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Lentils Are The New Beans

I hope we all enjoyed the Mini Turkey Parmesan Meatloaves. I know you all made them over the past week. Don’t lie, it’s unbecoming. As Spring settles in and beach season approaches, if you’re like me, there’s one thing on that fine mind of yours: How can I eat more lentils? No? Oh that’s just me then. Let me put it to you this way, if lentils were ingestible self-tanner, I’d be Snooki.

Clearly lentils have nothing to do with beach season, but rather everything to do with finding an alternative, non-meat protein. I will not lie to you. I love a good piece of steak or salmon just as much as the next red-blooded American, but damn, can we ease up on the animal flesh? I don’t boast being a vegetarian, but I do try to limit animal proteins to one meal per day (excluding eggs, those things are absolutely delicious).

Lentils are one such example of a solid vegetarian protein source. They house themselves in the legume family along with their sister, beans. Little known fact, lentils are actually seeds originally harvested in central Asia. Grown in pods, you can find these little guys in either the whole or split variety. I prefer the whole lentils; I find them to be a bit meatier. Lentils are also available in a range of colors, but the green and brown varieties tend to hold their shape best during the cooking process. Readers take note: lentils can deteriorate under heat. Choosing the proper form and cooking technique are essential to avoid eating colored mush for dinner. Prepare as directed and trial and error are my two best recommendations when it comes to cooking lentils. Alas, I am not a cooking expert on everything.

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Lentils are an excellent source of B vitamins and iron. You menstruating or pregnant? You’re going to love these little suckers! Sorry boys. Lentils also carry a sizable fiber punch – one half cup serving contains 8 grams of dietary fiber. I’m talking the good stuff, the fiber that helps lower your cholesterol. Just dare me to take care of my heart! I’ll do it too, don’t test me dude! Lastly, as mentioned above, they are well endowed in the protein department with 9 grams (a little over 1 ounce) per half cup.

While lentils are loaded with nutrients, one to not ignore is their carbohydrate content. Lentils are what we dietitians call a ‘dual food’. Yes they pack the protein, but they also carry carbohydrate. Not a bad thing, but something to be conscious of nonetheless. If we return to the half cup portion example, lentils have about 20 grams of carb (equal to an average slice of bread). This doesn’t make them off-limits. Just don’t fool yourself eating them with a load of brown rice, a few potatoes and peas smothered in yellow curry sauce. Easy does it young grasshopper.

I have a few lentil tricks in my wheelhouse. Throw them onto salad or into a broth based soup. A favorite post-run snack of mine is lentils atop steamed broccoli and a little marinara. See below for picture-based knowledge.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada

In closing, if you want to get a little fancier, I really enjoy lentils in vegetable marinara. Free (hidden) recipe alert! Oh wait, this is all free for you. For 4 people, I’ll sauté 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 chopped yellow pepper, 8 ounces of chopped button mushrooms, a few minced cloves of garlic and some chopped fresh herbs. Stir in marinara and precooked lentils. Serve over some whole-wheat pasta, top with a little shaved Parmesan cheese and BAMB! You got a mighty tasty din-din at your fingertips.

Come back next week for my all-time favorite lentil recipe. Clue – they are delivered in patty form and incorporate cashews. Get so freaking excited. I mean it, right now!

Corn – The Forgotten Whole Grain

Slama lama ding-dong, let’s kick off this Wednesday with a discussion on the long forgotten whole grain, corn. It is a vegetable people often write off their diets (much like peas) when it comes to eating ‘low carb’. Sure, the summer months bring this vibrant grain back around, but why do we forget about it the other 9 months of the year? It deserves more attention than that! You see, carbohydrates are an essential part of the human diet. They provide our bodies with the energy necessary for day-to-day living and it’s a macronutrient found in many different types of foods. Whole grains live in one featured corner of the carbohydrates world. Wheat, wild rice, oats, quinoa, millet and barley are just a few of the heavy hitters. These days, it seems as though everyone is either swearing off grains all together or trying to find the next ‘it’ grain. We’re here today to talk about one sadly forgotten whole grain, corn.

For a refresher on whole grains (what are they and why are they important?), please see The Healthy Revival’s Holy Whole Grains post.

