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Archive for May, 2010

Quick & Healthy Recipe: Spiced Lentil & Quinoa Bowl with Avocado Dressing

lentejas_-lensculirnarisI consider this a perfect year-round dish.

In the cold winter months, the warm lentils and quinoa, along with the spices, make for a comforting dish.

Once summer hits, I love this as a cold salad!

This is also one of those meals that keeps you full for a very long time, as it combines heart-healthy fats, soluble fiber, and protein.

Don’t be let the long steps fool you; this is a very simple recipe.  The lentils and dressing can both be prepared while the quinoa cooks.

By the way, if you don’t have a food processor (or don’t feel like taking it out, using it, and cleaning it), you can always replace the dressing with some fresh avocado slices.  Even if you don’t have avocados handy, the lentil and quinoa combination in itself is delicious!

YIELDS: 4 servings (1 cup quinoa + 1 cup lentils + 2 TBSP dressing)

INGREDIENTS (Quinoa):

2 cups quinoa
4 cups water
Pinch of salt

INGREDIENTS (Spiced Lentils):

2 TBSP olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 T garlic, minced
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t curry powder
1/3 t salt
1/4 t paprika
1/8 t black pepper
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed (any color; if you can find sprouted dried lentils, even better!)
3 cups water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

INGREDIENTS (Avocado Dressing):

1 large avocado, pitted
2 t lime juice
1 garlic clove
2 t ginger
1/4 t salt
1/4 c water

INSTRUCTIONS (Quinoa):

In a small pot, combine quinoa, water, and a pinch of salt.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to simmer until all water evaporates.

Fluff quinoa with fork.

INSTRUCTIONS (Spiced Lentils):

In a large pot, heat olive oil.  Once sufficiently hot, add onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic.

Stir frequently over the course of 2 minutes over medium-high heat.

Add spices.  Stir frequently for 2 more minutes.

Add lentils and water, stir and bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring two or three times.

Turn off stovetop, uncover, add lemon juice, and stir one more time.

INSTRUCTIONS (Avocado dressing):

Combine all ingredients in food processor and process until evenly combined.

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

538 calories
2.5 grams saturated fat
450 milligrams sodium
15 grams fiber
18 grams protein

Excellent Source of: Folate, manganese, monounsaturated fats, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K

Good Source of: Iron, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc

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You Ask, I Answer: Canned vs. Fresh Tuna

tuna-sushiAll the mercury warnings I read about tuna mention albacore canned tuna.

What about sushi, though?  Are certain cuts, like toro, higher in mercury?

– Ralph Darpilo
(Location Withheld)

Unless you frequent top-dollar sushi restaurants that offer exotic varieties of tuna, the type you’re eating is bluefin tuna.

Toro, by the way, is simply the underbelly of tuna fish.  It is not a separate species of fish.

Bluefin tuna are just as large as albacore varieties.  Translation: they both offer very high levels of mercury.

As far as figures go, consider one small six-piece tuna roll (or three pieces of tuna nigiri/sashimi) equivalent to a half can of albacore tuna.

With that in mind, use this handy-dandy “tuna calculator”(courtesy of the folks at the Environmental Working Group) to determine — based on your sex and weight — what your safe weekly limit is.

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Numbers Game: Answer

img-setThe average 9 to 13 year old child in the United States consumes 33 percent of their daily calories in the form of solid fat — i.e.: butter, shortening — and added sugars (also known as “discretionary calories”).

Source: Institute of Medicine

Ideally, discretionary calories should make up no more than ten percent of someone’s daily caloric intake.

This means that someone who consumes 2,500 calories a day is “allowed” up to 250 empty calories (“allowed” meaning that is the maximum amount that will have minimal negative implications on health).

The fact that the average child is consuming three times the limit is particularly disturbing because it makes it abundantly clear that certain nutrient needs are not being met if only 67 percent of calories deliver vitamins and minerals.

Sadly, federal authorities are too tied up in food industry lobbying to take any sort of stand.  Any time the “discretionary calories should make up no more than 10 percent” figure has been whispered as an “official figure”, the ever-present sugar lobby reminds those in power of its deep pockets.

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You Ask, I Answer: Greek Yogurt

fage-greek-yogurtI know Greek yogurt is thicker and firmer than regular yogurt, but are there any nutritional differences between the two?

– Julie Abdir
Keene, NH

Yes, slight ones.

Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt (even in its fat-free version) because the watery whey is strained out.  This straining process also makes Greek yogurt higher in protein and lower in calcium than regular yogurt.

Whereas a cup of regular yogurt delivers 13 grams of protein and 450 milligrams of calcium, that same amount of Greek yogurt adds up to 20 grams of protein and 150 milligrams of calcium.

Another bonus?  Since Greek yogurt is highly concentrated, it delivers a higher amount of probiotics than regular yogurt.  Remember, though, you always want look for the “Live & Active Cultures” seal to make sure you are getting beneficial bacteria.

Keep the same #1 yogurt guideline in mind when buying Greek varieties: buy the plain flavor and jazz it up yourself in healthy ways (i.e.: add dried or fresh fruit, nuts, ground flax, oat bran, etc.).

If you’re not into traditional yogurt consumption, try using Greek yogurt (0% or 2% fat) as a substitute for sour cream in a savory dip.

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Who Said It?: Reveal

oprah-dr-oz-slide“When you eat spicy foods for breakfast, it reduces your appetite at lunch.”

This quote belongs to Dr. Oz, who shared it as a weight-loss tip in a recent interview with AOLHealth.com.  He then recommends implementing this tip to your diet by adding hot peppers (no quantities are specified) to a breakfast omelette.

As you may imagine, that is not a quote I am too fond of.

Yes, a few small (think less than 30 subjects) human studies have theorized that there may be a link between capsaicin (the compounds that makes jalapeño peppers spicy) and appetite reduction.

Alas, there are a few catches.  For example, the study that achieved this most successfully (published last year in Clinical Nutrition) provided subjects with meals containing 510 milligrams of capsaicin.  That’s quite a bit of capsaicin to down in one meal, so much so that the researchers suggest in the study’s conclusion that “a lower dosage of capsaicin should be combined with other bioactive ingredients [like green tea]” to mimic the effects of the study.

Another thing worth keeping in mind: hot and spicy foods rev up metabolism slightly (though not enough to result in significant calorie losses) for roughly twenty to thirty minutes after they are consumed, not hours.

Additionally, a recent study in the European Journal of Nutrition concluded that “a lunch containing capsaicin had no [acute] effect on satiety [or] energy expenditure.”  As for capsaicin’s role in decreasing appetite?  The numbers looked promising, but after statistical analysis, those figures were deemed statistically insignificant.

This is simply one of those tips that just doesn’t seem practical to me.  It’s one thing to recommend eating a high-fiber food at breakfast (be it beans, oatmeal, quinoa, or adding psyllium husks to a smoothie), or to be sure to have a good source of protein at every meal for optimal satiety.  Those recommendations are realistic, doable, and can be easily implemented.

Do we really expect someone to thrown in piles of jalapeños into an omelette every morning?  Furthermore, I have yet to hear anyone who lives on Taco Bell and Chipotle mention any unexpected weight loss!

As far as I’m concerned, this should be filed along with the “OMG!!  Green tea helps you lose weight!!!” studies.

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You Ask, I Answer: 1 Pound of Muscle Burns 50 Calories?

HTEUD00ZI have come across a lot of articles and books which state that a pound of muscle burns 50 calories per day just to support itself.

That seems extremely high to me.

– Luis (Last name withheld)
Washington, DC

I, too, often see that figure repeated ad-nauseum — and can’t help but shake my head.

It is true that the more muscle mass we have, the more calories our bodies intrinsically burn (AKA, the more effective and faster our metabolism).

However, the “50 burned calories per pound of muscle” figure is grossly inaccurate.

A multitude of studies over the past decade — all in respectable metabolism and exercise physiology journals — have clearly demonstrated that one pound of lean muscle burns anywhere from five to eight calories per day for self-sustaining purposes.

Mind you, this is certainly better than fat tissue, which burns a mere two calories per day.

Weight-bearing exercises are still extremely important, though (they are beneficial in slowing down osteoporosis, strengthening the heart, and even improving the immune system).

Keep in mind that between the ages of 50 and 80, humans can lose up to 40 percent of their muscle mass. That significant loss carries significant metabolic — and health — repercussions!

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Numbers Game: So Much for “Discretionary”….

23190360The average 9 to 13 year old child in the United States consumes _____ percent of their daily calories in the form of solid fat — i.e.: butter, shortening — and added sugars (also known as “discretionary calories”).

