Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best and Worst Foods For You

A lot of people ask me one of two questions:
1. What is the worst food for you?
2. What is the best food for you?

I have a lot of trouble answering these types of questions for the mere fact that it is hard to label one food as being "the worst" or "the best". It's like asking who is the "best" person that ever lived, and who is the "worst." There are a lot of contenders, and you have to look at all aspects of their lives, not just what they did in the spotlight. Likewise, when people ask me what healthy foods are, I have trouble answering that too, simply because it depends what you are looking for when you want something "healthy." 

What is healthy to one person might not be considered healthy by another. For example, I think almonds are a "healthy" food. However, one on a diet might say they do not meet their definition of healthy because almonds are high in calories and fat. In my dietitian head, I feel like I go through complex logarithms and analyses to determine if a food is healthy. Last night I tried to explain to my clients how I look at a food label and determine if the food is "healthy"... but again, it's way too complicated for me to tell them simple steps: Look at: 1) calories 2) fat 3) fiber 4) sodium, etc. If you look at the nutrition label of a peach, one might think it is unhealthy because it will show up as 60 calories, all from carbohydrate (mostly sugars and maybe 1-2 g fiber), so no protein and no healthy fats.Thus It is much more complicated than simply looking at calories, fat, sugars, and protein on a food label. One must consider the quality of the calories you are receiving. 200 calories from raw almonds is different than 200 calories from cotton candy. With the almonds you are getting mono-unsaturated fats, some polyunsaturated fats (a little saturated too, but in this case I waive that- another exception), fiber, protein, Vitamin E, etc. With the cotton candy all you are getting refined sugars and all sorts of additives to make it those funky colors.

Anyway, I could spend hours trying to stress how difficult it is to determine if a food is healthy or unhealthy. It depends what you are looking for in a meal or snack. Is it protein you need? Do you need just a filler food (in which case I would look to fiber, protein, and some fat)? However, if I had to break it down to the top best and worst foods, my list would start off something like this (in no particular order):

Oat Bran (not oat bran muffins, the hot cereal in the oatmeal aisle)
Sweet Potatoes
Tuna Steak
Chia Seeds
Beans (navy, kidney, garbanzo, black, etc.)
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, etc.)

Sausages and other heavily processed high-fat meats (Brats, hot dogs, bologna, salami, bacon, etc)
Klondike Bars and Super-premium ice creams (Haagen-dazs, Ben & Jerry's, etc.)
Anything with cheese + high-fat meat in one (cheese-steak, stromboli)
Cream and cheese-based soups, pastas, meals (Alfredo, chowders, chicken pot pie etc.)
Cheesecake and other rich cakes

So, you see, I can barely list a single food that is the "worst" it has to do with all the ingredients that go into it.... I hope this post gets your mind thinking about how YOU evaluate foods, and determine what "healthy" means to YOU. I'm sure this post will also cause some controversy, as many people like to challenge me when it comes to processed meats and cheese. I welcome a challenge, and remember, this is MY opinion of what is healthy- I'm just trying to get you thinking and let you have a nutrition experts opinion ;-)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Trader Joe's Original Hummus

Last year I posted a blog on "My favorites at Trader Joe's." Among one of my favorite items at the store is their Original Hummus. I tell all my clients that this is the creamiest and most delicious hummus I have ever tasted, which is surprising since it is "original" flavor (I  normally like exotic things, but in this case I prefer the regular!).

Hummus is made from chickpeas and usually contains tahini, which is a sesame paste. Other typical ingredients in hummus include olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. To get other flavors, manufacturers often blend in other vegetables (artichokes, red peppers, etc) and spices (curry, chilis, etc.).

Normally I recommend making things yourself instead of buying them pre-made. I do enjoy making my own hummus, however, I have found that I am unable to get the delicious and creamy texture that is found in Trader Joe's Original. My hummus usually ends up somewhat gritty and it's just not the same.

Personally, I enjoy hummus with both raw vegetables and baked carrots (carrots are like sweet potatoes- delicious when baked/roasted). Hummus can also be used as a sandwich spread, mixed into pasta dishes or other meals to give a creamier texture, and is a much healthier alternative as a party dip compared to the cream-cheese laden spinach & artichoke, buffalo chicken, french onion, crab, and other artery-clogging dips.

