar-side up. Broil for 15 minutes, or until the top turns quite brown and caramelized.
  4. Let cool for 5 minutes and eat while warm.  Serves 2.

Recipe from the Kitchn 

 

Roasted Salmon with Shallot-Grapefruit Sauce

Ingredients
4 skinless salmon fillets (5 to 6 oz. each)\
Black pepper, to taste
2 ruby red grapefruits
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
2 ½ teaspoons honey
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Season the salmon with black pepper, place in a baking dish, and roast until just cooked through, about 18 minutes.
  3. While the salmon is cooking, prepare the sauce. Cut one of the grapefruits into sections by cutting off the top and bottom of the fruit, then standing it on one end and cutting down the skin to remove the woolly white pith and peel. Then, with a paring knife, remove each segment of fruit from its membrane and cut the segments in half. Set the segments aside. Juice the other grapefruit and set the juice aside.
  4. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the ginger, grapefruit juice, honey, and cayenne and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the lemon juice. Right before serving, toss the grapefruit pieces and basil into the sauce.
  7. Place the salmon on a serving dish, spoon the sauce over it, and serve.

Recipe from Fine Cooking 

Coconut Oil – Separating Fact from Hype

Chances are, you’ve probably heard that coconut oil is the newest superfood, full of health benefits.  But the truth about coconut oil is a little more complicated.  Coconut oil doesn’t look like olive, canola, or most other oils – it’s thick and pretty much solid.  This is due to its high saturated fat content; saturated fat is solid at room temperature, and coconut oil is 86% saturated fat.  As you may recall, saturated fat is considered “bad” and “heart-unhealthy,” as it can raise cholesterol and lead to clogged arteries.  So why has coconut oil, which is so high in heart-unhealthy saturated fat, received such a stellar reputation recently?  The health halo around coconut oil has to do with the type of saturated fat it contains – lauric acid.  Some research has shown that lauric acid isn’t as bad for us as other types of saturated fat; it’s even believed to help raise HDL, or good cholesterol.  On the flip side, lauric acid has also been shown to raise LDL, or bad cholesterol – so its effects on cholesterol are pretty much a wash.

The health effects of coconut oil haven’t been very well-studied, so it remains to be seen if the lauric acid and other compounds it contains confer any health benefits.  Proponents of coconut oil claim that it can aid in weight loss and help treat Alzheimer’s disease, but to date there have been no large, reputable studies to prove these claims.

So, given what little evidence is out there about its health benefits, should you consume coconut oil?  Like most other foods, coconut oil is okay in limited amounts.  If you like its taste and texture, or if you have a favorite recipe that depends on it as an ingredient, there’s no reason to stop using it in moderation.  However, if you haven’t yet tried coconut oil, there really isn’t any reason to start, as its lower-saturated fat counterparts, like olive oil, are full of heart-healthy fats and other beneficial compounds.

 

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Kiwi

Kiwifruits, or just kiwis for short, are, in my opinion, one of the most fun fruits to eat.  There are a number of ways to eat kiwis, but the most popular involves cutting the fruit in half and scooping out the insides.  Kiwis can also be sliced, in which form they are just as delicious, albeit a little less exciting.  Most people don’t realize that the kiwifruit is 100% edible, meaning you can eat its white core and skin.  Although the inside of the kiwi contains fiber, eating it with the skin on will increase your fiber intake even more.  In addition to being a good source of fiber, kiwis are also excellent sources of Vitamins C and K.

Hot Kiwi Dipping Sauce

Ingredients
2 tablespoons red bell pepper, chopped
¼ bunch fresh cilantro
⅛ small sweet onion
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded
2 tomatillos, husks removed and cut up
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons green jalapeno pepper jelly
1-2 kiwifruits, peeled and mashed with a fork

 

Instructions

  1. Place the bell pepper, cilantro, onion, jalapeno pepper, tomatillos, lime juice, brown sugar, and pepper jelly in a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Blend until the ingredients are smooth.
  2. Pour the blended mixture into a bowl and add the mashed kiwifruit. Stir until well combined. Serve as desired.

