Food has Something to Say

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Hi. We’re food. You know us. No need for fancy intros.

Well, we’re the new celebrities. Step aside Bieber and Miley. You’re not edible and no one needs you to survive (we know someone out there disagrees with this statement). We’ve been in several documentaries (Katie is our newest fan), we’re always in the news, and social media devours us too. But just like celebrities, most often it’s our notoriety that grabs headlines… too much, too little, too expensive, too cheap, to this or too that.

Well news flash.. you made us this way. Yup. YOUR fault. Well sort of.

Through a series of perfect storms, you inadvertently made us what we are. Celebs that you love and hate. And now you’re all loving and hating on each other because of how you choose to hang out with us. Seriously, we’re laughing here!

So let’s talk about our so-called ‘bads’. You see, some of us are forced to go through a series of makeovers, wardrobe changes and make up routines because 1. you’re addicted to some of our special effects (sugar, fat, salt) (oh, we’ll discuss rehab in a minute) and 2. you want to trick your mind and body by taking away calories and adding a lot of ‘fluff’ to us so that we taste good but don’t do any harm to your waist lines, bowel, allergies… Trouble is, both 1. and 2. are on a collision path to a bigger and sicker you. It’s rocky convincing addicts and deniers. Truth is when you’ve messed with us beyond a point of recognition, well, we fight back. So don’t blame us. You did this.

What else makes us bad? Oh yeah… you want more of us for less. Sure, cheap is nice. But when we’re cheap, we are SO far removed from our original states which often means (drum roll)… defer to paragraph 4 above.

What’s bizarre is that the cheaper we get, the more we profit just a few… and it’s those few who pretty much have a LOT of say on how we roll. That’s your fault too. You’ve allowed them to do all of the above, and then to paste us just about everywhere. Too much sugar? Too much fat? How about too much visibility? We believe that you are smart enough to cue in to when you really need us. Why are you putting us everywhere? When you see us ALL THE TIME, your need to eat turns into must eat. Healthy relationships always need a little space.

And all this visibility gives you a false sense of knowing a lot about us, but you don’t really know us. Many of you don’t know where we come from, let alone how we come to be. You’ve become dependent on others to make us and you just want to eat and be left to do other things… like watch Food Network or play on your smart phone. THIS IS US DAMN IT! YOU EAT US! You can’t be ignorant of how we evolve and what we do to you. We really cackle when we are fads. You all want to be gluten-free but many of you don’t know what the heck this is, let alone need this. Only a few do. Geez. You probably do more research on the next generation smart phone than on us, period.

So prefer us cheap and bad… I’m sorry, did you I hear you say there is NO bad food? Well, just like there are good and bad people, good and bad dogs, good and bad hairstyles…  there is good and bad food. And like all of these, there’s a bunch in between. Please stop trying to convince yourselves that there is no bad food, just use moderation. The truth is, heck yeah we can be bad, and because of this, use moderation. It’s all in how you word it.

Ok, what else? Your constant desire for perfection that you’ve projected on us. You experiment with our DNA to make us look flawless, bigger and better. Some of you think this is all bad. What do we think? Well, we marvel at how smart you are but while we appreciate your help, we don’t need cosmetic surgery or performance enhancers. We accept ourselves in whatever shape, color or form we produce and if we get the right dose of water and soil nutrients, we are truly nutritious. We think another reason you’re digging around with our DNA is because your food production choices (aargh) are forcing you to fix us to cope. Add to this your worries that Mother Nature, our true boss, won’t do her job to help us adapt to the climate you’re messing with too… well, we’ve coped for millennia. Survived extinctions too. Just sayin’… . And that theory about not having enough to feed the world? On our last check, there is enough of us to go around. It just so happens that your wars, politics and greed keep us in some hands, out of others.

Boy, this freakin’ (we’re keep in this kid-friendly) complicated paradigm you have built upon us stinks and we’re getting all the flack for it. Even those of us who are good, you know, the local and organic, the omega 3s and resveratrol… even we get the flack. And since when did food, grown in ways your grandparents and generations before chose, become elitist? Back in the day the majority of us were ‘organic’. Many of you make fun of us when we’re grown on farms that take care of their biodiversity or choose to, well, just be different in their approach to producing us. Huh? Since when did mother nature get weird? Or backward? She’s laughing at you now. You don’t want that.