Corn

When we think of ‘bad’, natural foods many will reference potatoes, peas and corn. Corn. Psh! It’s just a carbohydrate trying to pass itself off as a vegetable! In some ways, sure. But corn is not the enemy nor should it be forgotten. Taco shells are one prime example of this corn misconception. While out to lunch with a friend a few short weeks ago, I recall my eating partner changed her entrée of choice due to the fact her fish tacos were to be served in corn tortillas. When I inquired what made her change her mind, she simply replied ‘corn tortillas’. Now I wasn’t about to get into the fact that she probably could have asked our server for an alternative option because it took her a solid 20 minutes to decide between Fresca and lemonade. I’ve learned to pick my (nutrition) battles. But really? Are we all under the impression white flour tortillas are healthier than their corn counterparts? I got news my friend, they ain’t.

Corn Tortillas

To focus on tortillas for a minute, corn tortillas have fewer calories than flour tortillas. They are also a whole grain, unless you’re buying whole wheat tortillas – then it’s all the same. Corn tortillas are typically smaller than flour, so you’re also exercising portion control in the process. Don’t let the fact that something is made from wheat fool you like it did my dear lunching friend.  The key when looking for corn tortillas (or anything corn derived) is to make sure the words ‘degerminated’ are not used in the ingredients list. Opt for products with ingredients listing ‘whole corn’.

You see corn is a great source for fiber (both soluble and insoluble), folate, vitamin C, potassium and protein.  Corn is a grain that has a lot to offer your diet and as long as you don’t confuse it with eating a vegetable, I think we’ll all be okay. It’s a grain developed nearly 7,000 years ago in Mexico, spread to the United States and Peru (thanks to Columbus) and is now grown on every continent expect Antarctica.  Corn also happens to be an agricultural titan of the United States’ food industry – which I think may be another turn off for some. Corn syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup. Guess what. I’m not some corn junkie asking you to go to your nearest food store and purchase their last 20 bottles of Karo syrup. It should be clear by now I am pushing for whole corn.

Beyond tortillas, as mentioned above, other sources of whole grain corn include popcorn, polenta, corn muffins, corn on the cob, and corn cakes. Not to mention, eating corn with beans creates a complementary mix of amino acids (protein) which increases the protein value for our bodies. Just be sure that when you’re combining the two, you have plenty of non-starchy vegetables on the side.

Corn can be used a multitude of ways; fold it into salsa, steam corn kernels as a side dish, mash with cumin and tomatoes, throw into salads or added to soups. Bringing this dietary staple back into your diet is simple! Fresh, frozen or canned, it’s available 365 days a year! A food often featured in the summer months has plenty to offer your diet September through May.

Come back next week for a featured whole corn recipe!

References:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/summer-corn-more-than-delicious
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=90

Crushing on Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be a very underrated vegetable. Think about it, how often do you see it as a side option at restaurants. Broccoli rabe, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and creamed spinach seem to pull rank in the vegetable department when it comes finer dining. Cauliflower can be broccoli’s inferior step sister; she’s ugly and can be downright boring sometimes.  As a dietitian, it feels almost illegal to dislike any type of vegetable, but I am going to be honest with you, there was once a day some 10 years ago I HATED cauliflower. The texture, the lack of flavor – it’s a vegetable that screams ‘Blah!’.

So why am I writing about it? Well, in my growing maturity over the past 10 years, I’ve learned to embrace two things; no longer needing powder blue eye shadow and cauliflower. The turning point was the night I decided to make whipped cauliflower for the family as a mashed potato alternative. After that dinner, cauliflower has never been the same.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferious vegetable family. Other members of this classification include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and kale. The name ‘cruciferous’ comes from its alternative name Cruciferae, new latin for ‘cross-bearing’. The shape of these plants four-petal flowers resemble a cross. Get it? One rule of thumb for these vegetables: don’t overcook them. When overcooked, they can give off a strong sulfur odor.

Over the past decade or so it seems like one waxing and waning health trend is to swear off all white foods. Why? Sure white breads, pasta and rice aren’t nutritionally dense, but I’ve found that many people think other white foods are bad for you. They’re not. White beans, white button mushrooms, parsnips, onions, turnips, cauliflower and regular white potatoes all have nutrients to bring to the table. Yes, even potatoes.

Now then, I spotlight cauliflower today. It is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties through its high vitamin C and K content. One cup of cooked cauliflower contains 5 grams of fiber and 140mg of omega-3. Talk about protecting that ticker of yours!

