Organic Whole Milk Versus Organic Skim Milk

I grew up during the low-fat craze of the 1990s and beyond.  I was always told to avoid fat and to buy the low-fat yogurt, the low-fat milk, the low-fat cheese and the low-fat whatever else could have fat removed from it.  The craziest low-fat food that I ever saw was low-fat peanut butter that was basically peanut dust (last time I checked, that’s not peanut butter).

As the science behind nutrition has matured and we’re beginning to learn that there are a.) different kinds of fats and b.) our body responds to different fats in different ways.  For starters, we know that trans-fats, which used to be glorified and found in things like margarine and just about anything else, are actually terrible for you and can completely destroy your body’s circulatory system.  We also know that Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are pretty great and help with all sorts of things like reducing an individual’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.  We also know that regulating the balance between Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids is really important and that in recent years, our intake of Omega-6 is much much much higher than it should be.  In fact, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids that most people consume is the exact opposite of what it should be: we should be consuming much more Omega-3 than Omega-6.

There’s a relatively new (to me) food movement that is built on finding the correct balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plant oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil.  Omega-3 acids come from fish like mackerel, tuna, as well walnuts and flaxseed.  Recent research shows that Omega-3s are also found in milk, butter and yogurt, if they come from organic, grass-fed cows.  The problem is, in America at least, most of the meat we eat and the milk we drink comes from animals that were raised on grain diets, often involving soy and corn, and not grass-fed diets.

Research out of the University of Washington found that whole milk is actually much better for you than skim milk, but only if it comes from organically-raised, grass-fed cows.  The whole milk from these cows contains a substantially increased amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.  By comparison, cows that were raised on grain diets (such as corn) had much higher levels of Omega-6 in their milk.  Other research found that meat from cows that were raised on grain diets had higher levels of Omega-6 fatty acids than meat from cows that were raised on grass-fed diets.  Another really good example of “you are what you eat.”

So, it turns out that low-fat isn’t always best and that what’s important is what KIND of fat you’re eating.  It is important to be sure that you are watching the calories you consume from fat as fat does have a higher number of calories than carbohydrates and proteins.  The message I’m taking away from this, and of course this is highly individual, is that when I’m eating dairy, I’m going to avoid the low-fat, low-calorie option and instead opt for the organic-grass fed, full-fat option.

What do you think?  Have you heard any other research comparing Omega-3 and Omega-6?  Have you made any changes to incorporate more Omega-3s into your diet?

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The Science of Nutrition: Vitamin D

If you are a nerd like me, this is what the molecular structure of Vitamin D3 looks like.
Source: Chemistry.About.com

I’m sure you’ve heard of Vitamin D.  In recent years, companies have started fortifying just about everything with Vitamin D, even things that really have no business being fortified with Vitamin D (take orange juice for instance).  Since it’s being added to everything, it must be important right?  Well, it is and researchers are constantly finding new reasons that Vitamin D is important for you and your diet.

So let’s talk about Vitamin D.  The first thing you should know is that Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.  This means that you need to consume fat in order for your body to pick up and process Vitamin D.  This is why drugs like Alli aren’t good for making sure you have enough Vitamin D: if your body can’t absorb fat, it can’t absorb Vitamin D or any other type of fat-soluble vitamin.  In turn, because Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc, you’ll also have trouble absorbing these vitamins.

Another thing you should know about Vitamin D is that sun exposure can also help to synthesize it.  In winter months where there is very little sunlight and you spend very little time outside, it’s important to make sure you get the appropriate amount of Vitamin D from your diet.

Vitamin D, research seems to show, is essential for just about everything.  Vitamin D promotes bone health by helping with calcium absorption, and also helps with boosting your immune system.  Vitamin D does this by helping to promote the development of CD-8 T Cells, also called Cytotoxic T Cells, the only cell in your immune system that can directly attack and kill foreign, infected cells.  Research shows that adequate levels of Vitamin D can help to prevent influenza while low levels of Vitamin D can increase an individual’s risk for Tuberculosis, HIV, and other viral infections.  Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

So, where to find Vitamin D?  As I mentioned above, sunlight is really the best place to get Vitamin D from, but it also naturally occurs in some fish (swordfish, tuna fish, mackerel all have some).  You can also take supplements or eat foods that are fortified with the Vitamin (milk often is) to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts.

To learn more, you can visit the NIH’s Page on Vitamin D.  I found it extremely informative and it really delves into the science if you’re into that.

