Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Energy on the go!

If there is a recurring theme to this blog it is that eating healthy on the go is a must! I am constantly running around, from school, to my various volunteer jobs, to the library, to the yoga studio and so on. Lots of times I have to put off eating until I have time, which is not the best thing especially since I have been told that I get “grumpy” when I am hungry. The best solution for me on days like this is to grab an energy bar. Let me start by saying that there is a lot of crap in most energy bars. I am not really into functional food, I like to eat for enjoyment, so I want a bar that tastes good and isn’t loaded up with a bunch of supplements that I don’t need. There is a lot of energy bars on the market right now because most people are like me, they want to eat healthy and they need to grab something quick because they are starving and on the go. Food manufacturers take advantage of consumers in this way because they market their junk food like health food because they know that is what people want. We as consumers NEED to start reading and understanding labels in order to get what we really want, which is food that is good for us!

Here is a mini lesson in label reading. Both of these labels are from chocolate energy bars:



Let’s look at label #1; the VERY FIRST ingredient is sugar. On the nutrition label the ingredients are listed by weight, which means that bar #1 is mostly made of sugar. Is this where we really want to be getting our energy from? Another ingredient that is high up on the list is soy protein isolate. Sounds harmless, right? Soy is a good source of protein, right? Not so much. Soy protein isolate is a highly processed product that is snuck into health foods because our government subsidizes farmers to grow soy. This leaves us with a surplus of genetically modified soybeans that have to go somewhere. Food manufacturers thought, why not market it as health food?! This is not health food; it is actually questionable whether this is food at all. Reading on, you can see that there are many other questionable ingredients such as natural flavor aka chemicals and vegetable glycerin (what the hell is that?).

On to label #2. Pretty simple, right? Dates are sweet; they provide the natural sugar and have other nutritional qualities to boot. Almonds and walnuts are packed with protein and healthy fats. Cocoa powder provides powerful antioxidants and the chocolatey taste. And coconut, our love affair must never come to an end, you provide me with soluble fiber and short chain fatty acids, which are essential for optimal gut health! Bar #2 has everything that I need to get me through to my next meal and it tastes suspiciously like food. Oh wait, that is because, it is! Label #2 comes from a chocolate coconut Lara Bar®. I highly recommend Lara bars because they are so yummy and good for you. They come in all sorts of delicious flavors, are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, non-GMO, and kosher. Kids also love these tasty treats, so throw a couple in your grocery cart and give them a try.

Image uploaded from: 02/bunnyfoot-lara-bar.JPG

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Bragging Rights of Beans

Okay so I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat every so often because it is delicious and I really try and listen to my body, which sometimes is drawn to the butcher’s counter at the grocery store. This doesn’t occur all too often, most of the time my shopping cart is loaded with fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and of course beans! I would say that beans are the primary source of protein in my diet. Lentils, white beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, and you all know that I love peanuts. (Did you know that peanuts are actually beans?) There are actually about 20 or so different types of legumes (aka beans) that we as humans consume; talk about adding variety to the diet! Beans are super cheap; perfect for my college budget, extremely versatile to cook with, and they nurture mother earth in that they have a lower carbon footprint than animal protein and they actually enrich the soil they grow in! On top of all that they are extremely good for you. They are loaded with folate, iron, and are one of the best vegetarian sources of protein out there. Legumes also contain high amounts of soluble fiber, which slows digestion time and binds toxins drawing them out of the body. Let’s face it we are living in a toxic world nowadays and could all use a little more beans in our diet.

Despite all the bragging rights of beans, they are kind of a pain in the you know what. If you buy them dry in bulk you must first soak them overnight and then cook them for hours on the stovetop before they are tender enough to eat. One of my cooking instructors at school says, “You can’t rush beans”. Cooking with dried beans requires a lot of planning and time, none of which we have in our lives right now!

