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    Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

    The Handy Dandy Cooking Oil Comparison Chart

    A few weeks ago, Andrew Wilder of the Eating Rules blog asked me if I wanted to help build a cooking oil comparison chart that would help people make sense of the wide array of choices. The topic of cooking oils is one I am very passionate about, so I gladly jumped at the chance.

    The chart — a real visual treat! — can be downloaded here, but I encourage you to read this blog post first, as it explains the science behind the results (and contains some very important FYIs).

    Continue Reading »

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    Guest Post: The Top Ten Ways Anyone Can Be A Cook

    robyn_with_chef_garCooks can be made, they’re not necessarily born.  Sure, the innate ability to know your saute from your braise is completely natural for some people, but your chances of becoming a cook or being a better one is much greater than becoming a world class athlete or concert pianist ( believe me, I’ve tried such similar lofty attempts).

    In my over 25 years of teaching, I’ve seen those in need of cooking skills go from clueless to accomplished. They all do start out with one element: the desire to learn. And beyond that, I’ve culled a list of the advice I give to my cooking newbies.  Beyond these very practical tips my overall mantra is: if you fail, try, try again.  Even the most seasoned cooks make tons of mistakes; and I’ve got the garbage pails of experiments gone awry to prove it.

    But here now are my top tips to get you as polished as a brand new copper pot in the kitchen!

    Continue Reading »

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    Blue Potatoes Yield Green Water?

    purple_potatoesSome time ago I boiled some blue/purple potatoes and discovered the water had turned bright green.  Not being sure what that could possibly be (on store-bought spuds) I threw it all out.

    This summer, I grew my own blue potatoes, and the same thing happened.  I know these are clean and chemical free, since I grew them myself.  What caused the water to turn green, and is it safe?

    — Jennifer Armstrong
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    Ah, welcome to the fascinating (I’m not being fascicious, I truly think it’s fascinating) world of food science.

    Questions like yours are also great because they help me realize that the mandatory Introduction to Food & Food Science I had to take during my college education does come in handy!

    So, why did your blue potatoes yield green water?  Nope, it wasn’t a mutant Monsanto potato.  This just comes back to a very basic science concept — pH levels.

    Most tap water is slightly alkaline, which doesn’t jive well with the more acidic potato environment.  Alas, the blue pigment (caused by the presence of antioxidants known as anthocyanins) left a green tint in your water.

    If you’d like to prevent this next time, add a small amount of vinegar to your cooking water.

    While we’re on the subject of potatoes and the color green, I think it’s worth reminding everyone that while this example is no cause for concern, a potato with a green tint on it is.

    A green potato has high levels of solanine, which can result in unpleasant symptoms when consumed.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables

    celeryCan you please give us a list of vegetables that impart more nutrition when cooked vs. raw?

    I almost always prefer raw but, for example, in your article on carrots, you mention that they are more nutritious cooked vs. raw.

    Are there any other vegetables like  that?

    — Val (Last name unknown)
    (Location Unknown)

    In case this is your first time visiting Small Bites, Val’s question is in reference to a posting from a while back where I mentioned that the carotenoids (a group of phytonutrients) in orange, red, and yellow vegetables — such as carrots — become more bioavailable when that vegetable is cooked.

    While raw vegetables are nutritious in their own right, cooking vegetables is a great way to unleash their mineral content.  Cooking breaks down the cell wall, which is where the majority of minerals are stored.

    Recent research has also shown that antioxidants in celery, carrots, and tomatoes become more bioavailable when these vegetables are cooked.

    When you cook vegetables, the idea is to have minimal contact with water (which is why steaming and roasting are a better choice than boiling) in order to preserve as many nutrients as possible.

    The  bottom line is simple — for optimal health benefits, include plenty of vegetables (roughly 2 cups) in your diet every day (or as often as possible).

    I always counsel people to simply consume vegetables in whichever state they consider tastier (barring deep-frying, of course).  After all, the more pleasing your palate finds a food, the more likely you are to eat it!

    Personally, I think the best tactic is to eat both raw and cooked vegetables.

    Keep in mind that vitamins A, D, E, and K — as well as many health-promoting phytonutrients — must be eaten along with a small amount of fat in order to be absorbed.  This is why an all-vegetable salad with fat-free dressing (or simply vinegar and lemon) is a waste of nutrients!

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    Two Healthy and Tasty Pantry Must-Haves!

