Friday, October 21, 2011

Posted Calorie Counts in Restaurants--Does it Influence Your Decisions?

So lately, I have been not very good about bringing my lunch to work. As a result, I ended up with lunch from Panera yesterday. To me, Panera did not feel like a bad choice for lunch. Their ingredients seem fresh and there are lots of sandwiches that have good veggies on them. I ordered my sandwich, selecting the Roasted Turkey Artichoke on Foccacia with Artichoke. After I ordered my sandwich, I noticed it was 780 calories. Now I am not a calorie counter, I just actively try to eat healthy every day, but this was shocking to me! I always picture Panera as a healthier choice than McDonald’s, but it is hardly any better. If you order an entire sandwich, the lowest amount of calories clocks in at a 420, with a CafĂ© style smoked turkey sandwich, with really nothing very special about it. I could make something similar at home for half the calories and it would be cheaper too—which is one more reason I need to make my lunch and bring it from home.

So today, because of that calorie display rather than going to Panera or any restaurant for that matter, I went to the grocery store and chose some Progresso vegetable soup with a side salad. When a restaurant posts the amount of calories on their menu, does it influence your decision?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Green Monster Smoothies!

Maybe I am slow on the uptake, but I just heard about these! Apparently they are all the rage and have been making the rounds in the blogosphere. Well in case you are like me and you haven't heard--what exactly are Green Monster Smoothies? Green Monsters typically contain a leafy green like spinach and kale, some sort of fruit, a milk product (cow, soy, almond), and maybe some ice. I made one on Saturday with my eight-year-old cousin who had just gotten finished with three hours of gymnastics. I knew she needed a healthy lunch and I also thought she might get a kick out of making a Green Monster smoothie around Halloween. She helped me measure out the spinach, she peeled the banana, she added a small amount of blueberries and poured the milk in the blender. She was also happy to push the buttons on the blender and watch it go from salad to smoothies Then she happily drank one serving of vegetables and two servings of fruit! I was pretty impressed that she was willing to try to it considering spinach is not a typical smoothie ingredient. Since then, I have made my own batch of Green Monster smoothies. Below I will include the most basic recipe and then the one I made the other day.  The picture below is the smoothie I made with my cousin--it has two blueberry eyes and an apple mouth.


Basic Green Monster
2 cups of fresh spinach
1 1/4 cup of milk
1 ripe banana
ice if you want to add it

Put the spinach in the the blender first, followed by the banana and then pour the milk over it. Blend until you achieve the desired consistency.

Rachel's Green Monster (double batch)
4 cups of fresh spinach
2 cups of milk
6 oz of plain Greek yogurt
1 bag of Dole frozen strawberries, bananas and peaches (bag contains about 3 cups of fruit)
1 Tbs of ground flaxseeds
1 Tbs of honey

I used a food processor, which I actually prefer to a blender, but of course a blender works and is more inexpensive. I added the yogurt for creaminess some extra protein and some probiotics. I used frozen fruit because the bananas at the grocery store were still green and I also love strawberries and peaches.  The flaxseeds add some Omega-3s and fiber and the honey is for sweetness. I love this smoothies--it is such a great way to get your vegetable and fruit servings in plus iron, protein, Vitamin A, calcium and many more nutrients! I made a double batch (about 4-6 smoothies maybe), had one and froze the rest to drink throughout the week.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PSA: Do You Believe Everything You Read on the Internet?

I like to know what I eat. I often hear health claims about certain foods, and I like to research the health claims further.  Blueberries are apparently a super-food that can improve brain health and memory.  Oatmeal might lower your cholesterol and flaxseeds might be an anti-inflammatory. On the negative side—cow’s milk might cause autoimmune disorders and digestive problems.  Soy, since it has estrogen like properties,  could be inducing early puberty in children and might cause infertility in women.