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

I enjoy cauliflower roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees F until tender and lightly browned. When cooked properly, cauliflower develops a very smooth, creamy texture great for adding to soups or as a substitute for cheese on salads. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the idea of a vegetable taking place of cheese, but try it! Click here for my Curried Cauliflower with Garlic Roasted Beans and Brown Rice on The Healthy Revival (pictured above).

Come back next week for a delicious twist on a classic recipe featuring cauliflower!

May the Peas Be With You

Vegetable (un)discovery time. It’s a vegetable you were probably raised on – a staple of the homemade dinner…pre-iphone. In a time when we’re cross breeding any and all fruits and vegetables, returning the basics is never a bad idea. I’m 25 years old. I didn’t have a brussels sprout before the age of 18, a beet until I was 22 or a kale leaf until a few days ago. I know I live in a nutrition bubble where we’re all trying to find the next ‘it’ vegetable, but really lets all relax and return to this agricultural titan of a food.

These sweet, plumb chub balls are loaded with vitamins. It’s a legume that you need to bring back into the forefront of your diet. These little nuggets are loaded with  vitamin K, A, C and B6. They are also packed with fiber , 1 cup cooked has 9 grams of dietary fiber. If you need to brush up on why fiber is an important part of your diet, click here.  Lastly, 1 cup of green peas contains more protein than  1/4 cup almonds or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. BAM!

Now I know what you’re thinking. Kim, peas are starchy. Yes, they are. But I am not recommending you fold them into mashed potatoes and spread the carbohydrate mixture on top of pizza. No, throw them into salad, mash them up with mint for a fresh side dish, or toss into soup instead of noodles, potatoes or corn. Dig in and enjoy!

Peas

Revisited: Sage Advice For Holiday Eating From Someone Who Knows Nothing

It’s that time of year again. When we head over to Aunt Sheryl’s, load up those red plastic plates with horse ovaries (more commonly known as hors d’oeuvres), hunker down on a fireplace hearth and wait for the self-loathing and regret to kick in. Trust me. We’ve all been there. Why did I eat that ninth macaroon?  Who poured me this fourth glass of eggnog?  How did I get pieces of gingerbread down my bra?  Sooner or later though, the holiday feasts reap what they sow and sweatpants suddenly seem like appropriate work options. Enter in New Year’s resolutions.

Well this year, that will not happen. This year will be different. This year I will control myself – I will eat only half the ham, seven turtle cookies and limit myself to three hot toddies. Take that Saint Nick! I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be. I believe the holidays are a time to enjoy the wonderful foods we, and the people we love, churn out. However, enjoyment doesn’t have to equate to perpetual gluttony. And so, to save you from yourself, I present to you…
Kimberly’s Strategies for Surviving the Smörgåsbords
1. Don’t Go To The Party Hungry
This is the kiss of death.  You’ve been running around all day trying to find that Pokémon bean bag chair your eight-year old god son wants, you perform your Mariah-Carey-5-minute-costume-change at the house, grabbed your keys, your significant other and are out the door. Sure enough, as the car pulls out of your driveway you realize that snack bag of Bugles you ate for breakfast and lunch may not have been enough to power you through the day. Suddenly your stomach starts talking like Kimmy Gibler from Full House, you’re light-headed and in need sustenance…fast. Cut to you licking the crumbs off your fourth (stupidly small) appetizer plate as you walk it to the trash can.  The presence of others is all that stops you from reaching into the garbage and polishing off that half-eaten piece of fruitcake sitting right there on the top.
I’ve been there. I am a firm believer of never getting overly hungry.  Whenever I hit that point of blinding hunger, I end up reaching for foods I will a) regret and b) over-eat.  It’s for those reasons I never leave home without snacks.  At any given time, my purse/book bag/satchel looks like a go-go-gadget of munchies.
Holiday parties are wonderful.  You get to see half-drunk people you sort of like in dim lighting while you all stuff your faces with the hostess’ provisions. This suggested ‘rule’ hardly implies showing up to a party puffer fish full.  Just don’t arrive to the front door seeing spots and drooling unconsciously. I find I make wiser food choices when I arrive any place where free food is in abundance free of that malnourished feeling. I will actually select the foods I really want to try and not simply reach for anything containing cheese whiz. Not only that, I won’t suffer the all-too-common conundrum of overzealous food selection. This doesn’t mean you can’t go up for seconds, but arriving semi-full will allow you to be selective and therefore, more aware of how much you’re eating.
2. Be The Change You Wish To See In The World 
By this I mean, bring a more healthful dish.  If I had a dime for every time I went to a party where the only vegetable served qualified as great Aunt Rebecca’s bloomin’ onion or the olive in my martini, I’d be a less poor woman.  This does not mean you have to bring a vegetable tray.  I curse those things. I am a dietitian and even I hate eating raw broccoli flowerets. Surely there must be some middle ground. Off the top my head – tomato bruschetta, edamame humus, roasted potato wedges with sun-dried tomato pesto, Caprese on a stick (tomato, basil, mozzarella), kale chips, maple glazed Brussels sprouts. BAM! Vegetables don’t have to be gross. And don’t worry, just because you’re bringing a ‘healthy’ dish doesn’t mean everyone else is going to do the same.  You will still get your true holiday fix in at the party, mark my words. You’re dish will just lighten up the spread.
3. Mind What You’re Swilling