    748404287930Considering the nutritional horrors that are often consumed due to time constraints, I am always eager to share products I personally come across — and try out for myself — that make it possible to whip up tasty and healthy food in minutes.

    First up– Seeds of Change’s microwaveable rice pouches.

    Four of the six varieties are 100% whole grain:

    It gets better.  All varieties are already seasoned with organic spices and a variety of organic vegetables (not vegetable powders — REAL vegetables!).

    While many boxed and seasoned grain products contain ridiculous amounts of sodium (as much as 600 or 700 milligrams per serving), Seeds of Change gets brownie points for offering, at most, 380 milligrams per serving (the average sodium content of these four products is an outstanding 268 milligrams per serving).

    Each of these pouches also offers, on average, 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

    Next up — Tasty Bite’s Simmer Sauces.

    Need to quickly and effortlessly dress up beef, chicken, seafood, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or some stir-fried vegetables?  Look no further.

    These sauces use real food — as opposed to flavored chemicals — and a variety of spices to liven up your dish of choice.

    Consequently, each serving contains no more than a practically non-existent 45 milligrams of sodium (Two-thumbs-up-FYI: a serving is half the pouch, not a quarter of a teaspoon!).

    Even varieties like the pad-thai simmer sauce, which packs in several teaspoons of sugar, are fine if you are using half a pouch for a meal that serves three or four people.

    Go ahead and add these to your “I want something healthy and delicious… and I want it NOW” shelf.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Iron Cookware

    Any data out there on the amount of iron transferred into food when cooking with cast iron cook ware?

    Does the act of seasoning the cast iron (coating it in oil) prevent or diminish iron’s capacity to leach into food during cooking?

    — Nicole Journault
    [City Unknown], Canada

    One of the most thorough studies on this topic, conducted by Brittin and Nossaman, was published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

    The conclusion? “Acidity, moisture content, and cooking time of food significantly affected the iron content of food cooked in iron utensils.”

    It is a well established fact that cooking in cast iron cookware will transfer some iron into your food, especially if the food contains high amounts of vitamin C and moisture and is stirred or turned over frequently.

    In terms of figures, cooking half a cup of spaghetti sauce in an iron pot for 15 minutes increases its iron content by approximately 800 percent. Foods low in moisture and vitamin C, however, increase by anywhere from 80 to 150 percent.

    Keep in mind that these figures depend on how long you cook these foods for.

    The “catch 22” is that iron cookware often imparts a strong metallic taste to foods — especially those high in vitamin C and moisture cooked for long periods of time!

    Three more important points:

    1) Coating the cookware in oil prevents iron’s leaching capacities.

    2) Iron absorption gradually decreases with each passing use.

    3) Since iron cookware only increases the iron content of non-heme iron, meats are unaffected.

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    FNCE 2008: Flavor Magic

    One upcoming product that caught my eye was the Flavor Magic portion control sheets — dry marinade sheets that are pre-cut to reflect the recommended portion size of fish, chicken or beef.

    Rather than weigh foods or eyeball portions, you tear a 4″ by 3″ sheet, place your protein of choice on it, and let it marinade for approximately 20 minutes (the time it takes for the spices on the sheet to transfer over to the piece of food.)

    At that point, you simply rip the sheet off, throw it out, and cook your protein to your liking.

    It’s quite an inventive tool, as it takes care of portion control and healthy flavoring in one easy step that does not require cleanup.

    The sheets are available in a variety of flavors — each providing only four calories and one gram of sugar, and ranging in sodium content from 120 to 160 milligrams (a mere 5 percent of the recommended daily maximum value).

    This is precisely the creativity that is desperately needed in the nutrition field.

    For more information, please visit the Flavor Magic website (NOTE: You may begin ordering the product via the company’s website on November 17.)

    I truly wish these innovators the best of luck and hope their product catches on.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oxalates

    I know that spinach is not considered a good source of iron because it contains oxalates, which bind iron during digestion so your small intestine cannot absorb it.

    I have heard, though, that cooking spinach will decrease the amount of oxalates.

    Is this rumor true?

    — Christine (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    The rumor is true, but irrelevant.

    Yes, boiling reduces oxalate levels in food. However, this reduction is minimal, and it also leeches out vital water-soluble nutrients.

    By the way, oxalates also bind the calcium in spinach, so if you’re looking to get that mineral from a green vegetable, broccoli is a smarter bet.

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    Another Kashi Knockout

    Kashi continues to crank out tasty and convenient whole grain products.

    Their latest outing is savory 100% whole grain rice pilaf side dishes available in three flavors — original, Moroccan spice, and fiery fiesta.

