Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It’s Time for a Round Up: Trick or Treating Style

Whoever says Halloween is just for children has not lived in NYC. Halloween is taken very seriously here, from people dressing up in costumes to go to work to wearing your costume out that night to bars. We even have an annual parade in the West Village dedicated to the spirit of this fabulous holiday! And even though we are technically too old to trick or treat, we are certainly not deprived of our candy fixes.

Is there any nutritional value to candy? Short answer: no. In such, there are many dietitians who will tell you to eat mini pretzel packages or pumpkin seeds on Halloween instead. Right, just like the neighborhood dentist who gave out toothbrushes on Halloween. Really cool.

The conclusion that Sam and I have come to is that clients are not going to avoid candy and neither are we. Here at the Secret Ingredient, we believe that nutrition is all about balance. There are no bad foods, but there certainly are always better choices. Plus, research has shown that indulging every once and a while prevents binge eating.

So on Halloween, just like any other holiday, we give you the go ahead to eat your favorite candy. But, don’t be mistaken; we are not giving you license to eat a King Size Snickers Bar…

1) Stick to the mini or fun size candy bar options. 30 years ago, there was no King, fun, or mini size. Fun size was the only size. Ironically, given the abundance of candy around us, food vendors on Halloween sell portion- controlled packaging. Each Fun Size package contains around 60-100 calories, which is a perfect sweet treat. And even smaller treats are the minis, which contain around 30-50 calories each.

2) Get rid of extra candy. If you get trick or treaters or your kids trick or treat, portion out candy and put the rest away where you can’t see it. But if you don’t have good portion control, save a few pieces of candy and give the rest away at work/school. Halloween is one day – not a month.

3) Avoid sugar free or low carbohydrate options. Don’t be fooled by these choices. These options are lower in sugar but similar in calories and higher in fat. Eat a small amount of the real thing in fun size or mini and truly satisfy your sweet treat craving.

4) Don’t be fooled by organics. We promote organic this and that as much as any dietitians do however candy is another story. Organic sugar is still sugar and as someone very wise once told me “a calorie is a calorie.” However they do avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is one positive for the organic candies. Research has shown that 100g of high fructose corn syrup per day, due to how our bodies breakdown fructose, is linked with the development of type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased abdominal fat.

5) Choose wisely. We all have our favorites. However, you should be informed of what you are eating and some candies are relatively healthier than others. Although we can’t review them all here are a few that we rounded up and compared:

Break me off a piece of that….Kit Kats have never been my personal favorite but many people swear by them. And compared to a lot of other candies they are lower in calories and sugar. And they do not contain trans fats! Fun size: 70 calories, 3.5 g fat, 2.3 g saturated fat, 10 mg sodium, 7 g sugar.

Taste the rainbow…Sorry to all you Skittle lovers out there, but these are not the best choice. Although they are advertised that they are made from juice, Skittles are higher than most in high fructose corn syrup and trans fat. But if they are your absolute favorite, stick to one fun pack and you should avoid a harmful dose of trans fats. Fun pack: 60 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 11 g sugar, and 0 mg sodium

Hungry? Why wait….Always my family’s personal favorite, Snickers also unfortunately contain large amounts of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. However, they also contain peanuts, which means you could argue that there is some nutritional value to this candy bar. But this also means that they will quickly add up to be higher in calories. Fun size: 80 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 9 g sugar, 40 mg sodium

Makes mouths happy…The packaging for Twizzlers on Halloween is unfortunate because the portion they give you makes it higher in calories and sugar than other fun size varieties. In general, however, Twizzlers are a good choice as they are very low in calories and fat comparatively speaking. Fun size: 140 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 18 g sugar, 85 mg sodium.

Get the sensation…Peppermint Patties are a great choice. Low in calories, sodium, and fat, these treats are always packaged in portion controlled sizes. Plus they are trans fat free and always really satisfying. 1 peppermint patty: 50 calories, 1 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 9 g sugar.

