Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bring back that after-school snack…

Remember when you were a kid and you would come home from school starving? I always went straight for something to tide me over until dinner. Now as adults, we somehow ignore these hunger instincts because we feel guilty about eating in between meals. As a result, we are so famished at meal times that we pick our meals with our eyes rather than our stomachs…not to mention we eat so fast that we are definitely eating way more than we should.

Stop this vicious cycle by SNACKING. Research has shown that the ideal meal plan is 3 moderately sized meals with 2-3 small snacks per day, just like when we were kids.

Why have you done a good thing?

1) Assists with weight loss – Counterintuitive as it may be, eating more can help you lose weight or stay thinner. By curbing your hunger before meals, you avoid binge eating or overindulging at meal times. Snacking also provides us with a steady structured meal plan, which helps us make healthier choices throughout the day.

2) Blood sugar control - Well-planned healthy snacks keep your blood sugar and metabolism steady throughout the day. When we don’t eat for hours, our metabolisms, as well as our blood sugars plummet. Once we eat, we send our blood sugars way up, like a rollercoaster. This can cause excess fat storage, especially if we are overindulging in carbohydrates.

3) Improves vitamin and mineral intake – Studies have shown that eating in between meals increases nutrient intake, improving calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and mono and polyunsaturated fat intake.

4) Sustain energy – Everyone needs energy to make it through the day, your workout, or athletic event. Snacking helps fuel our bodies for our next activities or recover from exercise.

OK, so what can I snack on?

When choosing snacks, make sure you are always making a “mini-meal” with a protein, carbohydrate and a fat for optimal nutrition. The fresher the snack is the better, but if purchasing prepackaged snacks, keep calories for each snack to less than 250 calories per serving. Aim to eat every 3-5 hours, depending on your meal size and activity levels. Listen to your body and eat when you are hungry. If your hungry after only 2 hours after a meal, always check to make sure that you are not just thirsty by drinking some water or seltzer first. Store snacks at the office, your car, and in your day bag for easy, convenient snacking!

Go-to well-balanced snack ideas:

1) Chopped carrots/peppers with hummus

2) hard-boiled egg with fresh veggies

3) Low-fat cottage cheese with berries

4) Edamame with a pinch of salt

5) ¼ cup of mixed nuts (including almonds, walnuts, peanuts) with an apple

6) ½ sandwich with natural peanut butter (no partially hydrogenated oils) and banana

7) Greek or unsweetened low-fat yogurt with a high fiber cereal, like Kashi Go Lean Crunch (Choose cereals that are 3g fiber or higher per serving)

8) Unsweetened cooked oatmeal with nuts

9) Low-fat string cheese melted over whole-wheat crackers like Wheat thins

For those of us who do snack already and are getting bored with our choices, here are some great new snack recipe ideas:

Cheesy Popcorn – 2 servings

4 cups air popped popcorn

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cayenne pepper – to taste

Toss all ingredients together to taste!

Baked Chickpeas – 4 servings

1, 15-ounce can of low-sodium chickpeas

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon all spice

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Rinse off chickpeas and pat dry. Toss chickpeas in a bowl with other ingredients. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Not-Your-Average Hummus Dip – 6 servings

8 ounces frozen shelled edamame

¼ cup of water

2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp tahini

1 clove minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon salt

Optional hot sauce to taste

Cook edamame per packaging. Blend all ingredients together in food processor until smooth. Serve with whole wheat crackers or veggies!

Almond Honey Power Bar – 8 servings

Adapted from

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds

1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal, such as Kashi 7 grain puffed cereal

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1)Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.

2) Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, currants, apricots and raisins; toss to combine.

3) Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

4) Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8 bars.

Happy Snacking!!!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ridin' Solo with Monounsaturated Fats...

These days, you can’t talk nutrition without hearing some mention of the “Omega-3’s”. Don’t get me wrong, they really are fantastic (as we’ve previously blogged), its just that while these polyunsaturated fats are getting all of the attention, another disease-fighting group, the monounsaturated fats, may be getting overlooked. And trust me, they really do deserve some stage time!

Monounsaturated fatty acids have only 1 double bond, as opposed to their counterparts that have multiple double bonds (hence, poly). They are loaded with nutrients that help our cells develop and keep them strong. They usually go hand-in-hand with another disease-fighter, the antioxidant vitamin E. These SOLO fats can help reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol circulating in our blood and have their own disease-fighting properties, aiming straight at heart disease and strokes.

So where can we find these loners?