Okay so what is the alternative? I am sure that you guessed it by now, canned beans. Canned beans can be mushy in texture, bland in taste, and high in sodium. I have, however, found one brand of canned beans that are far superior to all the rest, Eden Organics. Eden beans are firm yet soft, have a true beany flavor, and have just a slight hint of natural saltiness. There is no added sodium or preservatives; they are just straight up beans. Eden also adds another cool ingredient to its canned beans called kombu. Kombu is a nutrient rich sea vegetable that, when cooked with the beans, donates it’s minerals and reduces flatulence or as Julia Child would have said, the “root a toot toots”.

Here is a recipe for kale and white bean soup that can be made in 12 minutes flat using canned beans. I usually have everything on hand for this soup and serve it with whole grain bread so the meal contains a complete amino acid profile.

Hearty Italian Beans and Greens Soup

This recipe is inspired by a restaurant in North Buffalo where I grew up named Café Garangelos. They served it with crusty Italian bread and lots of love! Mangia!

½ medium yellow onion, diced

5 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon reserved

4 cloves of garlic chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 bunch of greens*

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup dried cannellini beans soaked overnight and cooked until tender

½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Juice from 1 whole lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Balsamic vinegar for topping

In a large stock pot sauté diced yellow onion in 4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and salt. Remove fibrous stems from greens and chop into bite size pieces and then add to pot. Stir the greens in until they are well coated with oil and starting to wilt. Add broth and the beans and cover the pot.

Cook until the greens are tender and bright green and the broth and beans are heated through. The cooking time will vary with the greens used. Spinach will cook quickly, while kale will take a bit longer. Add lemon juice, red pepper and salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with remaining olive oil and top with cheese and a drizzle of vinegar.

Preparation time: 12 minutes

Makes 4 servings

* Any dark leafy green can be used such as spinach, kale, escarole, Swiss chard, collard, or mustard greens

Adapted by Sarah Seppa from an original recipe by Café Garangelos, Buffalo NY.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Picky about Pickles

My husband works nights so often times when I get home from school I am starving and need something fast and easy. At least one night a week I reach in the freezer for a veggie burger for dinner (post on veggie burgers coming soon…). The one thing that I absolutely must have on that burger without a doubt are pickles. The salty, tangy, crunch is so satisfying and scrumptious I can’t bare to eat my burger without it.

Most people don’t know it but there are a few different kinds of pickles out there. Some are pickled using vinegar, which is delicious, however I am looking for a little more out of my pickle. For me, the preferential pickle is one that is fermented. Fermented pickles contain only water from a high quality source, salt, and spices…oh and cucumbers of course! These delicious dills are cured for several weeks, allowing time for beneficial bacteria to produce acid, which preserves them. ( The other tremendously cool thing is that this bacteria has another job to do, not only in the pickle jar, but in your tummy! I am talking probiotics people! Wait, you say, I thought those were in yogurt. Yes, you would be right, but they are also found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and of course pickles! These are all excellent sources of probiotics for people who cannot consume dairy. To design a rounded, well-balanced meal, you should consider adding a digestive aid to your menu. This can be something that is fermented, cultured, pickled, or raw. (Feeding the Whole Family, Cynthia Lair) Incorporating something like this into all your meals is easy and can help if you struggle with indigestion, bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. Try it; your tummy will thank me!

My all time favorite brand of pickles is Bubbies. They are deliciously crisp, add the perfect zing to your sandwich, and stomp out that salt craving with one low calorie bite! If you can’t find Bubbies, look for other brands of fermented pickles in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What Choosey Moms Really Should Choose

Peanut Butter. Need I say more? Creamy or crunchy, its smooth, nutty flavor is an absolute essential in most families. I eat gobs of it on whole grain toast, with apple slices, and on celery sticks with plump little raisins lined up and nestled in its ooey gooey goodness. It truly is a wonderful food. It is packed with protein, B vitamins, and many minerals. It is also high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant and monounsaturated fat, which can improve HDL levels (good cholesterol). On top of all that, it is simply delicious!