 

Recipe adapted from California Kiwifruit Commission 

Eating Healthy On-the-Go

If you’re like me, you probably feel like you’re always busy, constantly moving from one meeting or activity to the next.  With such a busy schedule, it can be hard to eat balanced meals and snacks at regularly-scheduled intervals.  While it would be nice to be able to sit down to a healthy, fresh, hot meal three times a day, we all know this isn’t always possible. Sometimes we have to eat in our cars, at our desks, or even while walking to and from meetings.  The good news is that it’s still possible to eat healthy in these less-than-ideal scenarios.  The key is to be prepared and make sure you always have healthy, portable snacks and small meals on hand for those days when you’re pressed for time and have to eat on-the-go.

It’s best to stock your desk, car, and purse or backpack with at least one healthy option you can turn to when hunger strikes.  Ideal snacks contain fiber and protein, both of which do a great job of keeping hunger at bay.  While the suggestions below fall more in the category of snacks than meals, combining two or more of them can easily substitute for the occasional meal when you are really short on time.

Snacks for your desk, car, purse, or backpack:

  • High-fiber granola bars
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts)
  • Whole grain baked tortilla chips
  • Portable fruits (bananas, apples, grapes, orange slices)
  • Baby carrots
  • High-fiber cereal (shredded wheat, oatmeal squares)
  • Trail mix
  • Bottles of water

Snacks for your office fridge:

  • Greek yogurt
  • String cheese
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Single-serve bottles of low-fat milk
  • PB&J sandwiches on whole grain bread

If you keep a supply of these snacks on hand, you can ensure that, while your workday meals may not be ideal, at least they will be healthy and filling.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Leeks

Up until six or seven years ago, leeks were a mystery to me.  Then, one day, I was out to lunch at a French restaurant and was convinced to try their signature dish, fish smothered in leek sauce.   I was a little skeptical at first, but then I realized the taste of the leek sauce wasn’t entirely unfamiliar – it tasted like a milder version of a sauce made with onions.  My untrained palate was pretty much on the mark, as leeks are actually close cousins of onions (and garlic).  Although they are slightly sweeter and have a milder flavor than onions, the two can be used interchangeably in a number of dishes.  Nutritionally, leeks are a good source of Vitamin C, folate, and iron, and an excellent source of Vitamins A and K.  Leeks are tasty both raw and cooked; no matter how you prepare them, however, be sure to discard the green tops, as those are not edible.

Cauliflower-Leek Puree

Ingredients
2 heads cauliflower (about 3 ½ pounds), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup skim or 1% milk
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole wheat)
1 teaspoon butter or vegetable oil spread
⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

 

Instructions

  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the cauliflower until very soft, 12 to 15 minutes; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leek is translucent and very soft, about 8 minutes.
  3. Using a food processor and working in batches, puree the cauliflower and the leek mixture with the milk.
  4. In a small skillet, melt the butter or vegetable oil spread over medium heat. Add the panko and toast, tossing, until golden.
  5. Top the puree with the toasted panko and the parsley.

 

Recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, November 2010 

Are You Ready to Eat for the Health of It?

Since nutrition is such a popular topic among state employees, the WellMASS program has decided to offer a number of tools and resources to help you learn how to eat healthier.  The WellMASS blog, Lunch ‘n Learn seminars, webinars, and monthly newsletters are just some of the ways in which we can help you expand your nutrition knowledge base.  I’m excited to announce that we have added yet another nutrition resource to our program, as this week marks the beginning of Eat for the Health of It, our new online nutrition challenge.  Eat for the Health of It is a six-week challenge that will help you develop the skills that lead to making healthier food choices.

Registration for Eat for the Health of It opened on Monday; your six-week challenge starts the day you register.  Registration is open until March 1, so you can sign up and begin the challenge any time before that date.  When you register for Eat for the Health of It, you’ll receive nutrition tips that will help you:

  • Identify how eating more fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and some cancers
  • Eat for a healthy weight
  • Eat healthy on the run
  • Navigate the grocery store
  • Prepare and cook healthier meals at home

You’ll also be able to track your daily intake of fruits and vegetables and challenge your co-workers to improve their own eating habits.  The fruits and veggies tracker is a great feature of this challenge, as studies have shown that tracking food intake can help improve eating habits and prevent weight gain.  By tracking your fruit and veggie intake in the Eat for the Health of It challenge, you’ll also receive another nice incentive – if you track produce intake three days a week for all six weeks of the challenge (and complete a challenge post-assessment), you’ll be entered into a raffle for one of four $200 gift cards to the grocery store of your choice.