Drink up!
Source: Wikipedia.org

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Learning to Cook with Chicken Breasts

I’ve always hated boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  They tend to be dried out, unflavored and generally taste like sawdust, so usually I avoid them.  I recently discovered that I don’t hate all chicken though, despite thinking for awhile that I did.  Roasted chicken, chicken thighs, chicken legs, these are all good things.  Organic, farmers’ market chicken also happens to taste better than all other chicken (not exactly a surprise).  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts though?  Still at a loss of what to do with.

I was digging around the internet in an attempt to avoid studying for my Anatomy Lab Practical (let me tell you, if I never have to differentiate between leukocytes ever again, it will still be too soon) and found a couple of ideas for how to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts that don’t taste like sawdust.  Below are a few I found, but I’d really love to know if you have any recipes or ideas on how I can turn chicken breasts into my new favorite food!

How to Make Chicken Breasts in a Slow Cooker from Fifteen Spatulas

Photo: FifteenSpatulas.com

Lemon Chicken Breasts from Ina Garten

Photo: FoodNetwork.com

Parmesan Crusted Chicken from Martha Stewart

Photo: MarthaStewart.com

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My Obsession with Girl Scout Cookies

I started Girl Scouts the second I was eligible to become a Daisy.  I loved attending the weekly Girl Scout meetings, going on camping adventures during the summer, learning camp songs and competing with other girls to see who could get the most badges (news flash: I usually won).  I made it all the way up to a Junior before my family moved to Venezuela, where, shockingly, they don’t have Girl Scouts.

During those 4 years of being a Girl Scout though, I developed an absolutely incurable addiction to Thin Mints and Samoas (although apparently they’re called Caramel De-lites now which I think is really stupid-why change a classic?).  Every year, around this time, when Girl Scout cookies are for sale, I always find a way to track them down and buy a supply of Thin Mints and Samoas to keep me satisfied for a while.  These little boxes of delicious aren’t cheap though at $4 a box, so it’s probably about time that I start figuring out how to make them myself.  Although, to be honest, the money you spend on Girl Scout cookies really does go to good programs that empower young girls and teach them important leadership skills, so it’s almost justifiable to be spending $20 on 5 boxes of cookies.

When I finally found the Girl Scouts this year, in the Harvard T Station (really really hard to say no to those boxes of cookies when you’re coming home after a rough day), I excitedly asked for one box of Thin Mints and one box of Samoas.  When the girl handed them to me, she said “Did you know that Thin Mints are vegan?”  I didn’t know they were, so I told her as such, and she went on to explain the whole line of cookies to me.  Apparently Girl Scouts, in addition to working to remove most of the hydrogenated oils (although I found them in the Samoas-sad day), is also producing gluten-free cookies and vegan cookies.  Good for them!

Since I can’t afford to stock up on a life-time supply of Thin Mints (Samoas are out now that I know about the hydrogenated oils), I’ve pulled together a couple of recipes that you can make at home:

Thin Mints by The Little Epicurean

Homemade Thin Mints by Averie Cooks

Keepin it Kind’s Somer’s Vegan Thin Mints

Do you have a favorite Girl Scout cookie?  Any other good recipes out there for homemade Girl Scouts cookies?

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An Oil Primer

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There are so many different kinds of oils out there, each claiming to have all sorts of health benefits, but how do you break it down in deciding which oils to cook with and when?  This is just a brief introduction to cooking oils, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so if you have more that I didn’t include, please share in the comments!

Olive Oil:  I try to use this for as much as I can, but the biggest problem with olive oil is that it has a low-tolerance for heat.  When cooking foods on high-temperatures, you don’t want to use olive oil because it can become carcinogenic if cooked at high-temperatures for long periods.  Carcinogens = cancer, so don’t do this.  Olive oil is great though for making salad dressings, lightly frying things, roasting, baking and dipping.

Vegetable Oil: This is for the high-heat cooking and frying.  Also some baking, but you can usually replace vegetable oil in any baking recipes with applesauce.  I mostly use vegetable oil to season my cast-iron pans and not for much else.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature.  Want to know why?  It’s a saturated fat.  After years of research telling us to avoid saturated fat, it turns out there is a difference between good and bad saturated facts.  Coconut oil contains a saturated fat called lauric acid which helps to increase the good high-density lipid (HDL) cholesterol in your body (yeah, there’s such a thing as good cholesterol too).  HDLs actually help to lower your overall cholesterol count and can help with some thyroid issues.  So that’s pretty cool.  Coconut oil is very stable (as it’s a saturated fat-anyone take Organic Chem?) and can be used for cooking at high temperatures.  You can also usually substitute any recipe that calls for oil or butter with this stuff.  It’s not lower calorie, but it’s definitely a better option.  You can also use coconut oil as a lotion, make-up remover, etc, so it’s really not a bad thing to have around.

