Tag Archives: healthy eating

Juicing

Hi everyone!  It’s been a bit, but I’ve been crammed with school and busy learning all about nutrition and healthy eating so that I can have more to share with all of you!

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is juicing.  There are tons of juice cleanses (looking at you Blue Print Cleanse) that sound amazing and healthy, but are extremely expensive and way out of my budget as a grad student.  I’ve talked to several of my friends who use apps on their phone for juice cleanses and then there’s the research I’ve been doing online to learn what I can about the juice craze.

So what I’m trying to figure out is juicing just another fad diet?  Or do you think it has actual health benefits?  I bought a juicer (originally as a means to make fun juices for sorbets this summer-thinking about ginger especially) but I’m really liking the idea of a cleanse as we move out of winter and into spring.

So if you have an experience with juicing, I’d love to know!  Did you just do juice? Or a mixture of juice and solids?  Have you had a bad experience with juicing?  Please share!

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Vegetable Rankings

I found this on Buzzfeed and thought it was pretty cool and very relevant to everything I write about on here.  Apparently, an organization called Food Day, which does some pretty awesome things like host the annual Food Day (it’s October 24), make a ranking of the best vegetables to eat based on nutritional bang for your buck.  They considered calories, Vitamin K, Lutein, Vitamin C, Potassium and Fiber and from that, came up with a score and a rating system.  (If you’re wondering what Lutein is, its a carotenoid that’s important for your vision).  Those that scored about 150 on the Food Day scale are considered “Superstars.”

So, these are the top 5 Superstars according to Food Day:

  1. Kale
  2. Spinach, raw and cooked
  3. Collard Greens
  4. Swiss Chard
  5. Turnip Greens

These aren’t suprising, but the lesson to learn here is that eating a lot of greens is important.  You can work greens into just about every meal you’re eating whether it’s by sneaking spinach into your breakfast smoothie or your scrambled eggs, by making a salad out of baby kale or by lightly sauteing swiss chard and turnip greens with kidney beans for dinner.  Just make sure you get your greens!

And these are the least healthy vegetables according to Food Day:

  1. Onions
  2. Radishes
  3. White Button Mushrooms
  4. Shiitake Mushrooms
  5. Spaghetti Squash

The first four on this list weren’t too surprising, they’re light-colored vegetables and usually the color denotes a high nutrient content.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be eating them.  You just shouldn’t rely on these vegetables for all of you nutrient intake.  Spaghetti squash was a little surprising to me though.  According to Food Day’s chart, the only reason to be eating spaghetti squash is the fiber content.  It’s still a good substitute for pasta though which is very low in fiber (and calories)

So, did you see any vegetables on the list that surprised you?  Let me know!

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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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Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce and Lentils

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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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Superbowl and Thanksgiving: America’s Holidays?

School is definitely more overwhelming than I was expecting.  Between Organic Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, Community Nutrition and Food Productions Systems, not to mention all of the labs and group projects involved, I am definitely feeling challenged.  In a good way.  My days working 9-5 were monotonous and incredibly boring, so I am thrilled that I am having the opportunity to learn so much.

One thing I did learn is a pretty frightening statistic about the Superbowl.  Apparently, Americans, on average, consume just as many calories on Superbowl Sunday as they do on Thanksgiving.  That’s upwards of 1200 calories, for just one meal, for just one person.  That’s crazy. If you think about it, a net intake of 1200 calories is what someone on a diet should be eating, over the course of one day.  1200 calories is about 6 miles of running, for a 180 pound person, just to put things even more into perspective.

Pretty much every Superbowl party I saw posted on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook had a fantastic spread of food, and very little of it was healthy.  There were chicken wings, chips, salsa, pizza, etc.  Even after doing a quick Google search of “healthy Superbowl foods” all I found were articles telling me to bake chicken wings instead of fry them, and to make dips with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  This is what we consider “healthy?”

It says a lot about the state of a nation when we focus two major “holidays” on stuffing our faces with unhealthy, fatty, highly-processed foods.  Why can’t Superbowl Sunday be about spending time with friends and family, but being able to eat delicious food that’s actually good for you?  There certainly isn’t a shortage of it (at least not in this country anyway), so why can’t roasted vegetables be on the menu for Superbowl Sunday?  Why is it that the only vegetables served are meant to be dipped in Ranch dressing?

I think it’s time we stepped back as a country and thought through our priorities.  We’re facing such high rates of obesity, and it’s no surprise; we actually have holidays where we celebrate stuffing our faces with food until we can’t possibly move.  That’s not to say we can’t enjoy things like chicken wings every now and then, but we can enjoy them in SMALL amounts, not massive quantities that make us feel sick to our stomachs.  We certainly don’t need entire holidays dedicated to celebrating that “sick-to-your-stomach” feeling either.

So what do you think?  Leave the Superbowl holiday alone or is it part of a bigger problem?

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Book Review: Power Foods for the Brain

I think Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia is the scariest disease out there.  My grandmother and step-grandmother both suffered from dementia and the thought of ever getting it terrifies me.  Dementia means forgetting who you are, where you’ve been, who you love and even what you love.  You turn into someone else, and you can’t remember anything, even if the event happened less than a minute prior.

Because of this fear, and because I have a history of dementia in my family, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the causes of dementia and any possible ways to prevent it from seizing hold of me.  I came across Dr. Neil Barnard’s Power Foods for the Brain at the Cambridge Public Library and decided to read it, to see what he has to say about what I can be doing better to prevent the onset of dementia.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Barnard recommends a three-pronged approach to preventing the onset of dementia.  These three steps include eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and high in fiber and other nutrients, regular exercise, and brain stimulation through games, social interaction or reading.  These shouldn’t be too ground-breaking to anyone since these are basic tenets of a healthy life.

Where Dr. Barnard does take an innovative approach is in the nutrition section.  He heavily recommends an animal-free diet, including the elimination of fish and dairy as well as the avoidance of any kind of multi-vitamin that contains minerals.  He argues that fish has similar fats to other meats, and while they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, that we can get those fatty acids from plant-based sources.  He also points out the fish are often full of dangerous chemicals such as mercury which can deposit in the brain and could lead to the onset of dementia.  Similarly, minerals in multi-vitamins are often way above the recommended daily allowance, and he says minerals like Aluminium especially could form harmful deposits in the brain.  If you follow his animal-free diet, he recommends to take a vitamin that either only contains B vitamins or contains no minerals to make sure you get B12.

If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out his book.  It’s an easy read and the last third or so of the book is a set of menus that follow his recommended nutrition plan.

Let me know if you’ve read this book or if you’ve been reading any other great books on health and nutrition that you think I should check out!

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