God, to talk about calories here is just too boring. It’s also been done a million times. What I can’t stand is when some health nut writer tells me to avoid booze at holiday parties. Has he/she never been to one before? Sometimes a social lubricant is required for survival at these kinds of functions.  Your ex-boyfriend is avoiding you like the bubonic plague, your girl friend is crying the bathroom because ‘if one more person asks her when she plans to start having babies, she’s going to adopt a Himalayan whistle kid by March’, and your mom commented that your eye makeup made you look like an extra in an off-Broadway production of the Grinch as you walked out the door.

All I will say is this: booze has calories; it’s not a ‘free food’.  As we all learned in D.A.R.E., alcohol also impairs our judgment. Those repulsive deep-fried Oreos you first saw when you walked into the party might suddenly look downright appetizing after four glasses of mulled wine. So easy does it.  Plus, the person who has raced to the end of the night by 8pm never goes home or wakes up a winner.  I can sadly say this from experience.  Lastly, if you plan to drive home, do not drink. It’s a no brainer, but it would feel irresponsible to endorse moderate drinking at holiday parties to those who may go on to be designated drivers.  But Kimberly, you told me it was okay! I have only you to blame for my poor decision-making. No! Not on my watch.
4. Back Away From The Food Table
Okay, I’ll admit this one is easier said than done.  The act of walking away from mountains of appetizers can at times, require the Jaws of Life. Unless you have the will power of a much stronger man, standing near plates of copious amounts of food is like going to Mexico and never wearing sunscreen. You will burn yourself time and time again. After you’ve had your fill, thrown away your plate and utensils, comes Act II of the night. It opens with the scene titled “Grazing” and concludes with you unbuttoning your pants on the car ride home. Don’t act like you’re better than it because you’re not.
From personal experience, I’ve found that removing myself from the vicinity of all the foods that taunt me to have the greatest effect. After I’ve eaten and I am feeling full, I try to migrate to a different room.  However, I do realize the kitchen is often a congregation location. So instead of wandering into the host’s personal office or sitting alone with the cat watching reruns of the Match Game, put those Crescent dogs out of arms reach. At the heart of it, we’re all lazy.  Maybe all it takes is the required extra four steps to snatch the last smoked salmon quesadilla to deter you from overindulging.
5. Return to Normalcy 
 Hypothetically, let’s say you decided to ignore strategies one through four and ate until it hurt. The next day you arise thinking, “Today I will eat less to make up for last night.”  Please, please, please don’t do this.  Food isn’t about atonement and the holidays shouldn’t be filled with self-induced regret. So what? Last night didn’t go so well. You came home, popped the Pepto and woke up every two hours mumbling “never again”…that’s probably a little dramatic, but you get the idea. Nobody is perfect. So instead of skimping on calories following an epic holiday bender, just get back to normal. Wake up, eat some breakfast and go about your day as normal – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.  Besides, if you decide you’re going to start a ‘diet’ on December 17th you, my friend, may just be more dumb than a first grader. Don’t even get me started on diets.  That’s for another day.  There’s nothing quite like intentional self-denial while all those around you indulge in the very thing you’ve sworn off.  Say hello to crying in the shower and aggressive journal entries.
Bottom line here: when we decide we’re going to enter into Calorie Deficit Land in an effort to amend for last night’s destruction, nine times our of ten we wind up hitting 3pm in a ravenous state…and the cycle repeats.  The biggest favor you can do yourself is to wake up and kick your metabolism in the pants with some breakfast.