So because we’re celebs, and clearly frustrated, we’re going to remind you about some things:

– We don’t like to be adulterated too much and wish you’d accept and try us more, minus the make up, surgery and special effects.  We’re kind of in the midst of an identify crisis here and could do with your help to help us find our true selves again. This starts by you committing to rehab. A farm, farmers’ market, cooking demo, cooking class, or even just gazing at the produce section in the mega stores may help you rediscover how beautiful and unique we are in our most original forms.

– We don’t like to be too cheap. We should be valued because we impact your health more than anything else in your life. So if you choose more of us ‘baddies’ we’ll treat you bad. If you try to hang out with more of us ‘goodies’ well, the possibilities are fruitful. Now we know some folks struggle to find balance. You know, our biggest mission from the get go has been to not only feed, but to nourish too, regardless of how you look and how much money is in your bank. We like to call ourselves a ‘right’. We despise food injustice. Do something about it.

– And our last ask. Please stop picking on us. You need to be accountable for everything that has gone wrong with food because you did it. When we first arrived, your creator tasked mother nature to task us to feed you and to help you flourish. Well mother nature ain’t happy that we are barely recognizable, being exploited, making you fat and sick, and, oh yes, are actually partly accountable (because of you) for the destructive forces she’s having to discipline… NO NO NO! This is ALL because of your doing! We ask that you unmake all this. You can do better with us. Everything from choosing better to fighting for us.

Please.

Sincerely, your biggest celebrity,

Food

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(Channeled by Jessica Avasthi. Apparently she’s a registered dietitian. And she’s a mindful eater and wants you to be the same. How convenient.)

 

 

 

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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

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

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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

5 Food Fundamentals

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We consumers have plenty to juggle when we navigate the food-scape of the twenty first century, and with limited time, stretched paychecks, and other areas of life to manage, it’s invaluable to know how to source good food quick on our feet. ‘Should I get my produce from farmers’ markets? Is all organic food healthier for you? How can I afford to eat good? How do I make time to eat good?’. These are just some of the many questions from consumers’ mouths.  And where do we source our food and nutrition information from? It appears that we rely on the internet. The sheer volume of information on the net is not necessarily a good thing. Not all sites are reliable, and often information is conflicting, leaving consumers befuddled or mislead.

Being a registered dietitian, its important for me to communicate sound and evidence-based information on the health benefits of food to all consumers. But it in addition to this, it my responsibility to encourage consumers to consider important philosophies regarding the growing, raising and processing of food. Food is much deeper than just nourishment, so to make good food easier to understand and access, here are Five Food Fundamentals all consumers should know.

1. Know food terminologies and labels: See all those colorful labels on food? Spend some time examining these. What are they telling you? What does cage free really mean? You’ll be surprised to learn the hard facts. For example, ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ sounds lovely, but it boils down to very little. It doesn’t concern how found is grown or raised, it mainly refers to how the final product comes to be. Buying natural beef? All this implies is that no colorants have been injected into the meat to make the red that much brighter. In contrast to this, ‘Certified Naturally Grown’ refers to produce grown following organic standards, but the growers have refrained from the often tedious and costly organic certification process. It can take hours to research all the labels and terminologies, but thanks to a smart phone app called Eco Label, some of these are demystified at the press of a button.

2. Plan: Armed with a plan takes the admin out of food. What are some of your favorite recipes? Get your week of meals planned, and schedule cooking days to cook a few meals in advance. This translates to not needing to cook daily. Once you have your week menu planned, take a look at the ingredients you need. Is everything is season? If not can you make substitutions? This is a where a good measure of creativity is employed. The beauty of cooking is that it’s not baking. You can experiment without the risk of a flopped cake. Thinking Italian? How about Bruschetta? No tomatoes, no problem! Radishes, turnips, beets and tender beet greens make a gorgeous bruschetta. Now for some pesto… no basil? Look around at the farmers’ market and what do you see? Kale, Swiss Chard, and Collard greens, longing to be substitutes! ( collard and pecan pesto is delish y’all!). Of course, we don’t expect you to do everything seasonal but give it a shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. So you have your menu, and a shopping list. Time to find some coupons for some of the products you need. One great resource is the Best Organic Coupons site. Every penny counts, especially when feeding a family. You never know… you may become the first ‘extreme organic couponer’…