If you are a GIC-insured employee of the Executive branch, Legislative branch, or a Constitutional Office, you can register for Eat for the Health of It by logging onto the WellMASS portal at https://wellmass.staywell.com and clicking onto the Eat for the Health of It challenge icon on the portal homepage or under the Programs tab.    I encourage you to log onto the portal today and sign up for this fun new challenge.  And whether you choose to participate or not, you can count on the WellMASS blog to bring you additional nutrition tips throughout the duration of the challenge.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Clementines

A clementine might just be the perfect fruit – it’s sweet (but not too sweet), portable, easy to peel, seedless, and packed with nutrition.  This tiny orange, a close cousin of the mandarin, is an excellent source of Vitamin C, a good source of fiber, and very low-calorie (one medium clementine contains only 35 calories).  Clementines are plentiful this time of year; take full advantage of their abundance by incorporating them into your snacks, meals, and desserts.

Chocolate-Dipped Clementines

Ingredients
½ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chip
4 clementines at room temperature, peeled and sectioned
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger

Instructions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
  2. Place chocolate chips in a small glass bowl. Microwave at medium power for 1 minute.  Stir, then continue microwaving in 20-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval.
  3. Dip half to two-thirds of each clementine section into the melted chocolate. Let the excess drip back into the bowl. Place the dipped fruit on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle crystallized ginger over the chocolate.
  5. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes. Makes approximately 30 pieces.

Recipe from EatingWell

Clementine Jicama Salad

Ingredients
½ teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon pepper
8 clementines (1 ¾ pounds), peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 pound jicama, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick matchsticks (3 cups)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
¾ cup packed cilantro sprigs
½ cup crumbled queso fresco or mild feta
⅓ cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted

Instructions

  1. Mince and mash garlic to a paste, then whisk together with lime juice, oil, and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Just before serving, add clementines, jicama, onion, and cilantro and gently toss. Sprinkle with cheese and pumpkin seeds. Serves 8.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Are Cleanse Diets a Good Idea?

It’s January, which means that New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight are still at the top of many people’s priority lists.  I’ve written at length about the best diets (or, should I say, eating plans) out there, but I haven’t given much discussion to some of the worst.

Knowing which diets you should not follow is really just as important as knowing which diets you should.  For every good diet out there, there are at least five bad ones, some of which are easier to spot than others.  When deciding which eating plan you’ll choose to help you lose weight, beware of any diet that involves the following:

  • Cutting out certain foods or food groups
  • Fasting or following a strict eating schedule
  • “Miracle pills”
  • Consuming fewer than 1,200 calories a day

Any diets that include one or more of the above may put you at risk for nutrient deficiency; alter your metabolism in an unhealthy way; cause unwanted, potentially serious side effects; and leave your body without enough fuel to properly function.  Cleanse, or detox, diets, about which I am occasionally asked, can contain all four of these diet deal-breakers, despite how healthy they sound.

The philosophy behind “cleansing” is simple – by replacing food with a special juice or water formulation, you will theoretically “recharge, renew, and rejuvenate” your body by clearing it of all toxins.  Unlike some of the best diets to follow, like DASH or TLC, the rationale behind cleanse diets isn’t supported by scientific evidence; most of the “evidence” that supports these types of diets is psychological and spiritual, meaning it comes from people who have tried a cleanse diet and claim to have felt much better as a result.

Taking someone’s word for the effectiveness of a diet without scientific research to back it up is never a good idea.  In most cases, the only scientific evidence behind these types of diets shows that they’re not effective, and not safe.  What we do know about cleanses is that their proven effects are not weight loss and increased muscle mass but rather elimination of the good bacteria that keep our immune systems and digestive tracts working properly; nutrient deficiencies; low energy; increased muscle loss; and disruption of many of our body’s major metabolic processes.

Instead of depriving your body of the calories and nutrients it needs to function, try cleansing it the natural way by employing the strategy of clean eating, which simply involves eating minimally-processed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.  Think lots of whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and lean protein, with plenty of herbs and spices thrown in for flavor.  By feeding your body the right types of foods, your metabolism will work more efficiently, you’ll experience increased energy, and you’ll actually feel satisfied by what you’re eating.  That sounds much more fun than only subsisting on lemon water, doesn’t it?

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