    Each packet contains two servings, each offering 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein.

    While the original flavor is sodium-free, the other two varieties contain 400 milligrams of sodium per serving (due to the presence of additional flavorings.)

    In all fairness, that amount is roughly 40% lower than that of average ready-to-eat pilaf products.

    Additionally, in the context of a meal otherwise low in sodium (i.e.: tuna or salmon steak, grilled tofu, sauteéd shrimp, grilled chicken breast) this is not a huge concern.

    I appreciate the existence of an original flavor that lets customers exercise their culinary creativity. I highly recommend adding chopped nuts and raisins or chickpeas, red peppers, and cilantro.

    The best part? The only cooking required is adding 2 tablespoons of water, mixing, and microwaving for 90 seconds.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Book Recommendations

    Is there a current diet/cookbook you can recommend for health and weight loss?

    — Greg (last name withheld)
    (City withheld), IA

    I don’t like the term “diet book,” so let’s make this a list of cookbooks and “health books”, shall we?

    Books that teach actual nutrition principles and lifelong healthy eating patterns are more useful than the latest diet fad telling you to clear your cupboards of anything with sugar and spend the first two weeks on “phase/wave” one, where you basically spend 14 days craving all the foods you are now FORBIDDEN to even have a single bite of.

    Anyhow, What To Eat by Marion Nestle is a great book for anyone looking to delve deeper into the food industry and how marketing and advertisement play a huge role in what we are eating.

    Don’t be confused by the title — this book does not tell you what to eat to lose weight. However, it helps you separate marketing hype from reality, a very useful skill to have when navigating the extensive supermarket aisles.

    Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller is a fascinating read. Not only does it highlight the increasing “portion distortion” epidemic that has increased caloric intake over the past few decades, it also communicates a pleasant message. If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t think so much about WHAT you’re eating, but how much of it!

    I have mentioned Buff Dad on this website before (click here to read my interview with author Mike Levinson). I appreciate its “no nonsense” approach rooted in nutrition science as well as its particular tailoring to men (too many weight loss books specifically target a female demographic).

    Linda Arpino, MA, RD, CDN, released a wonderful book titled Eat Fit, Be Fit: Health and Weight Management Solutions (pictured right.) It explains nutrition concepts simply yet thoroughly, and provides over 250 healthy — and very tasty — recipes.

    I also think Eat This, Not That by the Men’s Health team is a great guide to have handy when it comes to eating fast food. It can help you replace a 1,200 calorie lunch with one containing 500 fewer calories!

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    Crush Now, Cook Later

    It is no surprise that garlic contains a wide variety of beneficial enzymes and compounds.

    Did you know, though, that you are cheating yourself out of these if you throw freshly chopped garlic into a stir fry?

    A study conducted by Claudio Galmarini and colleagues in Argentina and the United States (published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry last year) looked into alliinase, an enzyme in garlic that “catalyzes the formation of allicin, which then breaks down to form a variety of healthful organosulfur compounds.”

    Allicin, by the way, has been linked to decreased rates of both stomach and colon cancer.

    Here’s the catch — heat renders alliinase useless.

    That doesn’t, however, necessarily mean raw garlic is the only way to capture all the health benefits.

    Galmarini and his team found that “allowing crushed garlic to stand for 10 minutes before cooking may further enhance formation of [allicin] before heat inactivates alliinase.”

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    Five Must-Have Foods

    The latest video on the Small Bites YouTube Channel singles out five must-have foods.

    Having these in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer will make healthy eating simple, quick, and convenient.

    This is not an end-all-be-all “five healthiest foods on the planet” or “five superfoods that reverse aging” list, but rather just one of many practical ways in which nutrition can have a place in your kitchen.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Researchers at England’s Institute of Food Research concluded that our bodies absorb 500 times more betacarotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.

    (NOTE: “Cooked” mainly refers to steaming, which retains more nutrients than boiling).

    Although certain cooking processes — mainly boiling and frying — can deplete some nutrients, quicker methods which do not place food directly in contact with water, like steaming, increase many nutrients’ absorbability.

    Phytonutrients like lutein and lycopene, for instance, are more absorbable in cooked, rather than raw, vegetables.

    It is believed this is due to cell walls — which contain many of these compounds — breaking down when exposed to high temperatures.

    Don’t get me wrong. Raw vegetables are still nutritious and should be part of a healthy diet.

    However, the raw food’s movement claim that cooked vegetables are “nutritionally inferior” is completely misguided.