3. Shop: We all depend on grocery stores and supermarkets for the essentials. When shopping in the naturals foods section, there are a few money-saving strategies to keep your wallet afloat. Check use-by dates on products. Unlike sell-by dates, use-by refers to food quality and not food spoilage and safety. If you notice products close to their use-by date and you’re willing and able to scoop these up, you may be able to get these at a discounted rate. Store managers prefer the idea of selling, not chucking, food. And does all your food have to be organic? Not necessarily. Many consumers believe that organic food is healthier. A box of mac ‘n cheese, organic or not, is highly processed and tends to run high in sodium. Best not to spend to spend your money on something like this (go home and make mac ‘n cheese from scratch folks!). Now produce is a different ball game. If you want to eat meat from happily raised livestock, or you want to avoid pesticides, organic is the way to go. In the same breath, you can be selective in fruits and vegetables if you’re on a tighter budget. The Environmental Working Group has a great resource, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help consumers determine what items can be organic or conventional, with the overall goal to minimize pesticide exposure.

There is life beyond the grocery store. Shop around a little. And shop local. How about joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share? This is a great time to sign up, just as the farmers start sowing the spring crops. If you’re on your own, or if you know your family is not enthused by idea of having green leafy vegetables three nights a week, split a CSA with friends or family. You can save (again) and avoid waste, awesome for your bottom line, health, and local economy. If you’re an online shopper, you can select products from multiple farmers and artisans and collect these from a designated market using a great online resource, Locally Grown. Then again, grab a shopping bag or basket, and step out the door. Farmers’ markets await! With spring just around the corner, the market season will be in full swing in a matter of weeks. Being outdoors and seeing the gorgeous produce and friendly farmers’ faces is a world apart from the supermarket aisles. Local is lovely indeed.

4. Cook: Delicious food is an easy feat! If you have fabulous ingredients, these will speak for themselves. Simplicity is a cherished friend to food integrity. Five fundamental ingredients to have on hand at all times: olive oil, garlic, fresh lemons, sea salt, and freshly crushed pepper… you’ll work wonders with these. Cook in bulk and freeze some leftovers for a rainy day. If you’re a meat-eater, determine a couple of simple vegetable sides to complete your meat choice. Want a happy, meaty meal minus the drive through and acid reflux? Lemon basted chicken pairs beautifully with braised swiss chard and roasted root vegetables (it’s breakfast time right now but seriously, I could scoff this now!). If blueberries are in season, buy and freeze, repeat, and repeat some more, and in the winter you’ll be making blueberry compote full of the peak summer flavor. If you’re part of a family unit, recruit family members to gather and cook. And stressed out about planning a dinner party? Pot lucks aren’t tacky. Host a pot luck show casing local ingredients. This will be a great way for your guests to chime into the season. And if you have plenty of wine, they’ll come!

5. Advocate: I know what you’re thinking. ‘Wait a minute, here she was talking about all this good food stuff now she’s thrown in a spanner, politics!”. Well, sorry to say folks but if you truly care about what you eat, you need to speak up. Food is a BIG picture. It starts with soil health, and ends with our health. The journey in between is long and complex. Concerned about farmers’ rights, animal treatment, the environment, food access, small-scale farmers, food corporatization… concerned about anything concerning food? Advocate. And this is the year to break ground on advocacy, if you haven’t already. Heard about the Farm Bill? Bet you have. This bill is a blueprint for our food system, and it’s far from perfect. Join advocacy groups. If you’re in the Georgia region, Georgia Organics is a super start. Nationally, the Food and Water Watch organization is also a great resource. It’s always a good idea to examine candidates before voting, but it’s equally important to examine the issues they are going to work on during their terms. You’ll never know everything, but knowing something is empowering, enabling you to truly ‘vote with your fork’.

These Five Food Fundamentals are what I try to apply, and what I believe we as consumers can all try and apply. Treat food as an investment to long-term health for us and for our planet. And treat the current emerging reforms (more farmers’ markets, more small-scale farmers, more local food, better food transparency etc.) not as ‘trends’ but rather as reforms that our generations to come will continue to support and thrive on.

Jess Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding my Peas & Food