The nutritional content of hummus varies depending on how it is prepared. In general, it can range from 50-120 calories for 2 tbsp (depending on the amount of oil & tahini in it), 1-5 grams of protein (depending on the chickpea content), and usually clocks in at 1-2 grams of fiber (depending on chickpea and vegetable content).

Currently, Trader Joe's Original Hummus costs $2.99 for a container, but it is well worth it (and is still cheaper than you will find in a grocery store). I finally took a picture of it (see above) so my clients, and now you, know exactly which product I am talking about (TJ's has about 20 different types of hummus, in different containers, "organic"/non-organic, and other original flavors so it is easy to buy the wrong one).

Fun Fact: Trader Joe's Original Hummus used to be labeled as having 50 calories and 3 grams of fat. This year they changed it to 80 calories and 5 grams of fat. I don't think the recipe has changed, I think they just had the nutrients re-evaluated. I always rememberd thinking that it was wayy to creamy and delicious to only have 50 kcals and 3 grams of fat. Lesson: never eat a lot of something just b/c the label shows it is healthy (similar lesson was learned with Pirates Booty which people woofed down, only to find that the label underestimated fat & calories, whooops!).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

GUINNESS® Label Pint Glasses - Set of 4
Today is St. Paddy's Day, a day known for drinking in America as well as Irish specialty treats. This past weekend I made an almost- traditional Irish Soda bread. Traditional Irish soda bread uses mostly whole grain wheat flour, baking soda (hence "soda bread"), buttermilk, and salt. If you get Irish Soda Bread from a bakery or buy it at the store, it most likely has lots of butter, raisins, and sugar, and is tailored to the American's palate rather than being traditional. I like to mesh the traditional with American, so I follow recipes with just a touch of butter and sugar, and add in raisins for good luck.

Here is a pretty good recipe I recommend trying for IRISH SODA BREAD:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups  all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 1 1/2 cups milk with 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice added)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the raisins. Mix together buttermilk and butter. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and slowly pour in the liquid. Using your hands, mix together until combined (add more buttermilk if necessary).

Move dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead the dough into a 7 inch round. Place on an oiled baking sheet and with a knife cut an cross on the top of the loaf.
Bake for about 40 - 50 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean or tap to see if it sounds hollow. Enjoy warm from the oven! Bread will get dry quickly, but it makes a great morning toast.


Along with Irish Soda bread, Americans generally consume Guinness, Bailey's, Corned Beef, and Irish Potatoes during this festive day. Here is a quick calorie overview of what those look like:

12 oz Guinness: 153 calories
1.5 oz (shot) Bailey's: ~150 calories
3 oz. corned beef: 210 calories, 15 g fat (5 g saturated), 960 mg sodium (40% DV), 15 g protein
1 slice traditional soda bread (~1.5 oz): 175 calories
1 irish potato candy: 60 calories, 2.5 g fat

I hope you enjoy your St. Paddy's Day and be sure to consume these "Irish" foods (& drink) in moderation!!!!!!!!

calorie count
Bailey's website

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mung Beans

I spent the past 24 hours soaking and making mung beans. This is my first time working with this legume, and I owe it all to my friend Mikey, who inspired me to make them for a St. Paddy's party tomorrow ((okay, it was more of a joke b/c I'm the nutrition girl, but I figured why not make a delicious and very nutritious treat? (I also made an Irish specialty-Irish soda bread- to be discussed next week, as well as a not-super healthy dessert: PB Cheerio bars)). 
Organic Sprouting Seed Mung Bean 1 Pound
Most likely you have eaten Mung beans but are just unaware of it. If you have ever eaten "sprouts" (not alfalfa sprouts) you  probably have eaten mung beans. Their most common use in the western world is in sprout form, which is used in stir fries, sandwiches, salads, etc. However, over in Asia they have many different uses. In Thailand, they are used in a lot of dessert recipes (custards, puddings, etc.). In China they are used in their sprout form as well as soaked/boiled and used in soups or made into noodles. Indians use Mung beans in dal (Moong dal) recipes with curry, coriander, turmeric, etc. 

Just like other beans, mung beans are very high in protein, fiber, and iron. In fact, just one cup of Mung beans contains 14 grams of protein, 15 grams (61% DV) of fiber, and 16% the daily value of iron. You have to be careful with portions though if you are watching your weight, one cup has about 215 calories... but if you are going to eat 1 cup of anything, mung beans (or any beans for that matter) are the way to go (along with veggies!).  