You may notice that I use words such as “might,” “could” and “apparently.”  The reason for my language is—I am not a scientist or a doctor. I do not know with any certainty whether the claims above are true and I am not going to act like I am an expert and tell you what you should and should not eat. Yes, I might try to eat a few more blueberries and may try to avoid soy and I might even have some personal views based on my own research, but I am not going to share them here because the fact of the matter is, I don’t know. I also find many of these claims to be fickle—it was just a few years ago that soy was supposedly the greatest thing ever and was touted as the explanation for the long lives of people in Asia.

Why do I share this with you? Because in doing research, I came across countless blog posts by people with no scientific knowledge making health claims about food as if the claims were the absolute truth.  If I did find links back to “the research,” the links were often to sites that in my opinion have no scientific credibility as “the research” was definitely not from a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  This is problematic and potentially dangerous.  It is like Michele Bachmann saying that the HPV vaccine caused retardation in a teenager—it causes fear and it causes people to make choices that they otherwise would not. For instance, if you cut dairy out of your diet because of a mommy blogger’s claim that cow’s milk is not meant for humans and that it will cause hormonal problems*—I sincerely hope you have done your research in replacing the calcium, protein, potassium and Vitamin B12 that you are no longer getting from dairy.  My worry is that people do not do their research and that they are making rash decisions due to ill-informed people on the internet. I think what some of these bloggers are doing is actually dangerous.

I don’t know about you, but I choose science. I choose to believe the people that had their research published in peer-reviewed journals. I choose to believe the people that are giving information based on much more than just anecdotal evidence.  I choose to believe people that go beyond “correlation implying causation.” I choose to believe the people that know far more than I could ever hope to in their chosen fields.  Maybe science is slow. Maybe scientists make mistakes.  For these reasons—I also choose caution when I hear something about a food that gives me pause. However, I do not choose to go espouse my views on the internet as if they were the absolute truth.

*I am not linking to the blog or blogs in question, as I do not want to draw more traffic to what amounts to an unsubstantiated claim about a food.

Tomatoes With Cottage Cheese

Who knew that an article about fast food would inspire me to make a healthy snack? The point of the article is that Americans are choosing the most calorie and fat laden items on the menu even when they have healthier options like apple slices, turkey burgers, oatmeal and fruit smoothies.  The article mentioned Wendy's attempt at being healthy about two decades ago--tomato halves filled with cottage cheese. Well--it might not have taken off at Wendy's but I definitely enjoyed it.  I had one tomato half with dinner and the other got brought to work for lunch.  I just scraped the seeds out, filled it with cottage cheese and topped it with pepper and a bit of fresh dill. Yum!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Healthy Loaded Nachos

Did I just say “healthy” and “loaded” in the title of this post? How can that be? These nachos are loaded with toppings and are not bad for you if you keep the cheese to a minimum and use ground turkey. This recipe can either be a late night snack after a night out, an appetizer to share, or maybe even dinner. It is based off of Rocco’s recipe in this cook book, but  I departed from it quite a bit—I could not find black bean dip, so I just decided I would use whatever I wanted for the nacho toppings.  I did try to make it healthy and I have to admit they tasted great.  I loved that each little “scoop” was already loaded with nacho filling.  I absolutely hate when you get to the bottom of a nacho plate and there are a bunch of dry chips with no toppings left.  This recipe solves that problem!

2-3 handfuls of multi-grain Tostitos “Scoop” tortilla chips (I just covered a baking sheet)
8 oz ground turkey
½ packet of taco seasoning (cook turkey according to instructions on back)
1 cup of black bean & corn salsa (or whatever salsa you like)
½ cup black beans
1/3 cup chopped jalapenos (I used ones from the jar)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup fat free Greek yogurt

1)      Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.

2)      In a frying pan, heat ground turkey, following the instructions on the back of the taco seasoning packet (don’t forget to ½ the amount of water since you are using ½ the seasoning). In the meantime, take your scoop chips and place them on the baking sheet with the flat side down, so you can easily fill the scoops with nacho fillings

3)  Once the turkey is done, add the salsa, black beans, and jalapenos and simmer until bubbling. Let cool slightly and then scoop the mixture into the scoops.