Sesame Oil: I use sesame oil when making stir-frys or anything that I want to give an Eastern Asian flavor.  The light sesame oil has a high smoke-point and can be used for high temperature cooking whereas darker sesame oil is not good for deep frying or anything involving super high temperatures.  Instead, use it for lightly sauteing or stir-frying.  Sesame oil is not very stable, so it’s important that you remember to keep it refrigerated to keep it from going rancid and to protect the antioxidants it contains.

Truffle Oil:  You don’t want to cook with this oil.  This is a finishing oil, as in, you drizzle it on top at the end of the cooking process.  Truffle oil is a gift from the heavens in my opinion and should go on anything and everything savory.  It’s not cheap, but if you only use a little bit at a time (which is what you should probably be doing anyway), it will last for ever.

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Chia Seed, Cranberry, and Raisin Granola

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I’ve been craving granola like crazy lately.  I want it on my yogurt, in my oatmeal, in my trail mix (is that a thing), basically, wherever I can include granola, I’m going to.  So, after checking out the sugar content of my store-bought granola and coming close to having a heart attack, I decided to cut that out of my grocery-shopping list.  From now on, grocery-store granola goes into the dessert category, at least in my book.

So, I went onto the internet because in this day and age, that’s where all of the answers are.  There are tons of blogs out there (including this one!) but Oh She Glows is my go-to for vegan food that’s original and delicious.  And you know what, she has several granola recipes, and I found one that was awesome.  I didn’t have some of the thing she listed in her recipe, but you know what, that’s what’s great about granola, you can put anything you want in it.  So here’s how I made mine:

What you need:

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 5 T agave-maple syrup blend
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp applesauce, unsweetened
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/4 cup cranberries
  • 1/3 cup raisins

What you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the oats, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut flakes, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and set aside. 
  3. In a  cooking pan, combine the maple-syrup blend, coconut oil, applesauce, peanut butter, and honey and bring to a boil.  Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes, or until it starts to thicken up.  Remove from heat and stir in with the oat mixture until combined.
  4. Spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure an even cooking on all sides.
  5. Once the granola has achieved a golden-brown color, remove and allow to cool.  Stir in the cranberries and raisins.  Serve with yogurt, almond milk, regular milk, oatmeal or anything else your heart desires.  Feel free to sprinkle some additional cinnamon on top.
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Subway: Is it really a good fast-food option?

I have to say, last week when Michelle Obama announced that she was partnering with Subway to help reduce child obesity, I had mixed feelings.  On one hand, she’s got a major fast food corporation agreeing to get kids hooked on veggies by spending $41 million over 3 years to promote vegetables as a healthier option.  Subway is going to increase fruit and vegetables options on the kids menu as well as offer lean dairy and non-sugary drink options.  Great.

But what about the adults?  What about the preservatives that go into their bread?  I mean, have you seen that ingredient list?  Their bread has like fifty ingredients.  You know what goes into bread? Wheat, yeast, salt, water, maybe some milk, maybe some seeds, maybe an egg.  So at most you have like seven ingredients?  Maybe a little bit more if you’re doing something fancy, but nothing near fifty.  Also, it wasn’t until this most recent Saturday morning that Subway announced it was going to remove a chemical from its ingredient line-up that is also frequently found in yoga mats and tennis shoes.  Excuse me?

So sure, they’re removing that chemical and apparently re-doing their bread formula, but there are still several other issues I have, the first being this Fritos sandwich they’ve been promoting during the Olympics.  You cannot both encourage children to eat vegetables and healthy meals and then encourage adults to eat garbage.  You know how kids learn to eat?  By watching their parents eat.  If their parents are eating garbage, you can bet their kids will be too.

So if Michelle Obama wants to partner with Subway and promote it as a health food, I’m going to need Subway to start encouraging all age groups to eat healthy food, not just kids, and I’m going to need them to cut the garbage from their food.  And while I’m making a wish-list, I’d love it if they’d offer organic vegetable options and increase their vegetarian options.

So what do you think?  Is this just a publicity stunt or do you think Subway has taken a turn for the better?  What would you want Subway to do to really be considered “healthy.”

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Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce and Lentils

Image

To continue my very clear obsession with all things Yotam Ottolenghi, I’m going to share with you one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.  This eggplant dishes graces the cover of his book Plenty and is something you should add to your list of things to make as soon as possible.