Two for me none for you….One of my childhood favorites, Twix, has the big T, trans fat. Although it is lower in sugar than others. Fun size: 80 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 8 g sugar, 30 mg sodium.

Candy corn is so famous it should get a slogan. We haven’t been able to find fun sized packaging on candy corn. Watch out when you see them out on Halloween because they are addictive and extremely high in high fructose corn syrup and calories. The serving size given is 20 pieces or ½ a cup (or 1 palm full if you are out): 150 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 75 mg sodium, 33 g sugar.

Raisinets do not have a slogan…but are definitely a good choice. Each piece actually contains a full raisin, or other varieties that now contain cherries and craisins. Lower in calories and sodium than others it contains nutritional value comparative to other choices. Fun size: 65 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 7 g sugar, 5 mg sodium.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand….Always a debate, peanut, original, almond, peanut butter, and now pretzel varieties of M&Ms, which one is your favorite? For this round up we picked peanut as they seem to be the most popular choice. Impressively, peanut M&Ms are a decent choice. Containing a whole peanut in each candy, they contain healthy fats and protein. No trans fats. Fun size: 90 calories, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fats, 9 g sugar, 10 mg sodium, 3 g protein.

**Note- Peanut butter M&Ms are the only variety to contain trans fats.

There’s no wrong way to eat a Reeses…A favorite to all, Reese’s peanut butter cups are unfortunately one of the highest in calories and fat for just one serving (1 peanut butter cup). And interestingly, holiday shaped Reese’s such as pumpkins for Halloween contain trans fat but original shaping does not (trans fats give processed foods more malleable shapes). So if you can stick to the original shaped Reeses and eat just one it’s not so bad. 1 regular peanut butter cup: 105 calories, 6.5 g fat, 2.25 g saturated fats, 75 mg sodium, 10 g sugar.

**Plus mini Reeses peanut butter cups, although argued by many to not taste as good, are a good choice with better portion control. 1 mini Reeses: 44 calories, 2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 26 mg sodium, 4.6 g sugar.

**FYI: Reese’s pieces contain trans fats.

How many licks does it take….Tootsie Roll Lollipops as well as just plain tootsie rolls contain a lot of trans fats. However, these lollipops are very satisfying, sodium free, and very low in calories comparatively. And if you stick to 1 lollipop it is less than 1g trans fat per serving. 1 lollipop: 60 calories, 0 fat, trace trans fats, 0 saturated fats, 10 g sugar, 0 mg sodium.

A lighter way to enjoy chocolate…Although advertised as the healthier candy bar, 3 muskeeters is still a chocolate bar. However, it is lower in calories per bar and fat per bar than most of its competitors. But it still has a lot of trans fats. Fun size: 60 calories, 2 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 10 g sugar, 25 mg sodium.

And the healthiest options are….Peppermint Patty, Raisinets, and Peanut M&Ms!!

Happy Halloween everyone and enjoy your fun size candy bars guilt-free this year!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wassup with Wasabi?

As an on-the-go New York City dweller, I often like to catch up with my girlfriends over dinner, the whole kill 2 birds with 1 stone thing. We all have to eat, right? It can be challenging to find a restaurant that everyone agrees on, be it the type of cuisine, location, or price point. Debates with my friends often end with the same fabulous choice: Sushi! It is fast, it can be found on almost every block in Manhattan, it can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose, it is healthy, and finally- it is delicious!

One of my favorite things to get at a sushi restaurant (and also one of the healthiest) is a platter of assorted sashimi, which is just slices of plain, raw fish. Often found on my sashimi platter is salmon and tuna, both lean protein and great sources of omega-3s. Along with a dab of low-sodium soy sauce, I love to layer on the Wasabi! In fact I love it so much that I first put wasabi in the soy sauce and then put extra on each piece of fish (adding almost no extra calories).

But maybe for you, wasabi is too spicy on its own, or maybe you just don’t like sushi? No problem! Wasabi can also be enjoyed as wasabi peas, a popular snack item that is available in different levels of spiciness.

