Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Fact Friday: What you're really drinking

Bottled Water

The bottled water industry doesn't want you to know that its product isn't any better than the water that comes from your tap, which has passed strict state, federal, and local guidelines. Not to mention, it's free. Sure, bottled water is convenient, trendy, and may well be just as pure as what comes out of your tap, but it's hardly a smart investment for your pocketbook, your body, or our planet. With  Dasani, a Coca-Cola product, the water is simply purified tap water that's had minerals added back in. In fact, about 40 percent of all bottled water is taken from municipal water sources, including Pepsi's Aquafina. What's more, in a 4-year review that included testing 1,000 bottles of water, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that "about one-third of the brands we tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits." So fill up at home rather than buying into the hype.  


The dairy industry doesn't want you to know that the hormone rbST has been linked to cancer. See, rbST, recombinant bovine somatotropin (also known as rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone), is a hormone given to cows to increase their milk output by 10 to 25 percent. The concern with rbST is that it produces milk with higher-than-normal levels of the insulin-like growth factor IGF-1. Studies have shown that high levels of IGF-1 increases the risk of several cancers, including breast, prostate, and colorectal. Other studies contradict these findings, but we recommend playing it safe. Especially when so many big players—Starbucks, Kroger, and Wal-Mart among them—have agreed to sell only hormone-free milk.


The diet soda industry doesn't want you to know that artificial sweeteners can make you fat. Sure, diet sodas are a step up from regular sodas, but here's where things get thorny: Although it's essentially calorie free, diet soda can drive your appetite and push you to overconsume calories. One theory put forth by researchers is that giving the body a rush of sugar with no calories might push it to actively seek out sources of energy. And how does your body do that? By switching your appetite into overdrive.

Those aluminum cans are also lined with a toxic plastic. Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, is a chemical found in plastics that has been idenitifed as a threat to your health. One study found that low doses of BPA can suppress a hormone that protects against diabetes and obesity in human tissue. Another study discovered that BPA disrupts brain function and leads to mood disorder in monkeys. Further evidence has show it to lower sperm counts, up your risk of heart disease, and increase the risk of breast, prostate, and testicular cancers. Products containing BPA are everywhere, but do your best to avoid them.


Juice companies don't want you to know what goes into 100 percent juice. Thanks to lax FDA regulations, industrial juicers have more than a little wiggle room when it comes to labeling their bottles. One loop-hole they love to exploit is the one that allows the claim "100 percent juice" to be used out of context with the other claims on the label, which is how they slap inexpensive sounding names onto cheap juice blends. You might think your bottle contains 100 percent blueberry or pomegranate, but really it's just as likely to be a blend of inexpensive sucrose-loaded fillers tinged with a mere splash of what you really want. 

Ocean Spray doesn't want you to know that its line of cranberry juice blends contains more sugar than fruit.  You might be surprised to learn that many of them contain as little as 20 percent real juice. What's more, none of Ocean Spray's stable of hybrid "juices" earns few than 73 percent of its calories from added sugar, and most have sugar loads closer to 85 percent. That amounts to about as much sugar as two scoops of ice cream stuffed into each 8-ounce cup of juice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Asparagus, Bacon and Cheese Strata

Asparagus, Bacon and Cheese Strata
Servings:  8

4-5 slices light whole wheat bread  
1/2 cup onion(s), diced  
1 cup asparagus, fresh, or frozen and thawed, cut into 1-inch pieces  
4 slices turkey bacon (I used the Jennie-O extra lean), diced  
3/4 cup fat-free skim milk  
2 tsp Dijon mustard  
4 large whole eggs
5 large egg whites
1/2 tsp table salt  
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground  
1 cup shredded cheese (I used an Italian blend)
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a round baking dish with cooking spray and arrange bread slices tightly in the bottom.

In a large bowl, toss asparagus pieces, chopped onion, and finely diced bacon pieces together. Layer evenly over bread pieces. Sprinkle with ½ tablespoon Parmesan cheese and half cup of shredded cheese of your choice.

In the same large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, milk, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over bread, veggies, and cheeses, allowing milk mixture to soak in for a minute. Top with remaining cheeses.

Bake for about 40 minutes until cheeses are bubbling and slightly browned and the eggs are cooked through. Slice into 8 servings and enjoy!

This is such a great way to use up leftover veggies – you could use squash, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, you name it! It makes for really good leftovers, too.  I enjoyed it because it is a warm, filling breakfast, but much fewer calories (not to mention full of good stuff for you – namely fiber, lean protein, etc) than a bowl of cereal!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Greek Lentil Salad

I have never tried cooking lentils myself - they have been another one of those seemingly scary ingredients to me. But since they are so dang good for you, and this recipe looked so dang delicious to me, I took a leap of faith. And it all worked out. Thankfully. 

Greek Lentil Salad
modified from here

1 cup lentils
1/4 cup chopped onion
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 Tbsp capers
¼ cup diced cucumbers
¼ cup red bell peppers
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (divided)
salt and pepper to taste


Before washing lentils you should spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for and remove small stones or debris. After this process, place the lentils in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. Place in a large bowl and soak for 1-2 hours to reduce cooking time.