Unfortunately, like most healthy and delicious foods, American food manufacturers have found a way to adulterate this perfect nut spread into something that is not as wonderful as it could and should be.

This is what I am looking for in my peanut butter: dry roasted peanuts and sea salt. This is what I am NOT looking for on the list of ingredients: sugar, hydrogenated vegetables oils. Take a look at the peanut butter on the market shelf. See the jars with a little bit of oil floating on the top? Separation of the oil in peanut butter is NORMAL. But, American consumers don’t like to see that yucky oil on top so manufacturers went ahead and add some hydrogenated oil to the mix so the peanut butter wouldn’t separate. Yes, that’s right, hydrogenated oil = trans fat, even if it doesn’t list it in the nutrition facts. Let’s smarten up American consumers! Let's stand up and say: “we like the oil on top because that is the way real food looks and that’s what we want to eat!” Oh and the sugar thing, the American diet is already ridiculously high in added sugar, do we really need it in our peanut butter?

One peanut butter brand that I love is MaraNatha. I think it is great because of the ingredients, but it is also made just a state away from me, in Oregon, so it has a lower carbon footprint. They also make other wonderful nut butters and tahini. You do have to watch out and steer clear of the “no stir” kind. It has added sugar and palm oil. Another fantastic brand of nut butters is Kettle brand, also made in Oregon and also delicious.

Aside from sandwiches, peanut butter was on my grocery list today because tonight we are having soba noodles with veggies, fried tofu, and the most delicious coconut peanut sauce to ever find it’s way to your taste buds. I got the recipe from one of my instructors at Bastyr University, Cynthia Lair, and every time I make it my husband literally licks his plate clean. Kids also adore this sauce on noodles or for dipping. Here is the link to that wonderful recipe and Cynthia’s website! Enjoy!

Grocery Store Nutrition

Let’s face it. Grocery shopping when you are trying to eat healthy is nearly impossible. From the moment you step inside, there is an onslaught of temptations before you. Muffins, cakes, and doughnuts down one isle. Candy bars, potato chips and soda down another. Let’s say you get past all the junk and are making an attempt at healthy shopping. What health food products do you go for? Are they really health food products, or are they just marketed that way? Do you try and avoid convenience foods all together and stick with food you can picture growing in a garden?

I am currently a student working towards my master’s degree in nutrition at Bastyr University and I can without a doubt say that real food is the way to go! In the words of Michael Pollan, “If you can’t make it yourself then don’t eat it.” This way of thinking is idealistic, but is it always realistic day in and day out in our busy lives? Speaking up as a busy student I can certainly say it is not. When you are at school for the majority of the day and then you come home to a dirty apartment, a dog that needs a walk, about 8 hours of homework, and a blog that needs to be written you don’t always have time to cook from scratch! Let’s be serious people! We all have busy lives and if you are reading this, then I hope that you love food and care about your health as much as I do. I am a nutrition student after all; I plan on making a fruitful career out of my love for food. (More blog readers would certainly help… tell your friends and keep reading!) Not only do I love food, but I also love grocery shopping. Let me tell you, if I could take a trip to Whole Foods Market on an unlimited budget, I could fill 100 carts! Once summer hits, I would hit up the farmers markets every night if I could! I have always loved trips to the grocery store ever since I was a kid. When I was 2 years old my dad said he would roll me by the fish counter and from within the cart I would point at the salmon and proclaim, “I want the pink one Daddy!” I love picking out food, planning healthy meals, and of course preparing them.

My goal of this blog is to take you on a grocery store tour through the eyes of a budding nutritionist. I want to tell you all about some of the products I love. I want to teach you how I look at labels of packaged foods and tell you why I pick the ones that I do. Every post will highlight an item or two that I dig and will feature nutrition insights and meal ideas. Feel free to comment with foods that you buy and why you buy them, I love trying new things! Okay, off to make my grocery list!