**Note: when looking for wasabi peas, try to find ones that have less than 170mg sodium per serving. Whole Foods has one for 120mg per serving and Kasugai Roasted Hot Green Wasabi Peas have 170mg sodium per serving. has a few different varieties of wasabi peas, including Organic Wasabi Green Peas. So do some comparing and remember that with sodium, less is definitely worth more!

Why have you done a good thing?

Contrary to popular belief that wasabi originates as a green paste, the truth is that wasabi is a root vegetable, which grows in the ground. Wasabi is rich in isothiocyanates, chemical compounds also found abundantly in cabbage, watercress, and broccoli, which are filled with health-promoting powers. Preliminary research has linked these compounds to cancer prevention. It is believed that the isothiocyanates activate enzymes in the liver that work to detoxify potential carcinogens (cancerous substances). In addition, wasabi can take pride in its anti-inflammatory properties, which can aim straight at inflammation-induced illnesses such as arthritis. Along with fighting inflammation, wasabi can give a punch at heart disease and strokes by preventing blood clots from forming. Ok, one last proud-parent dote about wasabi…its antibacterial! That means that is has the power to fight off certain infections, including cavities and dental carries in your mouth. And just between you and me, they are now putting wasabi in some hand soaps for this same reason.

So…have we convinced you to take the spicy plunge and enjoy some wasabi? Besides the basic sushi condiment and snack pea, here are some other ideas:

1) Try adding it to mayonnaise or mustard mixtures as a sandwich spread

2) Put it in a marinade for fish or chicken or try Soy Vay’s Wasabi Teriyaki sauce and marinade (be mindful of the serving size with all that sodium!)

3) Add wasabi to a bowl of soba noodles for a slightly spicy broth

4) Create a wasabi-based salad dressing

5) Incorporate it into your next homemade hummus recipe (but just a tad because of the spice factor!).

***Note: Be warned wasabi fans…at some restaurants or stores, “wasabi” can be deceitfully sold as a combination of horseradish, Japanese mustard, green food dye, and cornstarch, Ew! So if you can grate it yourself, great, but if not just make sure that you eat or purchase it a reputable place, maybe even ask them to make sure!

Want to experiment with it at home?

Turning the original wasabi vegetable into the better-known green paste is simple: just grate it!

The only tough part of this recipe is finding a fresh wasabi, and then all it takes is a finecheese grater and some elbow juice. (Make sure to wash and peel it, first)

Not in the mood for a search?

I bet you can find wasabi peas a lot easier (I see them everywhere from supermarkets and Japanese markets, to the local deli and of course, Whole Foods and Trader Joes.)

Rather than the usual sushi pick, one night my friends and I decided to stay in and my friends Jesse and Taryn cooked us this incredible dish that I will share with you…thanks guys! So here’s how to turn this snack into a meal that will leave your guests talking for days (not to mention, leaving them with quite the health boost!)

Wasabi-crusted Seared Tuna

-8 oz fresh sushi grade tuna (Whole Foods and your local fish market should carry this)

-1/4 cup honey (another antibacterial force!)

-2 handfuls of Wasabi Peas

-2 tablespoons Olive Oil

-Salt and pepper

1. Thinly slice the tuna block (the short way and against the grain, about 8-10 pieces) and lightly season tuna with salt and pepper.

2. Place the wasabi peas into a large zip-top bag and smash them with whatever you can find (I have used anything from an actual hammer, to a rolling pin, or a meat pounder, just be careful not to break the bag which will cause a mess).

3. Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat and pour honey and crushed wasabi peas into separate shallow containers.

4. Dip each slice of tuna in the honey to coat on both sides, then cover with crushed wasabi peas and place in skillet.

5. Cook on each side for 1-2 minutes and remove from heat immediately (you want the tuna seared (browned) on the outside and raw (red) in the middle). Repeat with the next three slices. Then add the other tablespoon of olive oil and continue with the last 4 pieces.