Source: Institute of Medicine

a) 16
b) 33
c) 48
d) 25

Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer.

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Who Said It?

QuestionMark-300x2991“When you eat spicy foods for breakfast, it reduces your appetite at lunch.”

Find out who made that statement — and why I take issue with it — on Thursday.

In the meantime, feel free to leave a guess in the “comments” section.

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You Ask, I Answer/In The News: The Highly Controversial High Fructose Corn Syrup

syrup2190I was wondering if you saw this weekend’s New York Times article about high fructose corn syrup.

The author seems to minimize the scientific concern surrounding it.

In your opinion, is the anti-HFCS movement just a bunch of hype or rightfully concerned?

Thank you.

– Edrie Moore
Orlando, FL

At the risk of sounding cliche, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

New York University professor Dr. Marion Nestle — who I greatly admire and respect — is absolutely correct when she states in the article that, despite being no fan (and that’s an euphemism, if I ever heard one!) of the Corn Refiners Association, “they have biochemistry on their side”, since high fructose corn syrup and sugar are, from a chemical make-up standpoint, practically identical.

FYI: Dr. Nestle has a PhD in molecular biology (her knowledge of nutrition science is top-notch) AND is highly critical of the food industry; she is the farthest thing from an airhead industry shill.

My (and other nutrition experts’) concern with high fructose corn syrup goes well beyond chemical composition.

For starters, high-fructose corn syrup is a genetically modified food, and one that is consumed in large amounts (the national average is 15 teaspoons per capita, per day) by millions of people.

Here is what frightens me: there isn’t an iota of data on possible health effects from long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup or genetically modified foods in general.  I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Another good reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup?  It’s usually found in highly processed foods which also offer high amounts of sodium and unhealthy fats, and very little nutrition.

It’s important to point out, though, that nutrition is only one part of the high-fructose corn syrup puzzle.

Many people — myself included — equate the purchasing of products that contain high-fructose corn syrup with financially supporting agribusiness monoliths like Monsanto (I HIGHLY to the nth degree recommend reading this eye-opening, and infuriating, Vanity Fair article on Monsanto).

It worries me that some people think that substituting high-fructose corn syrup with sucrose (table sugar) is the answer.  It isn’t.  The real answer is to significantly reduce consumption of all added sugars (honey, maple syrup, agave, brown sugar, etc.)

Added sugars are problematic because they add calories but do absolutely nothing towards satiety (AKA: helping us feel full).  It is entirely possible to down 500 calories of soda (which gets all its calories from added sugars) in a matter of minutes… and still feel hungry half an hour later!

On the flip side, try eating 500 calories’ worth of oatmeal — which offers fiber and protein — in one sitting.  I have a feeling you would have a very hard time. Even if you managed to achieve that “goal”, you would not be hungry for several hours.

I choose to avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, for the multitude of reasons listed above.  That said, I am not convinced that high fructose corn syrup intrinsically “causes” obesity, nor do I think that consuming 15 teaspoons of cane sugar a day is any healthier than that same amount of high fructose corn syrup.

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You Ask, I Answer: Nut Allergies

walnuts-bowl-m

I’m hoping you can clarify some things for me regarding nut allergies.

One of my sons has a tree nut allergy.  I have consulted with four different allergy specialists, and there is no consensus on whether coconuts and pine nuts are safe for him to eat (or not).

I don’t want to experiment and “see what happens”.

I really hope you can shed some light on this.  I would hate to restrict his diet any more than it already is if I don’t need to.

– Monica (Last name withheld)
Santa Cruz, CA

Welcome to the complex world of food allergies!  Let’s make this as simple as possible with some handy dandy bullet points:

