Monthly Archives: November 2014

What is Quinoa and What Do I Do With It?

Move over rice, there’s a new grain – or pseudograin if you want to get technical – in town.

Quinoa isn't just for dinner -- mix it with some fruit and cinnamon for breakfast.
Quinoa isn’t just for dinner — mix it with some fruit and cinnamon for breakfast.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is not a new food, but over the past few years, it’s gotten extremely popular and for pretty good reason. Quinoa has some unique properties that have earned it a rightful place on your plate. Although quinoa is often called a grain because it’s used in place of grains, it’s actually a seed.

Quinoa Versus Other Grains

So what makes quinoa a preferred choice over other grains? Well, it contains more protein per serving than any other whole-grain. Not only that, but quinoa contains all of the 9 essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein – a rare characteristic of plant foods. It’s also naturally gluten-free, so if you have problems with gluten, quinoa’s got your back.

As an added bonus, quinoa takes less time to cook than other grains. You can get fully cooked quinoa on your plate in 10 to 15 minutes, while rice typically takes 25 to an hour depending on the type. More nutrition and less preparation? Win-win.

Quinoa Nutrition

In addition to being protein packed, quinoa is also rich in iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber. One-third cup of cooked quinoa has only 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.

Types of Quinoa

White – White quinoa is the most common kind found in grocery stores and because of this, it’s usually just called quinoa. White quinoa has a bland flavor, which makes it extremely versatile.

Red – Red quinoa has a more distinct, nuttier flavor than white and tends to hold its shape better. This makes red quinoa the more desirable choice for cold salads.

Black – Black quinoa has a slightly sweeter, earthier flavor than white quinoa. It’s generally more difficult to find than white or red varieties.

Preparation

Quinoa seeds have a naturally bitter outer coating that serves as a protective mechanism. The purpose of the bitter coating is to prevent birds from eating the seeds so the plant can spread, but it also makes the seed taste bitter if you don’t get rid of it. Many packaged quinoas already have the bitter outer coating removed, but if you buy it in bulk (which is oftentimes more cost-effective) you’ll have to remove the outer coating yourself. Fortunately, this is a simple task. All you have to do is soak one cup in two cups of water for 5 to 10 minutes. After the quinoa has soaked, drain the water and rinse off the seeds.

Cooking

Cooking quinoa is a cinch. Pour your cup of soaked quinoa in a saucepan and add one and a half cups of water and about a half a teaspoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil, cover with a lid, and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes and then remove the pot from the heat and allow to sit for another 5 minutes, still covered. Then remove the lid, fluff quinoa with a fork and serve as desired.

How to Eat It

Because quinoa has a pretty bland taste, it can be served in so many ways. Many people like to make it simple by serving it as a side dish, like plain rice. You can also incorporate it into a stir-fry, add it to a chili, or toss it into your salad. Think outside the box by using quinoa in place of oatmeal for breakfast. Mix it with dried fruit, a little cinnamon, and some low-fat milk for a healthy breakfast treat.

Easy Tips for Beating That Post-Holiday Bloat

Ginger and peppermint tea can help reduce bloat and ease an upset stomach.
Ginger and peppermint tea can help reduce bloat and ease an upset stomach.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. You spent time with your family, had some laughs with your friends, and now you’re left still feeling bloated and full from yesterday’s meal (or those leftovers that you ate for breakfast). If you overindulged, you’re not alone – and it’s okay. It happens to the best of us and unfortunately, we can’t turn back time. What we can do is get back on track right away and use the following tips to help reduce the post-holiday bloat.

Eat Your Greens

Skip the leftovers and the post-holiday everything-but-the-kitchen-sink turkey sandwiches and reach for greens instead. Green vegetables, like broccoli, kale, and asparagus contain phytonutrients that act as natural diuretics. They help flush out excess water, reducing bloat in the process. If you have a juicer, consider making yourself a green juice. Juicing removes the fiber – which isn’t recommended in many cases – but it’s a great way to help reduce bloat in a pinch.