Great sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, certain oils (think avocado, olive, peanut, canola), and many nuts and seeds (think pine, pumpkin, sunflower). Many supermarkets and some convenient stores may have one or more of these ingredients, but for the greatest selection, check out Whole Foods or Trader Joes. This past weekend, I went crazy on the nut and seed isle at Whole Foods- I got sunflower seeds, soy nuts, pine nuts, and a nut-and-seed trail mix (all un-salted). I store each separately (in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation) and mix them together, as needed, to total ¼ of a cup per serving for a great monounsaturated-filled snack.

How much fat do we need?

Current recommendations say to consume 25-35% of our total daily calories from fat (mostly unsaturated). But what does that mean? For the average 2000 Kcal per day diet, this comes out to 500-700 calories from fat or 55-78 grams of fat per day (FYI 1 Tbsp olive oil has about 120 calories and 14g fat- about 11 monounsaturated). Translation- we should eat about 2-3 servings of oils/nuts/seeds per day, depending on our other fat intake.

Why have you done a good thing?

Olive oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts may help lower the risk of age-related eye disease due to their monounsaturated fat content. They are powerhouses- fighting heart disease, inflammation, and cell damage!

Recipe ideas: Make your own trail mix to snack on, including sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and any dried fruits of your choice! Remember, a serving is ¼ cup. Instead of salad dressing, drizzle some EVOO and balsamic over greens. Switch up your baking routine by using nut flour and oil rather than white flour and butter or change up your PB&J with Trader Joe's Sunflower Butter.

Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats (yea!) and also have a number of other vitamins and minerals including vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, vitamin E, and vitamin A. Combined, these nutrients help our vision, heart, blood clotting ability, metabolism, and help fight off oxidative damage to our cells. Avocados get their pigment, or color, in part from Lutein, an antioxidant that helps ward off some serious illnesses! As we can see, there are so many nutrients packed into this green “fruit”, it is clearly a nutrient-dense choice and a great Bang for your Bite!

Recipe ideas: Use avocado to make guacamole, add it to your favorite salad, use it as a sandwich condiment instead of mayonnaise, or as a butter replacement in many recipes! Avocados can be used in so many ways, even eaten by itself for a heart-healthy, brain-enhancing, fiber-filling snack (just ask my 1 year cousin, Nate, he loves them!) But remember, one serving size is ¼ of an avocado which equals 80 calories, 7g fat (mostly monounsaturated), 1g protein, 3.5g fiber.

Is your grilled chicken usually Ridin’ Solo? Add an Avocado Salsa for the perfect pair!


-1 avocado

-1 tomato (try a more exotic (perhaps yellow) tomato from the Farmers Market!)

-1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed limejuice (give it a roll before you slice it for optimal juiciness)

-¼ garlic powder

-Salt and pepper, to taste.

-Cilantro (optional 1-2 Tbsp)

Roughly chop the avocado and tomato. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.

*For a spicy salsa, add 1/4 or 1/2 of a seeded jalapeno pepper.

Grill the chicken as desired (you can marinate it in salad dressing or just season with salt and pepper and cook with a little monounsaturated-filled olive oil). Serve salsa on top of grilled chicken and add a side salad for a great meal!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Making light of fasting…the healthy way….

As some of us are already dreading, this Saturday is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for us Jews. This is the Day of Atonement, or the one- shot deal to repent for all of our sins we did this year. However, in order to truly symbolize our remorse, we fast for a full day to concentrate solely on our repentance.

As a nutritionist, this fasting tradition goes against all my training and clinical instincts. However, as a Jew, this day is a necessary for my faith. To reconcile with my two halves, here are some tips to make it through the fast. A few days before and especially the day before:

1) Avoid dehydration. The biggest problem with fasting is dehydration. Avoid salty foods, drink at least 8 glasses of water, as well as lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

2) Avoid caffeine. Switch to decaffeinated coffee, or slowly lower the number of cups you drink per day to reduce your addiction and avoid dehydration from caffeine. Do not cut yourself from caffeine the day of, as this will cause a massive headache!!

3) Focus on complex carbohydrates. Just like athletes carbohydrate-load before an event for better performance, you need a lot of energy stores to make it through a fast. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are complex carbohydrates, which are great for carbohydrates stores for energy. Although we also need to eat proteins and fats as well, these nutrients do not provide the energy storage. So make sure you indulge in carbohydrate heavy, but healthy meals and snacks!

4) Check with your doctor about prescription medications and medical conditions. Some medications or conditions may not be conducive to fasting so check with your doctor first.

5) Don’t overeat. Overeating lead to dehydration as your body uses a lot of water to process the foods eaten. Eating too much too quickly will also cause your blood sugar to rise quickly causing you to be hungry faster!

6) Take it easy. Do not overexert yourself to conserve energy and therefore energy stores.

