Thursday, June 30, 2011

Food for Thought: When is the last time you really tasted your food?

When is the last time you actually tasted your food?  Sounds like a funny question - but it is a reality in many people's lifestyles. 

What do I mean by this statement?  Let me explain:

How many people take the salt shaker and sprinkle it on your food before they even taste it?   Sounds terrible, but it is a harsh reality in this country. 

The reality is that Americans eat out so much and buy a large amount ready-made, frozen, and processed foods that are manufactured using so much sodium, that our tastebuds are used to high amounts of sodium.  Therefore, the times that we make foods at home, or when we taste our food, we are so sensitive to the level of salt in our food and used to the flavor, that we add more.  For others, it just becomes a habit!

How many people eat their food laden in calorie rich sauces (butter, cheese, et al.) that coats their food so much so that the flavor of the center of the dish is completely masked?  Sure these sauces taste good but beyond their negative health benefits you miss out on the natural flavors of the entree! 

How many people add sweeteners (whether it is sugar or an artificial variety) and/or creams to their beverages before even tasting them?  Again, our taste buds become accustomed to a level of sweetness and psychologically we believe we need these condiments and in some cases just start adding before even trying them.

We can train our taste buds to enjoy foods that have less salt, less sugar.  It may take time and several tries, but remember that studies show with small children it takes between 10-15 exposures to a food for them to develop a liking to them.  As adults, we can do the same thing!  I'm sure you can think of at least one food that you remember trying and disliking as a child but enjoy now...

Let's retrain our tastebuds:
  • Try your food/beverage before adding any salt, sweeteners, dressings, or any sauce/gravy.  Give yourself exposure to the actual taste of the food.  You may find that you enjoy it without and can skip those added calories, chemicals, or sodium.
  • Try reducing the amount you use by half.  Instead of 4 sugars, try 2 (to start).  Instead of 6 shakes of the salt shaker, start with 3.  After doing this several times you will find that you don't miss it.  You are retraining your taste buds!
  • Order your food plain with any sauces, gravies, dressings, and other condiments on the side.  You should be in control!
  • Don't pour!  If you must, dip the the tines of your fork in the sauce (if you must) - this way you can wean yourself slowly from your old habits.
  • Try new flavors.  Fresh lemon or lime, pepper, garlic, onion, fresh or dried herbs can add lots of flavor if you feel you need to add something.
Changing habits (and our taste buds) doesn't happen overnight.  Give it a try and be patient.  The long term benefits are worth it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Question of the Week: The Low Down on Gluten Free Food

The following question was submitted for discussion on this week's blog post, "Are gluten-free products healthier than "standard" products and effective in weight loss?"

Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, rye, and barley that even in small amounts, can cause an autoimmune response in the gastrointestinal tract for those with these conditions.  According to a Packaged Facts study, 46% of the people who purchased gluten-free products did so because they thought they were healthier.  The percent of people from the same study who bought gluten-free foods thinking that they would manage their weight by doing so is a surprising 30%.  These alarming statistics are the reason why I chose to answer this question for discussion.
If you are one of the estimated 1% of the population diagnosed with celiac disease or have a gluten intolerance - I would answer, that you should choose these products from time to time so you are able to enjoy many more foods without the digestive distress and long-term health problems but following a "natural gluten-free diet" is probably more nutritionally sound.   A "natural gluten-free diet" means eating few fast and processed foods (more fruits & veggies).

They are not necessarily healthier (which I will explain shortly) and they are not "weight control" products.  However if you  do not have those aforementioned medical conditions you should opt for them and may have to supplement some of nutrients that you may be missing out on by using these products.

Gluten free products tend to be higher in calories, sugar, and fat, therefore using these products are not effective in weight loss.   Manufacturers aiming for a delicious wheat-free cereal or bread often rely on fat to replace gluten.  Additionally, gluten free foods are not usually fortified with B vitamins and iron so people using them need to be mindful of getting these "missing nutrients" from other sources or supplementation.  

If you suspect you may have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, please see your doctor for a blood test (or internal biopsy).  Keep in mind, for an accurate test, do not avoid gluten free foods prior to the test.
Bottom line, you may read about celebrities adapting a gluten free diet, but unless you have either celiac or gluten intolerance -- this "diet" is merely a fad that you should pass on.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What -A - Melon!

Watermelon is not just a summer fruit - it is delicious, nutritious and available year-round.  It is the most-consumed melon in this country followed by cantaloupe  and honeydew and the United States ranks 4th in the cultivation of watermelon. 
Forty-four states grow watermelons with Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Georgia consistently leading the country in production. The United States produces its own watermelon between April and November while the rest of the year it is imported.