Serve along side a salad with some sliced avocado and brown rice for a balanced, scrumptious meal.

***Note: Tuna is high in mercury so limit your intake of tuna to about once per week (sometimes you just need 2 sushi nights). If you are trying to get pregnant or are currently pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid tuna as it is too high in mercury and is not recommended for you. Try this recipe with other sushi grade fish varieties!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

GRAINularity: Rice

Introducing….GRAINularity! For you Secret Ingredient followers, GRAINularity is a new series that will discuss our large variety of grain choices. Hopefully this series will encourage you to experiment and try new grains that you may have heard of somewhere but don’t know what to do with them! But first let’s start with the basics…

As one of the most popular grains in our country, and the most common food around the world, RICE is the go-to side dish for many of us. However, with all the different kinds of rice out there (worldwide there are thought to be more than 40,000 species), how do we know what is actually good for us?

Brown rice – The Nutrition Powerhouse. Yeah, you’ve heard it’s good for you, but why? This rice is a whole grain because it is un-milled, which means unprocessed or how it naturally grows out of the ground. It contains layers called bran, germ, and aleurone layers,which contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. Brown rice also has essential fats and vitamin E from the wheat germ layer, which you can also buy separately. A GREAT BANG FOR YOUR BITE, brown rice comes in long, medium, and short grain varieties, which are all nutritionally the same for you, but will cook to different textures depending on how you like your rice, fluffy or creamy. The longer the grain, the fluffier the rice. And although it takes longer to cook, the rich nutty flavor is well worth the wait.

***Note – Trader Joes cooks and freezes 10 oz packets of Organic brown rice (about 2.5 servings per packet). This way you can eat brown rice and not have wait for it to cook!!!

White rice – What’s the point? This is brown rice that has been processed or milled to remove the bran, germ, aleurone layers. In other words, this is rice that has been stripped of its nutrients, including fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, to extend shelf life. Sometimes manufacturers enrich or add vitamins and minerals back in after processing, but wouldn’t it be better just to eat it before they do all that? Not to mention they cannot add back fiber…

***Exception to the rule - Brown rice sushi has added sugars to it to make the rice stickier. Rather than eating added sugars, in this scenario it's healthier to choose the white rice option. 1 sushi roll = 1 rice serving or 1/2 cup of rice.

Aromatic rice – It depends…Examples include Jasmine rice, native to Thailand, and Basmati rice, originating in India and Pakistan. They are long grains, containing less starch creating a fluffier consistency. Aromatic rice varieties contain a high concentration of volatile compounds, which make them fragrant. They come in both brown and white rice varieties so the nutritional content varies depending on which variety you choose, with the brown rice varieties being considerably higher in nutrients.

Arborio rice – Unfortunately…Originating in Italy, this short grain rice has a higher starch content giving it an extremely creamy consistency. As a white rice variety, Arborio rice has been stripped of its nutrient content. So although it is delicious, restrict your use of Arborio rice to delicacy dishes like risotto or rice pudding.

Wild rice – 2nd runner up Contrary to its name, wild rice is not actually

a member of the rice family. Native to North America, wild rice produces unusually long grains and a complex, distinctive flavor. Although slightly lower in calories than brown rice, it is also slightly lower in fiber and is missing good fats that brown rice contains. However, it is still a whole grain with all nutrient content intact, making it a healthy choice.

Why have you done a good thing?

Despite popular fad diets that say eating carbohydrates is bad for you or will make you gain weight, including whole grains like brown rice in your diet is essential. Brown rice contains fiber, which as we’ve said before, helps keep you full and helps to maintain your weight, regulates your bowel movements, lowers cholesterol, and helps maintain normal blood sugars. It also contains B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, which are needed to create energy for our bodies, maintain skin integrity, regulate nervous systems, and build hormones. Most importantly, brown rice has both the essential vitamin E and selenium that both act as antioxidants protecting our bodies from oxidative damage. Folate is also found in brown rice and is involved in building DNA and other proteins. Folate also is essential for pregnant women to promote a healthy nervous system development in your child.

