Spring Clean Your Eating

After a long and frigid winter, the sight of easter flowers, buds and blossoms are welcome as spring is ushered in. We’re three months into 2014. How are your resolutions coming along? Sticking with them? Dumped a few already? At this point it really doesn’t matter because with spring comes another opportunity to revitalize and reinvent your healthy resolutions. Spring clean your eating, and of course your health. Here’s how:

1. Start with your pantry. Long winter days may have meant stocking up your pantry with non-perishable items to tide you through snow and ice storms. While highly processed and packaged food are necessary at times, they are also laden with preservatives and fluff that don’t always offer the best bang for buck nutritionally. Always hang onto a few trusty items; canned fruit in juice, low sodium canned vegetables or soups, pastas, rice, and whole grain cereals and snack bars. The more ingredients listed that are difficult to wrap your pronunciation around, the better off you are without them. Determine what stays and what goes. And for the sake of unnecessary food waste, remember that anything that goes can be taken to food banks and used in healthy meals for families in need.

2. Bring out your recipe books or surf around a little. You may even wish to subscribe to monthly magazines with inspirational and fresh recipes. My favorites, Better Homes and Gardens and Organic Gardening. We all get into recipe ruts, or find ourselves with meal ‘writer’s blocks’, but simply browsing a few recipes can inspire you to try something new. And as the season progresses into full spring, look out for recipes that showcase seasonal fresh produce. Eating in season is a bonus… and here’s why.

3. Seasonal produce is tastier and possibly more nutritious, particularly if you buy it local,  from a farmer directly… at a farmers’ market! Very soon most farmers’ market will be opening. Look out for spring treats like leafy vegetables, radishes, turnips, carrots, onions, and soon, oh very soon, strawberries! You can also join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These options are not only spring cleaning your eating, but they’re certainly cleaner for our environment too. Food less traveled is food with smaller carbon footprints.

4. Reevaluate what’s important. Are you trying to lose weight? Are you aiming for long term health and good habits?  Spring cleaning your eating doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect. It just means you have a chance to regroup and start the warmer season on a BETTER note. So if you’ve slipped into old habits, dust them away. If you’re fretting over the falling off the wagon, simply get back on. You are in charge of your spring cleaning, and in charge of your health.

5. And don’t forget to move! Long winters tend to mean more time indoors and fewer opportunities to get active. As spring unfolds, so does your opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy it. Walking, hiking and cycling are just some of the ways you can get active and enjoy the outdoors. Or get back into the gym! Chances are you’re paying your membership… so set yourself a new spring schedule. Remember, the day is getting longer so you have more day to enjoy for activity.

So happy spring cleaning! Your eating and health will thank you for it.

Jessica Avasthi

Minding My Peas & Food

Advertisements

Celebrate Dad by Celebrating Seasonal Food

IMG_1595

Fathers’ Day is just around the corner… and so is your farmers’ market. Sure, dads like their gadgets, household tools, and ties, but sometimes a good feast (or good cocktail) is the way to his heart too, and if done right, it can be good for his heart.

I’ve been experimenting with fresh berries and peaches, because my hubby has a sweet tooth (and so do I), and currently both are in full swing here in Georgia. The hidden beauty of these seasonal fruits is that they’re packed with great taste and nutrition. Strawberries and blackberries owe their remarkable colors to anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that keep your body in fine tune, preventing any number of health issues from cancer to cardiovascular diseases. How about peaches? Low in calories, peaches are a good source of vitamins A and C, both important in promoting immune health. So how about a few ideas to turn these fruit into tantalizing treats dad won’t turn his nose up to?

IMG_1597First on my list, breakfast. I adapted a Hugh Acheson recipe for super easy blackberry compote, a great topper to my buckwheat and buttermilk pancakes:

Compote: Add 1/4 a cup fine sugar and 1/4 cup muscadel wine (mine is from my home country South Africa) to a pot, bring to a gentle simmer to dissolve the sugar. Add about 3 cups blackberries, toss and heat for about 1-2 minutes. Add a dash of orange zest, stir and tip into a cool glass or ceramic bowl.

IMG_1599

Pancakes: In a bowl mix together 1/2 cup buckwheat flour, half cup all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons ground flax-seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, pinch salt, 1 egg and 1 and 1/4 cup buttermilk. Makes about 6 to 8 three inch pancakes.

Second, get a dessert ready. For this, I adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe to come up with slightly healthier peach and rhubarb cobbler.