Did you know there are approximately 200-300 varieties of watermelon grown in the U.S.  and Mexico?  Of those, about 50 varieties  are popular.  The most common types are usually grouped into the following five categories: Seeded, Seedless, Mini, Yellow, and Orange.

Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C.   This refreshing fruit  contains higher levels of lycopene (an antioxidant that protect cells from oxygen-related damage) than any other fresh fruit or vegetable (15 to 20 mg per 2-cup serving).

Watermelon also contains vitamin B6, potassium, thiamine, and magnesium. 
Tips On How To Pick A Watermelon:
1. Look the watermelon over.
You are looking for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents.

2. Lift it up.
The watermelon should be heavy for it's size. Watermelon is 92% water, most of the weight is water.

3. Turn it over.
The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.

Here are some fun and delicious ideas for watermelon:

Watermelon Gazpacho

5 cups diced watermelon
1 cup cucumber (peeled, seeded, diced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded, diced)
1 cup bell pepper (yellow: seeded, diced)
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded, minced)
½ cup diced celery 
1 cup diced red onion
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup crème fraiche ( to garnish)
Puree 4 cups watermelon in blender until smooth.
Transfer puree to large bowl.
Add remaining 1 cup diced watermelon & rest of ingredients (except crème fraiche);
Stir to combine.
Cover gazpacho & refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour & up to 4 hours.
Divide gazpacho among bowls & top with dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream.

Watermelon Salsa

4 cup watermelon (chopped and seeded)
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp red onion (finely chopped)
1 tbsp cilantro (minced)
2 tsp jalapenos or chiles (finely chopped)
1/8 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
Watermelon De-Lite

1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons pink salt
1 ½  teaspoons fresh ground ginger
1 (5-pound) watermelon
In a large bowl,  combine all ingredients together except for watermelon.
Remove the rind from the watermelon & cut into cubes.
Drizzle with the pineapple mixture and serve.

Adapted from The National Watermelon Board, Paula Deen,, healthjockey

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Question of the Week- "Diabetes & Fruits - Which Fruits are High in Sugar?"

The following question was emailed to me by a reader for discussion on this week's blog post, "I was diagnosed as having pre-diabetes earlier this year.  Since then I have completely changed my eating habits and become a vegetarian.  I’ve lost weight but want to lose more.  Can you tell me which fruits have a high sugar content?  I am wondering about apples, raisins, bananas, and strawberries.  I already know I need to avoid orange juice. Thanks for your help!"

Fruits are a great addition to your diet as they are full of important nutrients and fiber. Any fresh/frozen fruit is a fine choice - it is all about portion size!

Here are the key points:

  • Stick to fresh fruits as they are full of fiber.  1 serving contains 15g of carbohydrate.  Examples of 1 serving would be a small (4 oz) apple, peach, pear, orange, ~17 grapes, 1 banana (about the size of a dollar bill), 1 1/4 cup of strawberries.  
  • Dried fruits are very concentrated in natural sugar and portion size is MUCH LESS -- one serving of carbohydrate is equal to only a ~2 Tablespoons of raisins....
  • Skip fruit juices - only 4 oz is equal to 1 serving of carbohydrate and lacks the fibers that whole fruits provide. 
  • Eat right with Color!  Choose a variety of fruits - usually the more vibrant the color, the more nutrients it packs!
  • Frozen Fruits are a healthy choice if your favorites are out of season.  
  • Avoid canned fruits that are packed in any type of syrup.
 Just a tip:  Peaches taste great on the grill - it brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit.  Add cinnamon for an instant treat!

Fruit Profile: Tuscan Cantaloupe!

You may have come across the Tuscan Cantaloupe at your last visit to the local supermarket, specialty store, or farmers' market.  These melons are a bit smaller than the traditional cantaloupe yet full of flavor and full of beneficial nutrients.   

Tuscan Cantaloupes are an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C.  They are also high in  folate, and lycopene (a beneficial antioxidant).

Tuscan cantaloupe will keep up to 2 weeks, refrigerated.

How To Choose One:
The Tuscan Cantaloupe's exterior grooves and ridge change color from a dark green to a golden-cream color as they ripen. Choose melons that are heavy for their size, which means they have a small cavity and more fruit.

Dark green grooves indicate a sweet, firm fleshed fruit, while a light green to golden color indicates a softer texture and a richer cantaloupe flavor. 

For 1 Cup of Cantaloupe:


Recipe Ideas with Tuscan Cantaloupe:

Blend diced cantaloupe with water, sugar, & lime juice, then strain, top with seltzer and serve over ice.
Wrap slices of cantaloupe with prosciutto, drizzle with olive oil & balsamic vinegar and serve as an appetizer.
Combine diced cantaloupe with arugula, chopped figs, & cooked Israeli Couscous or Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains.  Mix with rice wine vinegar and lime juice for a side salad.