***The important thing to remember is to control your portions and balance your meals with protein, fat, and whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. An appropriate serving of brown rice at any meal is ½ to 1 cup cooked (1/4 to ½ cup before cooking), which contains about 100-200 calories, 3-6 g protein, 20-40 g carbohydrates, 3-5 g fiber, 1-2 g fat.

Autumnal Rice

Serves 6-8

1 cup short grain brown rice, uncooked or **Note above Trader Joe’s Frozen Organic Brown Rice packets

2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup pine nuts, unsalted

1 butternut squash, cubed

Butternut squash seeds

1 honeycrisp apple, small cubes

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425.

Heat stock to boil and add rice. Stir once when rice is first added. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg. Reduce heat to simmer and cook covered until all liquid has evaporated, about 30-40 minutes.

While rice is cooking, cut the butternut squash length wise, scooping out the middle and preserving the seeds. Rinse seeds and dry. On a baking tray, put squash seeds and pine nuts and bake for 10 minutes or until fragrant. Put aside.

Next, cube the butternut squash and apple and roast at 425 until tender, about 20-30 minutes.

When rice is finished cooking, fluff with a fork and add nuts, seeds, squash, and apple and mix to combine.

**Note – serve along side your favorite chicken or fish dish. For vegetarians, feel free to add chickpeas to this mixture or serve along side tofu!!

Look out for other GRAINularity series to learn about all the wonderful whole grain options available!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's Time For a Round Up: RAISING THE BAR

Remember when you were in grade school, running out the door just in time to catch the bus? What may have followed you out the door was a motherly voice screaming, “don’t forget breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day!” Well, I am sorry to take sides- but she does have a point. Just ask the Frosted Mini-wheat in that Kellogg’s cereal commercial, and he will tell you that he helps students do better in school. This notion of breakfast improving mental capacity is actually based in scientific research. Thus, when faced with the conflict of an on-the-go city dweller and a health-conscience person, there is one great compromise: the Breakfast Bar.

These days, especially in New York City, there are an infinite number of breakfast bars, meal-replacement bars, snack bars, protein bars, etc.- each with their own claim-to-fame. I hate to discriminate- but all bars are not created equally. So let’s break it down... since it is impossible for me to say “yes” and “no” to all the bars out there, instead I will provide you with the tools to evaluate these bars on your own.

When looking at the nutrition label, prioritize! What is most important? Here is the hierarchy that I employ during my bar quests:

  1. Caloriesà It is important to keep in mind what purpose the bar is serving before deciding on an appropriate calorie level. In our case, we are looking at breakfast bars, so calories should be less than 250 for the bar (make sure that the calories you see correspond to 1 serving)
  2. Fiberà Fiber is all the buzz these days, and rightfully so with its nutrition power!Besides calories, fiber is the most important aspect of a breakfast bar: the more fiber in the bar, the longer the bar will keep you full. As a general rule of thumb, look for bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, but the more the merrier!
  3. Fatà While most of the bars that I come across do not have a huge amount of fat, what is more important is looking at the type of fat. In simplest form: saturated and trans- bad; unsaturated- good. Don’t fall into the “no trans fat label trick.” The government allows food companies to list trans fat as zero if the product has less than 0.5 grams per serving. So, read the ingredients carefully and if the bar contains any hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils- ditch it!
  4. Proteinà This is usually the last stop on my bar evaluation, not because protein is not important, but because most Americans (including myself) get way more protein than they need in their typical diet. So in general, look for a bar that has at least 3 grams of protein, but don’t get too caught up onit. Protein, along with fiber, helps to keep us full and also helps stabilize our blood sugar, when couples with fat and complex carbohydrates.

Why have you done a good thing?