Sip Some Tea

Sipping on tea with some key ingredients – namely ginger and peppermint – can flush out excess water and toxins from your body and help reduce bloat. Ginger soothes stomach discomfort, while peppermint reduces bloating and helps soothe a churning stomach. You can buy over-the-counter tea varieties that contain both ginger and peppermint or you can easily make your own ginger tea at home.

Peel some ginger root and slice it into thin slices – enough to cover the bottom of a small sauce pan. Fill the pan with two cups of water and allow the ginger to boil in the water for about a half hour. Pour the tea through a strainer into your mug and add a drop of honey, if want some added sweetness. Just a drop though – the calories in honey can quickly add up if you’re not careful.

Chug That Water

Water is essential to reducing bloating. It may seem counterintuitive to drink more water when you’re holding on to water weight, but staying hydrated will help flush out your system and make those jeans a little bit easier to sip. Try to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. If you don’t normally drink water as soon as you wake up, it can take some getting used to, but once you make it a routine, you may find that you actually crave it. If the thought of plain water in the morning just doesn’t sound appealing, squeeze in some fresh juice from a lemon or lime wedge.

Let It Out

Okay, let’s be honest. Gas is an embarrassing subject. It’s not a usual topic of conversation, even though we’ve all had it and we’ll all have it again. You may have gained a pound or two, but most post-holiday bloating is caused by gas and one of the most efficient ways to get rid of the bloating is to let that gas out. Of course, we’re not condoning just letting loose where you stand, but when you feel the urge to expel some gas – whether it be through belching or flatulence – excuse yourself and give your body that release. Holding onto the gas will not only make bloating worse, it’s uncomfortable too.

 

The Nutrients That Put The “Sweet” in Sweet Potatoes

Although sweet potatoes weren’t part of the fare available at the very first Thanksgiving, sweet potatoesthey have since become a staple on tables across the nation. Many people like them because they’re sweet and creamy – a combination that rivals many desserts – but what you may not know is that sweet potatoes are loaded with beneficial nutrients. Because they’re a nutritional powerhouse, WebMD even classifies them as a “winter superfood”. So tomorrow when you’re eating that side of sweet potatoes, think of some of these benefits and smile knowing that you’re doing your body good (we’ll pretend we don’t see those marshmallows).

A Bunch of Beta-Carotene

Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene – a carotenoid that turns into vitamin A in your body. Carotenoids like beta-carotene contribute to good eye health and help strengthen your immune system. They are also antioxidants so they protect you from cancer and contribute to anti-aging. Beta-carotene also gives sweet potatoes their beautiful orange hue.

A Mouthful of Magnesium

Magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral because it helps you relax. Magnesium also helps keep your arteries, bones, blood, heart, muscles, and nerves healthy. Researchers estimate that a whopping 80 percent of Americans are deficient in this important mineral.  Sweet potatoes are a good source of magnesium – so eat up!

Savor the Starch

Sweet potatoes – like any potatoes – are classified as a starchy vegetable because they contain a lot of a specific carbohydrate called a starch. When many people think of starches, they think of spikes in blood sugar and weight gain, and this is why starchy foods are generally excluded from low-carbohydrate diets. It might not be in your best interest to avoid sweet potatoes because of their starch content though. These natural sugars in sweet potatoes are slow digesting, so they move through your body at a slower rate than other carbohydrates. Because of this, they have a less dramatic effect on your blood sugar levels and may even help control hunger – which translates to weight loss and increased energy.

Down That Vitamin D

There aren’t a lot of foods in the diet that are sources of vitamin D and because of this, many Americans are deficient in vitamin D. You can get vitamin D when you expose your skin to the sun, but sometimes this isn’t enough – especially in the winter months. Sweet potatoes are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. Vitamin D is unique because it acts as a steroid hormone in your body so it has a wide range of roles. It boosts your immune system, increases your energy levels, keeps your bones, heart, nerves, and skin healthy, and supports your thyroid gland, which helps control your weight.