For the party tomorrow I made a Mung Bean & Lentil Curry (I merged a few recipes together) recipe which goes something like this:

Spicy Mung Bean & Lentil Curry

1 cup of mung beans, soaked overnight

1/2 cup of lentils
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 cup diced mango
1 tbsp parsley flakes
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon of cumin 

1 tablespoon of ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder

1 cup light coconut milk

Soak mung beans over night (be careful, they double in size!). Transfer to a medium size saucepan, along with the water, turmeric, salt and chili powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed - about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
Add rest of ingredients and set aside.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When starting to sizzle, toss in the cumin, coriander and cayenne, stir a few times and pour over the mung beans.

Serves 4 - 6.

So, if you are looking to expand your legume repertoire, try eating Mung beans... which can be found in the bulk foods section of Whole Foods (they look like tiny green balls).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Quin-what??? Oh, quinoa!

As you may or may not know, March is National Nutrition Month (NNM), and the theme is "Eat Right With Color." Two of my goals for NNM are: 1) For everyone to try to eat a healthy diet (full of naturally colored foods) for at least the month of March, and 2) Try a new (healthy) food each week. For this week, I encourage you to try Quinoa (If you read my post a few months ago on vegetarian sources of protein, I touched on quinoa).

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is an ancient grain that was once labeled the "Gold of the Incas" because of it's superfood qualities... it was one of three staple crops for the Incas (corn, potatoes, quinoa). Quinoa is actually a seed from a plant that is a relative of swiss chard and spinach. This super- seed contains carbohydrate and tastes a little like a couscous, but unlike other grains, it is also a source of complete protein. By complete protein I mean that it contains all essential amino acids... yes, the same quality as meat, imagine that! So for all of those people who worry about vegetarians not eating enough protein (or high-quality protein) because they don't eat slaughtered animals, be comforted by the fact that they can obtain the same quality of protein from meat-free sources (same is true for soy!). In addition to being a high quality protein, quinoa contains high levels of magnesium and manganese, and is a good source of iron, fiber, and contains 60 mg omega-3's (higher than other grains).

As far as taste goes, it is somewhat nutty, but like pasta and rice, it takes on the flavor of whatever you are cooking it with. You can always roast the dry quinoa before cooking to bring out a more nutty flavor. Quinoa is somewhat chewy, yet soft, and crunchy at the same time. You'll just have to try it....

Nutritional Breakdown: 1/4 cup dry contains 160 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.25 g SFA, 0.65 MUFA, 1 g PUFA), 30 g carb (2.5 g fiber), 5.6 g protein, 10% DV Riboflavin, 10% DV Vit E, 22% DV Iron, 22% DV magnesium, 48% DV manganese, 9% DV potassium

Where to find: Most grocery stores have caught on that quinoa is a hot superfood and it is now stocked in most markets. The most popular brand is Ancient Harvest (see picture above) and you can find this in the natural foods section or with pastas and grains at Whole Foods.

How to Enjoy: Mix one part quinoa to two parts water, boil, and bring to a simmer until water is absorbed (around 15 minutes for 1 cup quinoa).
Breakfast: Cook as detailed above and then prepare like oatmeal (add cinnamon, sweetener, and fruit).
Lunch: Cook grain and use to add crunch to salads or sandwiches
Dinner: Use instead of rice, or make a pasta salad substituting quinoa for the pasta.
Dessert: Cook with coconut (or cow's) milk, add sugar, walnuts, and cooked fruit

Recipe: Quinoa and Black Beans
1 tsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed and chopped
1 block extra firm tofu
¾ cup uncooked quinoa
1 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp tumeric
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh, salt-free canned, or frozen corn kernels
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups mixed vegetables
½ cup fresh cilantro

Heat oil in medium saucepan and sautĂ© onion and garlic until fragrant and light brown in color. Add tofu and some chicken broth until tofu begins to brown. Add quinoa, top with chicken broth and spices and bring to a boil and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Stir in corn, black beans, and cilantro and cook for a few minutes until heated through.

1. World's Healthiest Foods Website. "Quinoa" Available at:

2.  Recipe adapted from