Breakfast has been associated with improved brain function and greater attention capacity. A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that breakfast-eaters tend to have a healthier weight and nutrition profile compared to breakfast-skippers. In addition, a lot of these breakfast bars have added vitamins and minerals, a great boost to start off the day. High fiber bars have the power to fight off hunger for hours and can also improve regularity and cholesterol. The “good fats” help fight heart disease and the protein is an added benefit to help us build muscle mass and keep us full.

So let’s meet the contestants…

Coming in at 90 calories, with less than 1g fiber, 1g saturated fat + hydrogenated oils, and 1g protein is Kellogg’s Special K Bar.

Eval: Not worth the 90 calories- you get nothing for it, and trans fat is a deal-breaker.

In the next corner, weighing in at 140 calories, 9g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + 0 trans fat and 2g protein is General Mills’s Fiber One Chewy Bar.

Eval: Love it! For just 140 calories of “chewy deliciousness” (as stated by my younger sister/BFF, Mandi), you get 9g of fiber (1/3 of your daily fiber!) without trans fat and with a little added protein- so you guessed it…a great Bang for your Buck!

Moving along to our next contestant who comes in at 180 calories, 6g fiber, 2g saturated fat + 0 trans fat, and 9g protein is Kashi’s GoLean Cruncy! Protein & Fiber Bar.

Eval: Thumbs up! This is a great meal replacement bar because it has a great balance of fiber and protein, for a reasonable amount of calories and fat.

Coming in at a mere 100 calories, 1g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + hydrogenated oils, and 1g protein is Quaker Chewy Granola Bars

Eval: Not worthy! Yes it is only 100 calories, which sounds great- but what do you get for that? Artery-clogging trans-fat and not a whole lot more.

Next we have KIND Fruit & Nut Bars, clocking in at 190 calories, 2.5g fiber, 1.5g saturated fat + 0 trans fat, 10g monounsaturated + 2g polyunsaturated fat (both great!), and 4g protein. Bonus: thisbar is wheat and gluten free!

Eval: Thumbs up! Why? Because of the “good” fat content and the very short list of ingredients! Although not a fiber powerhouse, it is full of healthy ingredients and a great option for those with Celiac’s or gluten intolerance.

Speaking of fiber powerhouses, our next contestant is just that. Measuring in at 130 calories, 12g fiber, (8 soluble, 4 insoluble), 0g saturated fat + 0g trans fat, and 3g protein is Gnu’s Flavor & Fiber Bar.

Eval: Love, love, love! I can’t say enough about this incredible bar. 12g fiber for 130 calories? No fat?3g protein? Could it be? Yes- and to top it off, this bar comes in a variety of delicious flavors (my personal favorite is Cinnamon Raisin: it really tastes like a cinnamon raisin chewy cookie! Yum!)

In the last corner of the ring, weighing in at 180 calories, 4g fiber, 2g saturated fat + 0g trans fat, and 9g protein is the Luna Bar.

Eval: Eh, it’s right in the middle. It is made with natural ingredients, has no trans fat, and a decent amount of protein, but on the other hand for 180 calories you only get 4g fiber- and 2g saturated fat. This eval I will leave up to you…they do taste great, though!

And the Winner is…

We actually have 2 winners since I can’t decide… GNU FLAVOR & FIBER BAR and Kashi’s GoLean Cruncy! Protein & Fiber Bar- both great BANGS for your BUCK! Try each one and see which one works best for you. Since all of our bodies digest food a little bit differently, it is important to know which bar keeps you full of energy longer.

You can order this Gnu bars online at You can find both bars at health-food stores, drug stores, vitamin shops, and supermarkets (including our favs: Trader Joes and Whole Foods)

**Note: These bars double in cost when sold at drug store such as CVS and Duane Reade so for a bargain, buy them by the box and look for online deals.

You are now a breakfast-bar expert, so no more excuses for skipping breakfast, ok? Keep a box in your fridge at home and at work, along with a few in your day bag, so if you forget to grab a bar during the morning dash out the door, you are covered! They last for over a year- so don’t worry about waste, and enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious breakfast on the go! PS- add a piece of fresh fruit for a truly complete breakfast!