4)  Sprinkle each scoop with a bit of cheese.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 6 minutes. Let cook a bit and then dip in Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Product Recommendation: Oat Revolution

Well—the time has come in my life where I can no longer justify a Luna bar for breakfast. As much as I love them, now that I find myself sitting at a desk in the morning rather than listening to a lecture, I have time to make oatmeal for breakfast. I can hardly think of a breakfast food that is healthier, more convenient or easier to eat at work than oatmeal.  I typically use the Quaker Instant Oats that come in little packets—but I started to rethink purchasing them when I saw so many different varieties that I was spending time contemplating whether to purchase the “Lower Sugar” or the “High Fiber” variety. Oatmeal should not be so complicated—which is why I chose Oat Revolution. Here is why I am sold on Oat Revolution:

The ingredient list is pretty tiny considering it is a packaged food, meaning that it probably is not loaded with weird chemicals.  Yes, there are some artificial flavors and something called guar gum—but hey, it is convenient and there is bound to be some trade-offs.  Regardless—it is 10x better than the ingredient list of Quaker Instant Oats.

I love the packaging—it comes in a narrow box that is fairly small, which makes it great for storing, no matter the size of your workspace.  Five packets come in a box, which makes the box perfect for the work week. Additionally, the packet the oatmeal comes in also acts like a measuring vessel for the water, so you do not needlessly dirty more dishes or be forced to estimate how much water to use.

The texture of the oatmeal is great. It does not feel like hot water dumped on rolled oats, but has a quality that makes you feel like it was labored over for quite some time.  The oatmeal contains flaxseeds, which are both great for you and add to the texture, giving it a bit more substance.  The flavor, I have to admit is a bit strong for my taste.  I have tried both the “Strawberries & Cream” and “Maple & Brown Sugar” variety and both were overwhelmingly strawberry and maple flavored, and maybe a bit sweet. I would prefer a more subtle flavor, but I still like it enough to purchase it and make it my go-to breakfast.

So until I make a big batch of steel cut oats—this is the best solution I have for a decent breakfast.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Deviled Eggs--The Appetizer That Will Never Fail You

It is funny the things you inherit from your mother.  For instance, I have to use Dawn dish soap and Tide for my laundry.  If I drink pop, it is Diet Coke and not Diet Pepsi.  I like my coffee black, I refuse to use margarine, and am liberal with the EVOO.  These are all things that I am pretty sure are learned behaviors that I picked up from my mom.  There are two other behaviors that fall in this category--I dislike making appetizers and desserts.  I will make a salad, a side dish or a main course--but ask me to bring an appetizer and the first person I call is my cousin Sarah, who is the appetizer expert. 

However, there is one appetizer that never comes to mind right away and that is deviled eggs.  The recipe below is the most simple version--but be creative with them.  You can add chopped capers, olives of sweet pickles. You can soak the hard boiled eggs in beet juice and bring them to watch the Vikings, who will hopefully win one of these days.  You can add different kinds of mustard and add different herbs.  They are pretty versatile and hey, if you mess them up, at least eggs are cheap.

6 hard boiled eggs (put eggs in pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, let sit for 17 minutes, drain and rinse in cool water)
1/4 cup mayonaise (substitute with Greek yogurt & 1 Tbs. of vinegar)
1-2 Tbs. of chopped green onions
1 tsp. of dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

1) Peel your hard boiled eggs, slice and remove the yolk, scraping it in a small bowl.  Repeat until all eggs are sliced in half.  Place the egg halves on a place.
2) Mix the egg yolk with the mayo, onion, mustard and add salt & pepper to taste.  Mix until creamy.
3) At this point, you can either spoon the mixture into the egg halves (I recommend a baby spoon), use a pastry bag to make it look pretty, or use a ziploc bag with the corner cut off to fill the egg halves.  Distribute evenly between the egg halves and then sprinkle with paprika.