The short story here is this: don’t pass on the sweet potatoes. Of course, it’s best to enjoy them without any added sweeteners – sometimes they’re so sweet on their own that it tastes like you’re being naughty even when you’re not. Since they’re so versatile, you can roast, boil, bake, or steam them and end up with a delicious treat that’s doing your body good.

 

Things that Make you Go “Hmm”: Common Food Myths (Part 2)

Earlier this week, we addressed some common food myths that have gained

Drinking a glass of juice is not the same as eating a piece of fruit.
Drinking a glass of juice is not the same as eating a piece of fruit.

traction in the mainstream despite evidence to the contrary. We want to you to be fully informed and armed with all the right information, so we’re going to expand on the previous post with some more common food myths – and why they’re just not true.

Myth #1: Eating 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day helps you burn more calories.

This is a big one, and as written, it’s false. As far as calories go, your body processes 5 to 6 small meals exactly the same way it does 2 to 3 larger meals. There might be a benefit of eating smaller meals though – when you’re constantly eating, you tend to keep yourself satisfied throughout the day so when you do eat, you eat less.

Myth #2: Calories are calories, regardless of where they come from.

While it’s true that a calorie is a calorie no matter what, all calories are not created equally. Your body metabolizes foods differently. Depending on which metabolic pathway a food takes, it can contribute to fat burning – or fat storage – as well as appetite suppression and regulation and hormonal signaling. Not only that, but 100 calories worth of chips is just not nutritionally equal to 100 calories of an apple. Even if you’re staying within your calorie recommendations, you don’t get the same vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from the chips.

Myth #3: Low-fat foods are healthier than their conventional counterparts.

The low-fat craze of the ‘90s had everyone banning fats from their plates, but just because a food is low in fat, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. While it’s true that naturally low-fat foods, like fruits and vegetables, should make up a large percentage of your diet, packaged low-fat “health” foods should be off limits. Fat makes food taste good and when manufacturers remove fat from a food, it affects the taste in a bad way. They make up for this by adding extra sugar, which is incredibly harmful to not just your waistline, but your health as well.

Myth #4: Brown sugar is more nutritious than white sugar.

While it’s true that brown sugar contains slightly more minerals – and we mean slightly – than white sugar, it isn’t enough to classify brown sugar as being a wiser choice than white sugar. Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with added molasses. If you’re looking for a better sweetener option, choose raw honey or real maple syrup; but still use them in moderation. Too much sugar – in any form – can contribute to weight gain.

Myth #5:  Drinking 100 percent fruit juice is the same as eating a piece of fruit.

While manufacturers would love you to believe that drinking “5 servings of fruit in every glass” is the key to meeting your fruit needs for the day, too much fruit juice is bad for your waistline. When you drink a glass of fruit juice, you’re basically only getting the sugar from the fruit. While you may be getting some vitamins and minerals too, most of them – especially fiber – are stripped from the fruit during the juicing process. If you do like to have some juice, make your own at home and add plenty of vegetables to cut down on the sugar content.

The Dieter’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Season

It’s the holiday season. The time of year when families and friends get together to share VM cupcakesthanks, love, laughter – and maybe even some presents and a little bit of aggravation. It’s also the time of the year when there’s food everywhere you turn. You may encounter a hidden vegetable or fruit tray here and there, but for the most part, you’re likely to find food that’s high in calories, short in beneficial nutrients, and bad for your waistline. Many people resign themselves to the “fact” that the holidays mean weight gain. They give in to temptation and then vow to lose any gained weight after the holidays are over; but that doesn’t have to be you. While it’s okay – and perfectly normal – to indulge here and there, you don’t have to let yourself get completely off track. Here are a few tips to keep you on the right path – and your pants comfortably buttoned – this holiday season.