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    Numbers Game: Friendly Fire

    Researchers at England’s Institute of Food Research concluded that our bodies absorb ____________ times more betacarotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.

    (NOTE: “Cooked” mainly refers to steaming, which retains more nutrients than boiling).

    a) 85%
    b) 500%

    c) 275%

    d) 100%

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Calorie Posting

    Andy, I love to cook. I think I am speaking for most chefs and those that love to cook, we are not specifically thinking of calories when we create a dish!

    Therefore, I must HEARTILY DISAGREE on your stance on the Food Network and other places that don’t offer calorie counts.

    I don’t want, nor need, the government to step in and force laws on poor, creative chefs who are cooking dishes from their cultures and hearts. Where is people’s sense of self-responsibility?

    I’m not an idiot. There are plenty of recipes that I’ve looked up on the Food Network site that I KNOW are going to be fattening.

    I don’t like the thought of government going so far as to overstep their boundaries in the guise of “protecting Americans from themselves!” You are going up a slippery slope indeed. Where does it all end? People have to be responsible for their own health and what they put in their mouths.

    BTW, it’s the FOOD Network, not the HEALTH Network.

    Paula Deen is a Southern cook, Ina Garten is not tiny and neither is Guy! I don’t watch any of them for low fat recipes, I have my Weight Watchers cook book for that.

    I love watching Paula Deen and all the butter she puts in her recipes. I might use that recipe for a special occasion AS IS butter and all, I might try to make it lower in fat or I might just enjoy watching her make something so decadant!

    Please, don’t take the joy out of cooking with this idea of forcing calorie counts on everyone! Let common sense prevail!

    — Laura Lafata
    Miami Beach, FL


    It appears that the main point behind my video was misinterpreted.

    I am not asking for any interference. I am not telling anyone at the Food Network to decrease butter in recipes butter or replace heavy cream with skim milk.

    Similarly, I am not asking Paula Deen or Barefoot Contessa to “do their part” for health and wellness by offering lower-fat recipes.

    All I am saying is, “cook whatever and however you want, but inform people of caloric content.”

    I do not want heart disease warnings alongside recipes, nor do I want television chefs to follow guidelines like “include at least one whole grain in every dish.”

    Each chef is master of their culinary domain, and they should exercise complete freedom in their kitchen.

    Deep fry a stick of butter for all I care, just let people know how many calories are in it.

    Laura, it appears you are a health conscious person. Therefore, I have no doubt you are good at spotting high-calorie dishes and knowing what constitutes a “splurge.”

    Not everyone has that knowledge, though.

    I can’t tell you how many times, when giving a nutrition workshop, I have had people ask me what the word “calories” on a food label means.

    There I was talking about the benefits of whole grains and someone asks me what number they should pay more attention to — calories or protein. Eek!

    I have taught several workshops on making smarter choices at fast food restaurants.

    Whenever I do one of these, I ask attendants to guess the number of calories in a large Big Mac meal (that means burger + fries + soda).

    The average response is says 800 calories — 640 fewer calories than the correct answer!

    It is very easy for people who are informed about nutrition to think the rest of the world is.

    Guess what? As th above examples show, many people are completely in the dark — even those who think they aren’t!

    This is why, as a future dietitian, I find the posting of calories to be helpful. A lot of people I have spoken to were surprised to find out that a low-fat muffin at Starbucks contains a mere 40 calories less than a full-fat one, for instance.

    Posting calorie information does not take away personal choice. It simply allows consumers to make more informed decisions.

    On another note, it saddens me that many chefs scoff at the idea of “healthy cooking” or making meatless dishes.

    Many of this country’s most famous chefs erroneously think there is no such thing as “vegan cuisine,” and that asking for a sauce on the side ranks up there with double homicide.

    I have shared many highly nutritious delicious recipes on this blog that even the unhealthiest of eaters have loved. It’s the least I can do to dispel the myth that healthy eating consists of steamed carrots sprayed with PAM.

    I do not expect Paula Deen to start counting calories, but why not provide that information for people looking to lose weight who would never even consider that one of her “individual” chicken pot pies packs in almost a day’s worth of calories?

    Armed with this information, viewers can make a variety of choices — have the recipe “as is,” save the potpies for special occasions (rather than twice a week), make smaller potpies (thereby reducing calories), or find creative ways to cut down on calories by toying around with ingredients.

    Healthy eating is obviously an uphill climb for many; why not give them a little boost?

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