Peach filling: I sliced 6 peaches and 2 large stalks of rhubarb into an oven proof dish. Stir in 1/2 cup fine sugar, 2 tablespoons bourbon (I love cooking with this!), scraped vanilla beans from one pod, zest of a lime, and freshly squeezed juice from an orange. Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the peach ripeness. You want your peaches tender, not mushy. Remove from oven, add a little water and stir in any fruit stuck to the sides of the dish.

IMG_1605Cobbler: In a food processor, grind up 2 tablespoons pine nuts and 1/4 cup walnuts. Then add 1 cup self-raising flour, 1/4 cup sugar, pinch of salt, and 6 tablespoons chilled and diced butter. Put processor on pulse until you reach a bread crumb consistency. Add a sprinkle of water to be able to work this dough into a ball. Add a handful of unsweetened craisins. Add dollops of this on top of the baked peaches and rhubarb. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes until the dough is just golden, and serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. Both are sublime!

And last, you have got to have a great summer cocktail ready for fathers’ day! I’ve been working on something similar to a strawberry daiquiri, using tequila (what we had in the house) instead of rum. Put about 1/2 pint of fresh strawberries into a blender or juicer, and add 1 tablespoon agave. Add a handful of fresh mint, a couple of large fresh basil leaves, juice from half a lime, and a generous measure of chilled tequila. Blend, add to a cocktail shaker, add a handful ice and you’re set. And rim your glass with sugar. Healthy, packed with summer flavor, and one that will bring a smile to his face.

IMG_1612

I hope you enjoy these as much as we have. Fathers’ day arrived early in our household!

Stay hungry my friends,

Jess Avasthi

Ditch the soda. Date real food.

photoI love food and I love to eat it. The experience of eating is something I cherish every day. And I consider myself pretty lucky. I get to eat really good and wholesome food. And I make time to cook or bake or just make food. Yes, it’s not always easy to be this connected to food daily, but my and my family’s health takes precedence. I believe farmers are our farmacists, and that good food is farmacy. My kitchen is an apocathery from which healing foods to sustain longevity are created and eaten. And being in the field of nutrition, I must practice what I preach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. Who is? But we can always be better with our food choices.

So let’s take a can of soda. Sodas, especially sugar-sweetened ones, are getting a lot of press these days. Do I drink soda daily? No. Do I drink this on absolute occassion, yes, but I mean absolute… like MAYBE once or twice a month. I don’t have anything against soda other than it’s not food. It doesn’t offer me any nutritional benefit and is loaded with sugar. That’s right – If I’m going to have that soda, give it to me straight, no ‘diet’ please. Artificial sweetners aren’t in my little black book of nutritional go to’s… (I know what you’re thinking…food snob… I concur completely.)

Besides, by now you may be aware that a can of sugar-sweetened soda contains 140 calories thanks to voluntary labeling by industries like Coca-Cola (in the same breath, I’m no fool to their marketing ploys and public health tactics that fall short of anything sincere and concrete). Still, 140 calories, not too bad. Small change compared to the average calories we consume daily.

But based on all my years of experience in nutrition, who can honestly stick with just one can a day? Or one can per meal? Unfortunately for many, one can is one can too short. We love sugar too much. And drinking this is easy for very little reward. What I would like to propose is to eat these calories instead. Yes, EAT.

You’re eating but you’re constantly hungry right? You really want to shed a few pounds but they’re clutching on? You want to feel a little more energized, and you want this energy to stick around rather than come in ebbs and waves throughout the day? Sound familiar?

How about this – ditch the can and actually eat something? And I mean eat REAL food. You’ll get far more nutrients, and greater satisfaction. Your stomach will be happier that you’re not fooling it with pseudo-satiety thanks to all that soda carbonation, and your brain will get super excited to see real food in all its glory for you to nosh. Eating is SO much more exciting than drinking out a can (and environmentally-friendlier too).

I turn to these snacks daily, so why not give them a try? You can always pack these in a small cooler for the road, or keep a stash of ingredients in your work refrigerator. While it may take a few minutes to get these together, if you’re in the office, it will likely take you the same amount of time to walk to the vending machine, find enough quarters, bang on the machine for your coins to go through or the can to be released, and then walk back to your desk. For bigger bang for the buck, 140 calories gets you:

– One cup sliced apples and a tablespoon almond butter for dipping (145 calories)
– One medium banana, chopped and topped with 1/2 6oz tub plain non-fat Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of roasted coconut (155 calories)
– A strawberry and blueberry (berries are in season) almond milk smoothie (1/2 cup each fruit, 1 cup milk) (125 calories)
– 4-6 chopped dried apricots topped with 1/3 cup cottage cheese and drizzle of local honey (150 calories)

– 6 wheat/ grain crackers with 2 tablespoon low-fat cream cheese (or local goats cheese if you desire) topped with cherry tomatoes (coming to a farmers’ market near you), fresh basil (grow your own in a pot) and splash of balsamic vinegar.