Kale & Walnut Pesto

Kale has been labeled a super food by the media for a while now, so here is me jumping on the kale-frenzy bandwagon. This recipe was really only born from the fact that there was an actively expiring box of basil in my refrigerator. In an effort to salvage the dying herb, I picked up some kale and made this beautiful, nutrient-rich pesto from ingredients already in my kitchen.

Kale is loaded with vitamin K, A, and C. When consumed whole, kale also offers plenty of fiber. Sneaking it into salads, turkey meatballs and stir-fry are often my go-to moves with this lovely vegetable. Kale chips are another easy dinner side for nights when your time isn’t as dispensable.

What can you do with pesto besides the tired pasta sauce? You can put it in sandwiches for an extra level of flavor or fold into regular humus and dip veggies in it until your heart is content. I also enjoy spreading pesto onto homemade pizza. Try mixing it into scrambled eggs or sneak it as a layer into your lasagna – seriously, the list goes on and on.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada

Photo Credit: Kimberly Sabada

Kale & Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

1 bunch of basil (optional)

4 cups of chopped kale

Zest of 1 lemon

1 TBS lemon juice

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted

3 cloves garlic

Salt, pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil

In a food processor, combine basil through garlic and blend. Season with salt and pepper.  With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil until desire consistency is achieved. Feel free to add some parmesan cheese if you so desire.

I also recommend freezing the pesto in ice-cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and store in a zip lock bag in the freezer. The cubes defrost in no time and are just as delicious.

Enjoy!

Let’s Talk About Salt Baby

We have all heard the hazards of a high sodium diet, but few us can actually put a number on what  ‘high sodium’ means. While some foods have naturally occurring sodium, we need to be more wary of the salt we add at the table and that which we buy in a package from the food store.  This post isn’t just for those with high blood pressure. It’s for all of us. Sure, sodium is an important, essential mineral for proper human functioning. The trouble lies in the fact that most of us over-consume sodium and we barely have to lift a salt shaker to do so.

The slippery slope of high blood pressure is a scary one. In a 2009 article from the Journal of Human Hypertension, authors He, J. and MacGregor, G. report elevated blood pressure accounts for 62% of strokes and 49% of coronary heart disease. Hypertension isn’t just reserved for those bear-guzzeling, burger-eating, cigarette-smoking 70-plusers. Even if you eat a relatively healthy diet, genetics, gender, stress, cholesterol levels, physical activity and weight status also have a lot to do your risk for developing heart disease (and let’s not forget smoking status). According to The American Heart Association, the start of plaque development  can start during childhood and adolescence . Don’t kid yourself, it’s never too early to start protecting that beautiful, blood-pumping muscle found inside your chest.

Decoding Labels: Just because a label can read ‘Low Sodium’, does not mean it’s actually low in sodium. Confused? Don’t be. Below are the FDA’s definitions for sodium label claims.

“Sodium-Free” or “Salt-Free” = Less than 5 mg of sodium per labeled serving

“Very Low Sodium”/”Very Low Salt” = 35 mg or less of sodium per serving

“Low Sodium” or “Low Salt” = 140 mg or less of sodium per serving

“Reduced Sodium” or “Reduced Salt” = At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than a similar product

“Lightly Salted” or “Light in Sodium” = At least 50 percent less sodium per serving than a similar product

“No Salt Added” or “Unsalted” = This means the food doesn’t have any extra salt, not that it is totally salt-free

The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 1500mg of sodium per day. 

Milligram Rule: My general rule of thumb to patients when it comes to deciphering a low sodium food from a high sodium food is this: if it contains over 300mg of sodium per serving, don’t buy it. And just because it has less than 300mg per serving, doesn’t mean you get to consume two servings in one sitting. #RDRULES. I really don’t have rules, they’re just good, strong guidelines.  Need help reading a food label?

heart.org

You’re welcome.  Label reading is a whole other blog post…

Smart Shopping: Sticking to the perimeter of the food store is my last piece of advice for the sodium reducer. The inside aisles of the food store are where we get into the most trouble – it’s the land of canned goods and junk food.  Think about it, the perimeter is always filled with naturally, low-sodium foods: fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. Sure, you can still find your way into trouble, but you’ll already be ahead of the others.

PS – stop using salt at the table, 1 tsp of table salt = 2300mg of sodium. Chew on that, just not with added salt.

Source

He, F.J. and G.A. MacGregor, A comprehensive review on salt and health and current experience of worldwide salt reduction programmes. J Hum Hypertens, 2009. 23(6): p. 363-84.