Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THANKSGIVING RECIPE: Kelly's Healthified Sweet Potato & Banana Casserole

Sweet potato casserole is a dish that is unnecessarily made with fat and sugar laden ingredients. I can almost guarantee that you can cut back on the sugar by at least 1/3 and the butter by 1/2, and no one will notice. Even with those modifications, most recipes will still be very unhealthy. When sweet potatoes are baked (ie: not boiled!), their natural sugars are drawn out and they become sweeter. If you bake them with any other fruit (apples, pineapple, banana, figs, etc), you definitely do not need to add any sugar, or at the very least, reduce it. Butter is just an unnecessary ingredient for something like sweet potato casserole if it is just mixed within the casserole. For toppings, it can serve a purpose, but within the casserole it is adding very little flavor and lots of fat and sodium.

Below is my recipe for a whipped sweet potato recipe with bananas, and be sure to check out my post from 2011 for my Sweet Potato & Apple Casserole recipe.
NOTE: This picture is not from the exact recipe, but yours should appear similar

Makes ~12 servings

Casserole Ingredients
1 tsp cinnamon
2 egg whites
2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup light vanilla soy milk (can sub almond or skim)
1/4 c brown sugar
5 medium sweet potatoes
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas
1/2 c plain nonfat yogurt

Topping ingredients
1 tbsp light butter spread
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp honey or agave
1/3 c high fiber cereal mix (pulse in blender any combo of the following: Fiber One, All-bran, Bran Flakes, Trader Joe's High fiber cereal & mixing with KIND Healthy grain clusters or another low-fat granola)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Rinse & scrub potatoes, poke holes with a knife, then place on baking sheet covered with tin foil. Bake in oven until soft (about 45-60 min).
3. Once potatoes are cooked, place in large bowl and mix in all ingredients except for topping ingredients. Beat with blender until well mixed and whipped.
4. Pour potato mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray.
5. To prepare topping, mix a high-fiber cereal with 1 tbsp light butter and 1 tbsp honey (or you can drizzle honey over top of casserole and sprinkle cereal/cinnamon/butter mix on top). Spread over top of casserole.
6. Cover casserole with tin foil and bake about 25 min.
7. After the casserole is baked, uncover and broil until topping is crisp and brown.


Nutrition Info Per serving (1/12 recipe):
120 calories, 1 g fat, 149 mg sodium, 25 g carb (3 g fiber- higher depending on cereal used), 3 g protein, excellent source of Vitamin A.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tips to Avoid Over-Consuming on Turkey Day!

People often think of Thanksgiving as an excuse to over-consume food and eat whatever you want. Yes, I do agree Thanksgiving is a time of year where there are special foods available, but I completely disagree with the fact that you need to gorge yourself in order to feel satisfied. In fact, you’ll probably feel lethargic, stuffed, and pretty gross after all is said and done. If you are at risk for heart disease, studies have shown that after just one meal high in saturated fat (think fried or cheese-based appetizers, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie, egg nog), the inner lining of the blood vessel walls have a reduced ability to expand, and the HDL’s are impaired leading to increased inflammation, and other metabolic markers are hampered 123. Thus, the risk of a heart attack would be higher after eating a rich meal than after eating one full of veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. Here are my tips for having a healthy Thanksgiving:

  1. Do at least 30 minutes of moderate cardio on Thanksgiving and also go for at least a 10-minute walk after your big meal. Walking afterwards will help your body soak up the extra glucose circulating around, which will decrease the risk for cell damage.
  2. During appetizers, load up on veggies and shrimp cocktail instead of cheese or fat-laden foods.
  3. Limit your alcohol intake. Each shot of liquor has around 100 calories, 8 oz of wine has 200, 12 oz of beer can vary between 95-200 depending on the ABV% (higher alcohol= higher calories). Watch the eggnog; it is calorie dense and artery-clogging enough as it is, but adding in rum will only work to increase the calorie load. Drink seltzer or club instead of alcohol, or at least in between drinks- they are carbonated, and thus filling, but contain no calories.
  4.  Cook at least one healthy vegetable-based side dish to bring to the feast. You can load up on those healthy veggies and keep your portions of all the other not-so-healthy foods small.
  5. Check out the calorie counts below for the average Thanksgiving dinner. Note that traditional stuffing is one of the worst foods in term of calories and fat content. Again, stick to vegetable-based foods.
  6. Skip “everyday” foods, unless they are non-starchy vegetables! You know what bread tastes like, so no need to add that to your calorie and carb intake for the day. Same goes for wine and most alcohols ;-)
  7. The crust is the worst part for you- skip the crust of pies and eat the inside (apple and pumpkin aren’t actually all that bad for you). The crust is primarily saturated fat with some (unhealthy) carbs. But cutting the crust off your slice of pie, you will be saving at least 100 calories! Also, don't add on anything else to that already decadent pecan pie. A small scoop of ice cream can contribute over 150 calories and more saturated fat.
  8. Think before you eat! Ask yourself if eating something is really going to add to your enjoyment for the day. Next, ask yourself how much of a food is needed to fulfill your craving.
  9. Take your time eating! Chew more often and slowly- people who do this tend to eat less and are healthier! Be the talker at the table so that you can’t be stuffing your face during the whole meal.
  10.  If you happen to eat more than anticipated, don’t beat yourself up. One day of overeating isn’t going to pack on pounds… but doing it on a weekly or daily basis certainly will ;-)
1.J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Aug 15;48(4):715-20. Epub 2006 Jul 24.
2. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jun;69(6):1135-43.
3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Mar;77(3):605-11.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November is National Diabetes Month: Know Your Risk!


Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise and is something that everyone should be concerned about. In 2013, 24.4 million people had been diagnosed with diabetes, 5.4 million people had died of diabetes-related complications, and over $548 billion dollars were spent on health care for diabetics across the world. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body develops a resistance to insulin that the body produces. Insulin is released when your blood sugar rises, and is what allows the sugar to enter into the cell walls. When people do not have insulin that works, blood sugar can remain very high and cause many complications such as glaucoma, neuropathy (numbness), skin infections, kidney disease, mouth sores, and a whole slew of nasty others!

Fear not, just a modest 5-10% weight loss can significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes, and for those that have it, weight loss can make a huge (positive) impact on blood sugar control. One of the biggest risk factors for developing diabetes is having a large amount of abdominal fat. When fat cells fill with fat, they tend to respond poorly to insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream and damages cells. Exercise is one of the best things a diabetic can do, because you need to burn the sugar and fat that are stored in the muscle cells so that the muscle can take in more sugar and re-store fat (think of it as draining & re-fueling a battery). Furthermore, when muscles are being worked as in exercise, they do not need insulin to draw blood sugar in, whereas resting muscles do.

My Recommendation: Everyone should eat as if they have diabetes. Focus on eating only whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Diabetics do not need to avoid eating “sugar”, they just need to be conscious to pair the right foods with those they are eating that break down to sugar (meet with me and I’ll explain in more detail!). Also, eat the correct sugars- those from nature like fruits & dairy, as opposed to added sugars in soft drinks, coffee beverages, and sweets. Excess calories is what everyone should be avoiding to reduce their risk of developing diabetes, not sugar. Furthermore, EVERYONE should be exercising EVERY DAY. The benefits of contracting muscles lasts less than 24 hours, so you should be getting in some muscle-engaging movement every single day. No excuses. The risk of developing diabetes is high for many people, and the complications are nothing to mess with (blindness, ED, getting your foot amputated, going on dialysis, etc.).

3.        Dr. Gabe Mirkin “Why Excess Weight Kills”.

INDEPENDENCE BLUE CROSS and AMERIHEALTH Members: Personal Choice, Keystone Health Plan East, or AmeriHealth members may receive 6 free nutritional counseling sessions each year with Kelly!
*Note: Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans are not covered & specific IBC plans may not be covered
AETNA Members: Aetna reimbursement depends upon your specific policy. Many plans do offer 100% coverage for up to 10 visits per year!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Carrageenan May Be Pro-Inflammatory, but it’s Not Entirely Clear….

Almond Milk Ingredient Label

The past few months I have been bombarded with people asking me for my thoughts about carrageenan, because they have heard it is a very controversial food additive that is found thousands of food products. Chances are, especially if you choose to avoid dairy, you are consuming many products that contain carrageenan.

Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed using alkalis or acid to remove it from the main source. It is added to many foods such as cheeses, almond milks, ice creams, jelly’s, and other products that would typically separate if not for this additive. Controversy has arisen due to research done on lab animals that links carrageenan to gastrointestinal diseases, inflammation, and cancer. In 2008, a study showed that “food grade” carrageenan broke down in the G.I tract and caused inflammation, which caused one of the study authors to make a petition to the FDA to ban the substance. As of April 2013, the FDA feeling on the matter is as follows:

“While no evidence in the available information on undegraded carrageenan demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced, uncertainties exist requiring that additional studies should be conducted.”

Basically, the level of carrageenan breakdown in the body is still up for debate, and there is not strong evidence suggesting that it causes damaging inflammation in humans. There have not been enough studies done on humans to determine the level of breakdown, and the impact consuming other foods at the same time as carrageenan has on metabolism and inflammation.

My Recommendation: As with most of these additives, I always advise being aware of the ingredients in your foods, and trying to limit the amount foods you consume with lots of additives. I, personally, do not go out of my way to avoid carrageenan. It is typically present in low amounts in the foods it is found in, and the level of harm has not been fully established. However, if you are prone to stomach and G.I issues, it may be wise to limit the amount of carrageenan-containing food products you eat. I would rather people eat mostly whole and natural foods anyway, so then you avoid carrageenan naturally. Food additives such as thickeners and stabilizers are added to many things, but especially to foods trying to act as something else (like gluten-free breads and non-dairy yogurts). Since carrageenen and other thickeners are added to many faux-dairy products, try to choose natural low-fat dairy if you are able, or at least non-dairy foods that have no additives like Stonyfield’s O’Soy soy-based yogurt. I am a fan of almond milk for the vitamin E (see my post) and calcium, but most brands do contain carrageenan. However, my favorite Almond Milk (Trader Joe's Unsweetened Vanilla) does not!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pre- and Pro-Biotics Explained

Over the past year or two you may have become aware of the term probiotic, and possibly, even pre-biotic.  Jamie Lee Curtis swears probiotics changed her life, but what exactly are probiotics, and do you have to eat Activia to get them???
The answer is NO! Dannon was just smart enough to have the foresight to market Activia as containing probiotics. FYI- all real yogurts contain probiotics since the bacteria make the yogurt thick and sour. So, I always think, good for Dannon! They are great at marketing, just like those companies that now advertise their products as “gluten-free”, although the food is naturally gluten-free, like pop-corn! Dannon was able to gain an edge in the yogurt market and pick up some more consumers due to a bright marketing person who was ahead of the probiotic curve. However, eating regular Dannon yogurt, Yoplait, or pretty much any other brand will provide probiotics.

Probiotics are bacteria found in the gut, and all the different types of probiotics together in your intestine make up your gut microflora. These probiotics digest certain foods that the enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract can’t digest, such as certain fibers. These non-digestible carbohydrates (i.e.: fibers) are called “pre-biotics” and are basically the food for probiotics.

Probiotics help enhance the synthesis of certain B vitamins, produce Vitamin K, and aid in the absorption of calcium. Additionally, they help to combat dangerous pathogens, thereby aiding your immune system, and help with proper digestion and bowel flow. Researchers are now linking a person’s microflora with disease risk, obesity, food insensitivities, and more. The probiotics produce short-chained fatty acids that have been suggested to help to reduce the risk of developing G.I disorders, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.

So should you take a probiotic supplement? I say no… for most people. I always recommend you get vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other food molecules from real food rather than popping a pill. Pre-biotics are mostly found in foods high in fiber: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans; but also some other foods such as garlic and onions. Probiotics are found in cultured dairy such as kefir and yogurts, as well as fermented products such as Kombucha (fermented tea- check out Whole Foods!), sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, olives, miso, and soymilk. Studies have shown benefits of taking certain probiotics for people with gastrointestinal problems like IBS- but certain strains of probiotics are more effective than others, so always do your research.

My recommendation:  Instead of popping a probiotic pill, try eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy products, cultured dairy, and add some fermented foods to your diet like tempeh (a vegetarian meat substitute made of fermented soy- tastes meaty and delicious!) and sauerkraut. By eating more healthily you will naturally feel better, by eating more fiber you should become more “regular”, and you will be getting a healthy mix of various strains of pre- and pro-biotics. This combination should work to prevent certain diseases and keep you feeling fantastic. Be sure to drink more water to account for the higher fiber intake! ;-)


Probiotics’ Potential — Research Suggests Beneficial Bacteria May Support Immune Health
By Sharon Palmer, RD. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 13 No. 1 P. 20