  • “Tree nut” is a vernacular term.  From a botanical standpoint, many “tree nuts” are drupes (“fruits… with an outer skin, a usually pulpy and succulent middle layer, and a hard and woody inner shell usually enclosing a single seed,” as so perfectly defined by the folks at Dictionary.com) or seeds.  For the sake of simplicity, I will use the general “tree nut” term throughout the remainder of this post.
  • Allergic reactions are caused by seed-storage proteins in these tree nuts.
  • As Kenneth Roux of the Department of Biological Science and Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University explained in a thorough article published in the August 2003 issue of the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, seed-storage proteins have “defense-related properties”.  In other words, their job is to repel insects and fungi in order to allow these tree nuts to grow.
  • Some tree nuts are related.  For example, cashews and pistachios belong to the same family, as do walnuts and pecans.  This results in what is known as “cross-reactivity”, meaning that the same seed-storage protein is present in more than one tree nut.
  • Since most individuals with tree nut allergies react to more than one tree-nut, the general advice is to avoid all varieties.
  • Even though pine nuts are seeds, there is sufficient cross-reactivity with other tree nuts to make them completely unsafe for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
  • The coconut issue, meanwhile, is extremely convoluted.  In October of 2006, the Food & Drug Administration added coconuts to the list of foods that must be labeled as “tree nuts” under Section 201 (qq) of the 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
  • Interestingly, coconut is not considered a “tree nut” from an allergy standpoint by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology or the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
  • I choose to side with the allergy experts and consider coconut a safe food for anyone with a tree nut allergy.
  • Keep in mind that some individuals are allergic to coconut.  However, the research literature has yet to establish any relationship between those allergies and tree nut ones.  Of the small handful of individuals diagnosed with coconut allergies, some are also allergic only to walnuts, others only to hazelnuts, and others to no tree nuts at all.  The vast majority of individuals with tree nut allergies are able to consume pure coconut with no problems.  I specify “pure coconut” as opposed to processed coconut by-products which may be prepared and/or stored in facilities where cross-contamination with tree nuts may occur.

My verdict: Pine nuts are definitely on the “avoid” list, while pure coconut (assuming it is stored and prepared in such a way that cross-contamination with other tree nuts does not occur) is generally safe.

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In The News: Milk-onims

milk_pintApparently, someone at the National Milk Producers Federation recently had some spare time on their hands — along with a hefty dose of misdirected anger — to bang out this exhausting exhaustive petition about “imitation products that milk dairy terms”.

As NMPF CEO and president Jerry Kozak explains,

“The [Food and Drug Administration] has allowed the meaning of ‘milk’ to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn.  You don’t got milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can’t say cheese if it’s made from rice, and faux yogurt can’t be made from soy and still be called yogurt.”

Grammar issues aside (“you don’t got”?), I’m not so sure about using the inside of a dairy barn as a utopian benchmark.  Most dairy cattle subsist on unhealthy diets of corn, growth hormones, and antibiotics, and spend most of their lives standing in one spot. I don’t think a hemp plant would be eager to pull a “Freaky Friday” with your average US dairy cattle.

What absolutely confuses me about this petition is that dairy alternatives are already adequately described as “(name of food here) milk.”

The term “milk” in the context of these alternatives makes sense to me. After all, these products are meant to replicate and replace milk in a multitude of ways (in smoothies, over cereal, in coffee, etc).

Kozak and his ilk claim this petition is done in an effort to “prevent false and misleading labeling on consumer products,” but I have yet to know of anyone who accidentally bought soy milk or rice milk thinking they were buying dairy-based milk.

I have seen the term “mylk” thrown around to describe dairy alternatives, which I find to be kind of adorable in that cute counter-culture kind of way.

Do you find this petition as absurd as I do, or do you consider Mr. Kozak’s claims valid?

UPDATE (May 3): Thank you to Small Bites reader Derek for pointing out that the odd grammar I pointed out in Mr. Kozak’s statement is in reference to the multi-million dollar “Got Milk?” campaign!

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There’s More to Osteoporosis than Calcium

osteoporosis-illustratedThe majority of news articles on osteoporosis never fail to mention that calcium is a key nutrient in slowing down bone density loss.

While that is an established fact, there are other nutrients and behaviors that are just as important in risk-reduction and management of osteoporosis.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet:

  • Phosphorus: High intakes inhibit calcium absorption and bone metabolism.  Ironically, dairy products are quite high in phosphorus.  Yet another reason why calcium intake should come from a variety of foods (i.e.: leafy green vegetables, chickpeas, almonds), including dairy (if so desired).
  • Smoking: negatively affects bone metabolism and decreases bone density levels.
  • Sodium: Excessive amounts (not at all uncommon in the “Standard American Diet”) increase calcium losses in urine.
  • Vitamin D: Facilitates calcium absorption.  Note: current guidelines (400 International Units of Vitamin D per day) are too low.  Supplement 1,000 – 2,000 International Units every day.
  • Vitamin K: Helps bind calcium to the bone matrix.
  • Weight-bearing exercise.

There are also preliminary studies which show that zinc, manganese, and even vitamin A may play important roles as well.

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