***Note: These tips can be applied to you athletes as well before events, not just us repenting Jews!!

After the fast....

The meal after the fast is most often a glutinous meal filled with all of our favorite breakfast dishes. Bagels, lox, cream cheese, blintzes, yum yum!! Another major food group at break-fast are eggs. Know that you can enjoy your whole eggs (not just egg-whites) as eggs are a healthy, balanced part of a diet in moderation.

Why have you done a good thing?

Despite recalls and outdated research giving eggs a bad wrap, eggs are one of the most nutritious foods we have. Decades of research have now shown that eggs have limited effect on your cholesterol. Some studies have shown that eggs may reduce blood pressure, as well as reduce cholesterol by increasing the size of LDL cholesterol, making LDL cholesterol less likely to cause heart disease.

Eggs are also the most bio-available and complete form of protein. Meaning, eggs are unmatched as a balanced source of protein necessary for life and preserving muscle strength. One egg provides 5.5 g protein and only 74 calories. This is a healthy protein to include in your diet for weight management.

Eggs are loaded with vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants that prevent macular degeneration and promote eye health. Eggs also have choline, a vitamin that is essential for brain health and reduces inflammation, reducing the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Choline is also essential in pregnant women for fetal brain development and prevention of birth defects. Unfortunately, choline deficiencies are amongst the most common nutrient deficiencies. Luckily, eggs yolks are the richest source of choline among foods, followed closely by soybeans. 2 large eggs provide 252 milligrams of choline, which is a little less than half your daily recommended intake (550 milligrams per day for men, 425 milligrams per day for women).

How can I eat eggs healthily?

Quiche is a perfect dish to incorporate this super food and vegetables into your diet. It’s easy to make ahead of time and store in the fridge, making it great for the holidays. Although traditionally very caloric and heavy, this healthy twist on this French dish is a very nutritious and light dish great for brunch, lunch or dinner!

Potato-Crusted Quiche

Serves 8

½ pound of potatoes, peeled and shredded (suggest Yukon Gold or experiment with sweet potatoes!!)

3 ½ teaspoons olive oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

1 onion, diced

1.5 cups of broccoli

3 large eggs

1 cup skim milk

1 ounce Gruyere cheese, shredded

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a pie pan with ½ teaspoon of olive oil. Toss the shredded potatoes with 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Press an even layer into the pie dish, up the sides like a crust. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

2) Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Sautee onions and broccoli in remaining 2 teaspoons of oil until softened. Let cool slightly.

3) Whisk together eggs and milk. Spread the vegetable mixture even into pie dish on crust. Top with cheese. Pour egg mixture on top.

4) Bake until firm around edges but wobbly in middle, around 20 minutes. Let cool and served warm or at room temperature. **Suggest serving with a simple side salad of spinach and radishes with a light oil and vinegar dressing.

Have an easy fast everyone!! Remember to hydrate and eat complex carbohydrates after your fast as well!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Tour of Mexico City...One Bite at a Time

I recently spent two weeks in Mexico City and have come home with many things. A jacket for one, as it was quite chilly there; some cool jewelry, a much harder stomach (after a week of battle), and last but certainly not least…a true passion for Mexican Cuisine!

I had the opportunity to take a food tour from Lesley Tellez, owner of Eat Mexico (, a food tour company based in Mexico City. She took my boyfriend and me for a tour of the Tianguis Market- a traveling food market that dates back to Aztec times. They have a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, dairy, and meat, in addition to some crafts and home-goods. Following the wonderful tour was a cooking lesson, where we learned how to make many great dishes including guacamole and “Tacos de Acelga” aka Swiss Chard Tacos (that’s right- a healthy taco does exist!)

So what did we find?

Along with the more typical Mexican fruits and vegetables i.e. avocados, plantains, limes, etc., I discovered some items that I have never seen before…Cactus (fruit and vegetable), Chayote, and Poblano peppers, to name a few. Even more fun was seeing some new varieties of some old favorites: red bananas, and multi-colored avocados! These avocados were so delicious, it is no wonder that they keep them all for themselves (they don’t export them)!

Why have you done a good thing?

Cactus “Nopales”- This is the vegetable part of the cactus, also known as cactus pads. The fruit part of cactus is called “Prickly Pear”, “Cactus Fruit”, or “Tuna Fruit”. They are originally from Mexico but can now be found growing in California, as well, from September to May. When the Nopales are cooked, they taste like a combination of roasted green peppers and okra. In Mexico City, I saw them used as a topping for enchiladas, a filling for quesadillas, and as the star ingredient of a Nopales Taco. Cactus has sterols (compounds found naturally in the cell membrane of plants- works to help excrete cholesterol from the body), polyphenols (responsible for giving plants, fruits, and vegetables colors- antioxidant properties), and glycoproteins (helps with our immune system), along with some fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. Cactus has been studied to lower cholesterol, help control blood sugars, and even as a “Hangover Helper”!