To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover, approximately 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, heat 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet.  Add onions and garlic and cook until fragrant and tender. Stir in cooked lentils and lemon zest and remove from heat.

Add the tomatoes, feta, bell peppers, and capers. Stir until well combined.

Next, add the lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least an hour, add cucumbers and serve.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pasta Alfredo with Kale

Here's another simple weeknight dinner that I throw together. It takes a few dishes to make, but overall is hard to mess up and very healthy (assuming your Alfredo sauce isn't loaded with calories). I think kale can be hard to incorporate into recipes because it can be very tough and sometimes bitter, but cooking it down and saucing it up is a great way to include it into your diet. 

Pasta Alfredo with Kale

3-4 oz whole-wheat pasta
2 cups chopped fresh kale
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup store-bought (I like Classico's Light Alfredo) or homemade alfredo sauce

Put about an inch of water in a small saucepan with chopped kale and put over low-medium heat. Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, checking periodically. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. If you time it right, the pasta will come out just shortly before the kale is done. 

On a third burner, saute onions and garlic (with a pinch of red pepper flakes, if desired) until fragrant. Pour alfredo sauce and stir until heated through.

When kale is finished (it will still be slightly chewy, but more tender), drain well. Toss pasta and kale in alfredo sauce. Enjoy!

Serves 2.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Food Fact Friday: the best sources of...

Bananas are the best source of potassium and oranges are the best source of vitamin C...or are they?

Your body uses potassium to keep your nerves and muscles firing efficiently, and an adequate intake can blunt sodium’s effect on blood pressure. One 2009 study found that a 2:1 ratio of potassium to sodium could halve your risk of heart disease, and since the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, your goal should be 6,800 milligrams of daily potassium. You’re extremely unlikely to ever reach that mark—and never with bananas alone. One medium banana has 422 milligrams and 105 calories. Here are the sources that earn you roughly the same amount of potassium in fewer calories:     
Potato, half a medium spud, 80 calories     
Apricots, 5 whole fruit, 80 calories    
Cantaloupe, 1 cup cubes, 55 calories     
Broccoli, 1 full stalk, 50 calories     
Sun-dried tomatoes, a quarter cup, 35 calories

Far more than a simple immune booster, vitamin C is an antioxidant that plays a host of important roles in your body. It strengthens skin by helping to build collagen, improves mood by increasing the flow of norepinephrine, and bolsters metabolic efficiency by helping transport fat cells into the body’s energy-burning mitochondria. But since your body can neither store nor create the wonder vitamin, you need to provide a constant supply. An orange is the most famous vitamin-C food, and although it’s a good source, it’s by no means the best. For 70 calories, one orange gives you about 70 micrograms of vitamin C. Here are five sources with just as much vitamin C and even fewer calories:     
Papaya, ¾ cup, 50 calories     
Brussel’s sprouts, 1 cup, 40 calories     
Strawberries, 7 large fruit, 40 calories     
Broccoli, ½ stalk, 25 calories     
Red Bell Pepper, ½ medium pepper, 20 calories

photo from here
info from here

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Steak Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce

My favorite meal (among a slue of delicious choices) over my recent trip to Europe was a pork gyro in Corfu, Greece. Everything about it was perfection - no joke. I will never forget that gyro.

Interesting sidenote: the Grecians put potato wedges/fries right into the gyros. Genius.

I don't know that my version was quite as good as my Corfu experience, but it was pretty tasty (and probably MUCH healthier). Not too hard, either, especially if you have pre-cooked meat.

I found these pitas at Dan's one day and they looked so soft and inviting I had to buy a package. Talk about impulse shopping - there are times I can resist a pair of cute shoes, but rarely can I resist big, soft pitas (and don't get me started on naan). 

I also cheated and used some Tyson steak strips rather than marinating and cooking my own. Traditionally gyros are made with a slow-cooked lamb, but I'm not a fan, so I went with beef (and interestingly enough, I didn't once see a lamb gyro on a Greek menu - pork seemed to be pretty popular). 

Steak Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce

2 whole-wheat pitas
6 oz cooked steak strips
1/2 small onion, sliced
1 large tomato, sliced
1/2 cup Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)

Heat your oven to about 200 degrees. Place pita bread inside to get warm and slightly toasted while you prep everything else. (you could skip this and just microwave it for a bit). Place meat in a skillet over medium heat until heated through. Remove pita from oven and fill with steak strips, desired amount of onion and tomato slices, and 1/4 cup of Tzatziki. Enjoy!

Makes 2 gyros.

Tzatziki Sauce
modified from here

6 oz fat free Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated and drained cucumber
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper

Strain the yogurt using a metal strainer or cheesecloth for a few hours to remove as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

Scoop seeds out of the cucumber with a small spoon. Place cucumber in a mini food processor or grate with a box cheese grater. Drain the liquid from the cucumber in a metal strainer and sprinkle with a little salt (this helps release the liquid). You may want to use the back of a spoon to help squeeze out any excess liquid.

Combine strained cucumber, garlic, yogurt, salt, pepper, lemon juice, dill, parsley and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Makes about 1 cup, or 4 servings. Store in refrigerator for about a week.