Eat Before You Go

Most holiday parties fall around dinnertime. If a sit-down dinner isn’t served, there are often plenty of appetizers around the room to keep you snacking all night long. If you go to a party hungry, your ability to resist temptation decreases dramatically. Prepare yourself by eating a healthy meal before you head out to a holiday event. Give yourself enough time to enjoy a proper meal at home. That way, you’ll feel more satisfied and you’ll be ready to mingle.

Bring Your Own

If eating before the party isn’t an option, bring your own dish. Tell the host or hostess that you’d love to pitch in and make a dish that you can enjoy without veering too far off of your diet plan.

Host the Party

If it’s a feasible option for you, offer to host a party. When you host, you have more control over the menu, so you can make healthy dishes that your guests will enjoy, but you’ll feel good about eating.

Ditch the Drinks

Holiday parties are known for the cocktails. Pumpkin martinis, peppermint shooters, and eggnog are everywhere you turn, but these drinks are often more damaging to your waistline than the dessert tray. Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per party and try to choose something that’s not loaded with calories. A wine spritzer or a glass of champagne is a better choice than eggnog.

Pick Your Treats

Getting through the holidays without indulging a little is nearly impossible, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat everything that’s in front of you. Choose a few treats that are worth the splurge – your mom’s chocolate cake or your aunt’s snickerdoodle cookies – and skip the rest. If it’s something you can have all year, don’t use this time to splurge; but if it’s something that only comes around during the holidays, allow yourself the treat.

Chew Gum

When you’re mingling at a party, sometimes it’s tempting to pick at the cheese or crackers or have another scoop of dip just because it’s there. Instead, chew on a piece of gum. When you’re chewing gum, you’re less likely to just mindlessly pop food into your mouth.

Ramp Up Your Workout

Although you can’t outrun your fork, ramping up your workouts will give you a little more wiggle room in your diet. Add a few workouts to your week to help burn off some of the extra calories you’re taking in. If family or friends are visiting from out of town, include them in the workout – go for a walk or a hike – instead of using them as an excuse to skip the workout altogether.

What’s the Deal with Organic Food – And Why Should You Care?

As more and more consumers move toward the concept of whole health solutions — diets that promote health and well-being, prevent disease, help cure illness, and protect the environment — the demand for, and as a result, the production of, organic food increases. However, with all of the different labeling and contrasting information available, it’s often difficult to figure out what the term organic actually means and how to decide when you should buy organic and when it’s okay to go conventional.

Defining the Term “Organic”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, foods labeled “organic” must be produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation, or bioengineering. Organic farmers are also required to follow certain farming methods to conserve soil and water. In order for meat to be labeled organic, farmers must raise animals without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics and follow humane treatment guidelines. These farmers and their food must be certified under the National Organic Program.

Making Sense of Labels

There are several labels associated with the concept of whole health solutions, which leads to many questions. Do the terms “organic” and “natural” differ? What makes a product “organic” instead of “made with organic ingredients”? The United States Department of Agriculture regulates these definitions and created a USDA organic seal, which assures quality and integrity and makes differentiating between products easier.

  • 100% organic: This term may only be used for products that are completely organic or made with all organic ingredients. These products are stamped with the USDA organic seal.
  • Organic: Products must be at least 95% organic in order to claim this term and are also stamped with the USDA organic seal.
  • Made with organic ingredients: The product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. Products with this label do not carry the USDA organic seal.
  • All-natural: This means the product is minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives. Meat with this label can’t contain artificial ingredients and raised animals can’t be given antibiotics or growth hormones. Products with only a label of “all-natural” are not organic.
  • Grass Fed: Grass fed animals are given a diet consisting of only grass or hay, as opposed to conventional animals on diets mainly consisting of corn. Amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are higher in grass fed beef.
  • Free range: Animals had free access to roam outside and were not confined to a cage.
  • Hormone-free: Animals were raised without the use of added growth hormones.