Nutrition Info: Cactus Pads “Nopales”, serving size 1 pad

10 calories, 0.1g fat, 0.7g fiber

Nutrition Info: Cactus Fruit, serving size 1 fruit

61 calories, 1g fat, 14g Carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber, 1g protein.

Chayote: This Native Mexican plant produces two forms of the vegetable: prickly and smooth (not much difference except that you can eat the skin of the smooth). The chayote is part of the squash family and can be substituted for summer squash in any recipe. Besides the delicious taste, we love this vegetable for its nutrient-density (meaning the most amount of nutrients for the least amount of calories). One cup of chayote is only 38 calories and containes vitamin C, potassium, calcium, folate, and fiber (working together to help immune system, muscle contraction, bone strength, brain, and digestion)- so yes, you guessed it… a great Bang for your Bite!

Nutrition Info: serving size one cup:

38 calories, 0.8g fat, 8g carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber, 1g protein

*Eat Chayote raw in a salad or easily cook by boiling whole, with skin on, until soft (about 45 minutes and until you can easily stick a kife in it). It can also be grilled, broiled, or steamed.

Poblano pepper: This is considered the Mexican version of the US “Bell Pepper” because it is found in abudance all over Mexico (originating from the town Pueblo, for which it was named). I got to see it in two forms: fresh and dried. When it is dried, it is called Ancho chile, and is used in the traditional Mexical Mole sauce. Poblano peppers are the star ingredient in the popular Mexican dish “Chiles Rellenos” and can be used in the fresh or dried form (although Iprefer using the fresh!) The poblano pepper is naturally spicy butcan become mild when the seeds are removed. We love this vegetable for its vitamin C content (1 pepper has almost all you need for the day!) Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can also help in certain types of wound healing. In addition, it is a low –calorie food, like chayote and catus, making it another great Bang for your Bite!

Nutrition Info: Serving size is 1 pepper

17 calories (that’s about it!)

Where can I find these items?

While many of these great items are native to Mexico, we can get most of them right here in New York! Order Poblano peppers from Fresh Direct (, or go to Whole Foods Market to find Poblano peppers and Chayote. For many Mexican ingredients, including Cactus “Nopales”, head over to Essex Farm Fruits and Vegetables, 120 Essex Street, New York, NY. In addition, you can likely find many of these items at specialty markets throughout the city.

So go ahead and buy these strange looking foods when you come across them…you will now know all about their health benefits, and better yet, you will know what to do with them!

How to make Chiles Rellenos: step-by-step instructions (with pictures)!

You will need (use as many peppers as you would like, 1 pepper serves 1):
-Poblano Peppers

-Rice (brown), cooked (make 1 cup of rice for up to 10 peppers, using about 2 spoonfuls of cooked rice for each pepper) *Can also add in ½ cup cooked carrots and onions to the rice for a veggie-filled pepper.

-Manchego cheese (lite), sliced *about 2 slices for each pepper

-Eggs (4 eggs will cover about 6 pepeprs)

-Tomato sauce (low-sodium)

-Olive Oil (start with 2 Tablespoons and adjust as you cook to keep pan coated)

1) Char Pepper on flame-burner or broil in oven until completely blackened

2) Place in plastic bag and seal, wrap in dishtowel to keep heat in, about 15 minutes) * Tip: cook rice while peppers are steaming to save time

3) Remove peppers from bag and let cool for a few minutes before peeling off outer (chared) skin. *Tip: if you are having trouble getting the skin off, try running the pepper under cold water

4) Make a vertical slit on one side of the pepper, from the stem down to the bottom, and remove all seeds and inedible portions.

5) Stuff pepper with rice and slices of cheese, re-connect slit by pulling open part together and weaving a toothpick through both sides.

6) Separate eggs, preserving yolks for later use. Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer or by hand until stiff peaks form. Next, fold in the egg yolks.

7) Submerge the pepper in the egg mixture and coat well on all sides

8) Heat olive oil in a pan and cook on med-high heat (one pepper at a time) until browned on all sides; transfer to paper towel to drain off excess oil.

9) Once all peppers are cooked, place them in a pot and add tomato sauce; cook on low heat until ready to serve; serve hot over rice witha fresh salad!

Not in the mood to cook? Find Chiles Rellenos near you, using the Menu Pages find-a-food feature.