So ditch the can and date some food! You’ll feel great and your body will love you for it.

Stay hungry my friends, and when you eat, do so mindfully.

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding my Peas & Food

Goldelicious Granola

IMG_1466

Granola. Who doesn’t love it? Of course, most granolas can run high in added sugars and fats, but there are ways to be sure you get healthier versions of these. And I don’t know about you, but of late, I’ve grown a little tired of ready-made granola. Either they don’t taste all that great, or they’re too costly. So I’m making my own. I’ve tried and tested a few recipes but have finally developed a custom-made version for my liking. And the beauty of granola is you can custom-make it to your liking too. This recipe delivers a crunchy delight that doesn’t cost a bunch, doesn’t take much time to make, and makes enough to fill two quart mason jars. And the bonus… it’s pretty healthy. So why not give it a try?

3 cups steel cut oats

2 generous tablespoons coconut oil

1/4 cup wild honey

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

1 generous tablespoon dessicated unsweetened coconut

Mix these together and spread out on a parchment paper-lined non-stick cookie tray (use one with sides so that the granola doesn’t spill out). Bake for 20-30 mins at 375F, until slightly golden brown (stir around at least once halfway through baking so that the browning is evenly spread). Remove and allow to cool.

Add dried fruit (use unsweetened versions):

1/4 cup craisins

1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Mix this with the baked granola, fill up the mason jars, and if you have a little extra that won’t fit into the jars, juts go ahead and eat it right there and then. Absolutely sublime with plain low-fat greek yogurt and any fresh fruit (ripe bananas make this almost a desert).

I recommend keeping the serving size about 1/2 cup. For this the estimated nutritional information is:

200 kcal, 5g protein, 9.5g fat (2.5g of this saturated fat), 0g cholesterol, 22g carbohydrates, 3g fiber and sodium, pretty much negligible.

A few things I want to point out:

1. Add 1/2 cup of 0% fat plain Greek yogurt (I’ve referred to Fage here), and all you’ll add is 65kcal, 4.5g carbohydrates, and 11.5g protein. This kind of yogurt is rich, creamy, and packed with protein to make you feel more satisfied, a good way to keep cravings and munchies at bay. Plus you’ll be bumping up your gut-friendly bacteria thanks to the live cultures, also known as probiotic, in yogurt. While we’re still researching all the potential benefits of consuming probiotics, research is promising for many areas of health, including managing inflammatory bowel disease to eczema in children.

2. Coming in a 3 grams of fiber per serving, I consider this a good source of fiber. Fiber can also make you feel more satisfied. And let’s not forget – oats are a great source of soluble fiber, a prebiotic that your gut-friendly bacteria can ferment and thrive on. Really, a healthy and happy gut needs both pro- and prebiotics. They work hand in hand towards keeping you healthy.

3. And yes, a word on fat. This granola is high in fat, but it’s the healthier kinds. For example, walnuts offer omega-3 fatty acids known to boost heart health and reduce inflammation. Almonds are also great for heart health and are a good source of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that keeps your cells free from damage, healthy, and in check. And why did I use coconut oil? Have you notice all the buzz around coconut oil of late? Honestly, the main reason why I used coconut oil is for the lovely flavor it imparts when the oats and nuts are roasted. I have used other oils (canola, safflower, even peanut) but I wasn’t sold on these. A few things I want to mention about coconut oil. I used a pressed virgin coconut oil version. The kind you most typically see in highly processed and packaged items is not very healthy. Whereas virgin coconut oil MAY offer some benefits related to the structure of the saturated fats (metabolized more easily, not deposited in your arteries as much as animal saturated fats, may lower bad cholesterol), the jury is still out on the evidence supporting this.

In a nutshell (in honor of all the nuts in this recipe!), making anything homemade is often better than buying it ready-made. You can select your own ingredients, adjust recipes to suit your taste and health, and enjoy the process from scratch to finish!

I hope you enjoy noshing on this granola!

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding my Peas & Food