Benefits of Organic Food

Even with a clear definition of what classifies as organic, the question still remains of whether or not it’s worth it to buy organic. Although not always the case, organic products tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. The most well-known benefit is that organic foods contain fewer to no pesticides, which include fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. Even after washing conventional agriculture, pesticide residue remains on the food. Pesticides have been shown to cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction especially during vulnerable times like childhood. Buying organic is also beneficial to the environment. The practice of organic farming reduces pollution, conserves water, and uses less energy than conventional farming. This practice benefits both farmers and the animals they raise. According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, organic foods fight off cancer more efficiently than conventional foods. The Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project found that organic food is, in fact, more nutritious than conventional food. Organic food contains up to 40% more antioxidants and higher levels of the minerals iron and zinc.

What to Buy Organic (And What You Can Let Slide)

There are certain conventional produce items that have been found to contain high levels of pesticides. You should make a point to purchase organic varieties of these foods, which are nicknamed the “dirty dozen”, whenever possible:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries

On the flipside of that, there are other produce items that make the list called “clean fifteen”. These foods have the lowest pesticide load and are the safest conventionally grown crops to consume. In addition to lower amounts of contamination, several of the clean fifteen foods contain thick peels that you remove before eating. The clean fifteen include:

  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet peas
  • Sweet potatoes

The bottom line here is: do the best you can. Whenever possible, buy foods from the dirty dozen list organic, but remember, it’s better to eat conventional fruits and vegetables rather than no fruits and vegetables at all!

Things that Make you Go “Hmm”: Common Food Myths (Part 1)

There are some food myths that are so ingrained in our culture that everyone – including

Good news! You can ditch those egg white omelets.
Good news! You can ditch those egg white omelets.

physicians and health care professionals – seem to accept them as fact even though there is no evidence to support them. We’re not sure where or why these myths started, but we’re here to get to the bottom of them once and for all.

Myth #1: Egg yolks are bad for you.

It’s true that egg yolks contain a significant amount of cholesterol – about 200 milligrams in a single yolk – and that too much cholesterol in the blood can contribute to heart disease, but that’s where the connection stops. The cholesterol you eat actually has very little impact on the cholesterol in your blood. In fact, 75 percent of the cholesterol in your blood is actually manufactured by your body; so when you eat more cholesterol, your body just makes less. Eggs are actually a good source of 13 different vitamins and minerals, most of which are found in the yolk.

Myth #2: Eating late at night makes you gain weight.

When someone is trying to lose weight, eating at night is often one of the first things to go. There is a common belief that when you eat food after a certain time, your body stores it as fat, but that’s not true. It’s not the time on the clock that is the cause for the weight gain; it’s the fact that in many cases, the late night eating occurs in addition to a full day’s worth of meals. If your late night snack puts you over your calorie needs for the day, you may gain weight.

Myth #3: Fat makes you fat.

This a myth that seems to persist no matter what the research shows. For some reason, people tend to believe that fat is largely responsible for weight gain, when in fact, eating it can actually help you lose weight. Some fats, like those found in coconut, actually help boost metabolism and give you a quick source of energy. It’s true that overdoing it on fat can lead to weight gain – since each gram contains 9 calories – but the same is true of any of the macronutrients. If you eat too many calories, you’ll gain weight, regardless of where they come from.

Myth #4: If there’s fiber in it, it’s good for you.

Manufacturers would love you to believe that their fiber bars and fiber-enriched snacks are the perfect alternative to fiber-rich whole foods, but don’t let them fool you. The faux fiber that’s added to these snacks foods does not provide the same health benefits as the fiber naturally found in things like beans and broccoli. In addition, these snacks are often loaded with sugar so the cons end up outweighing any potential pros.

Myth #5: You need to drink 8 glass of water each day.

The 8 glasses of water a day rule is one that is widely accepted and widely spread, but the recommendation is really just a suggestion that seems to have taken hold. The truth is everyone’s water needs are different. Your age, gender, activity level, size, and climate all play a role in how much water you need. If you’re looking for a general recommendation, aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces. Although this is still just a suggestion, it’s a little more specific.