To be honest, I used to hate eggplant.  I thought the texture was rubbery, the taste was terrible and there just weren’t a whole lot of dishes I liked that included eggplant, so I never bothered to learn how to cook it properly.  This recipe is worth it though and makes me want to find ways to work eggplant into a little more of my usual dishes.

What you need for the eggplant:

  • 2 large, long eggplants (organic preferable since you’ll be eating the skin)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil plus 1 T
  • 1/2 tsp thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • seeds from half of a pomegranate
  • za’atar to taste
  • 9 T buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (you can use regular or Greek)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

What you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degree F.  Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and use a knife to cut a diamond-shaped pattern in the flesh of the eggplant, without piercing the skin.
  2. Place the eggplants on the pan, flesh-side facing up, and brush with the 1/3 cup of olive oil-brush until all of the oil has been absorbed by the olive oil.  Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper and roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the flesh of the eggplant has turned golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  3. While the eggplants are roasting, combine the buttermilk, yogurt, the remaining 1 T olive oil, the garlic clove and a small amount of salt.  Stir to combine and keep chilled until serving.
  4. To serve the eggplant, spoon the yogurt sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle some of the za’atar and pomegranate seeds on top.  If desired, you can finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

I served the eggplant alongside a lentil salad, which I will share in a future post, but I’d love to know if you have any other ideas of what to serve this delicious side with.  I was thinking lentil or quinoa cakes or maybe baked fish or something along those lines.  I’ll let you know!

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Weekend Reading

What a week.  I am so happy that it’s the weekend.  I had the worst day yesterday (read: water bottle spilling all over everything in my backpack, having two exams, being late to the first exam even though I left way early (thanks MBTA)…) It just felt like anything that could go wrong was going to go wrong.  But I refused to let myself fall into a slump of feeling bad for myself (although, honestly, sometimes it’s not the worst idea) and ended the day on a high note by exploring more of Boston (hello, Newbury Street!) and spending sometime out in the sunshine.  It made me feel so much better and made me (almost) forget how crappy my morning had been.

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The Biggest Loser debate has been all over every blog and newspaper that I’ve read lately, and I can’t help but think that maybe it shouldn’t be.  I don’t think we have the right to judge someone who lost a lot of weight, just like I don’t think we have the right to judge someone who put on a lot of weight.  It’s taboo to call someone ‘fat’ but apparently it’s fine to call someone ‘too skinny.’  When do we stop judging each other for our appearances and start judging each other for what’s on the inside?

This study out of Harvard is a good reminder that good habits start early and that it’s important for public health interventions to focus on younger kids too if we really want to turn this obesity epidemic around.

Speaking of which, President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law this week.  There’s a lot of controversy around this bill because it heavily cuts SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) and many families will be losing up to $95 a month that they had relied upon to feed their families.  It turns out though, both sides of the aisle are unhappy about the Farm Bill, which means they compromised.  Good for you Congress.

Flowing Data released maps from across the country showing where people run.  They run mostly by parks, water and in affluent areas.  Policy Mic took a moment to reflect on the greater social issues behind these maps: mainly that these maps of where people run are mostly maps of where the more affluent areas of cities are located.  If you’re running outside, it’s because you feel safe enough running outside, or because you have the time to run outside, luxuries that people living in high-crime, low-income areas rarely have.

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Shivering For Exercise

The New York Times had a really interesting article this week titled, “Shivering as Form of Exercise.”  Apparently, researchers found that shivering can have similar impacts as moderate exercise can on altering fat muscles and increasing metabolism.  The study mentioned in the article found that after similar time periods of shivering and of exercising, similar levels of irisin were found in study participants.  

Irisin is a hormone that helps to convert bad fat into brown fat.  Brown fat, if you’ve never heard of it, is found mostly in babies and helps to generate heat.  A higher percentage of brown fat to regular fat is ideal, but not common in most adults.  Scientists actually used to think that adults did not have brown fat, but recent studies have suggested otherwise.  In fact, studies have shown that adults who produce higher levels of irisin, tend to have higher levels of brown fat than in their counterparts.

For a period, scientists thought that irisin was best produced during exercise where the contracting muscles help to stimulate the production of the hormone.  This new study shows, however, that irisin can be produced while you’re freezing, which is convenient, since we seem to be getting a polar vortex every day.

Shivering should not replace cardiovascular exercise and should be considered with caution.  Waiting outside in the cold for the bus or the train is probably enough.  You probably shouldn’t force yourself to freeze just to produce more lisin, but as always, I’m not a doctor, so if you’re looking to make more lisin by shivering, you should probably have a chat with a licensed physician.

So, any thoughts on this article?  Are you going to add “shivering” into your exercise routine?

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