Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Friday: Thai Chicken Salad

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.
We're going to Thailand this week.  I'm taking you back to {half} of my roots by sharing with you one of my favorite Thai dishes.  Although my Mom is Thai, I must admit that I wasn't a fan of Thai food growing up.  It almost seems criminal to me now!  But now that I've come to my senses, I L.O.V.E. Thai food. It's seriously one of my favorite ethnic cuisines.  My mom and basically all of my Thai relatives can cook some seriously delicious Thai food, and IMHO, it beats anything you'd find in a restaurant here.  This Thai Chicken Salad, also called larb, laab, laap, or larp, actually originates from Laos. My mom actually grew up in Northeastern Thailand where there is a lot of Laos influence on the cooking.  This dish does have a spicy kick, but it's so fresh, light, and EASY to prepare.  Oh yes, and it's delicious!

Thai Chicken Salad
{Print this recipe}
1 lb lean ground chicken breast
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 tsp ground roasted dried Thai chilies or 1-2 fresh Thai chilies, chopped (If you're spice-o-phobic, you may want to start with 1/4 tsp and work up from there.)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 Tbsp fish sauce (aka, nampla -- About 1 1/2 Tbsp is usually the right amount for our family's tastes, but start with 1 Tbsp and adjust from there according to your taste.)
4 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 Tbsp ground roasted rice (optional - *purchase pre-packaged or see directions below)

1.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 1/2 Tbsp of the oil.  Add half of the onion slices and cook until they begin to soften. Remove them from the skillet into a medium bowl and set aside. 
2.  Add the remaining oil to the skillet.  Add the chicken and cook breaking into small bits, about 5 minutes.  
3.  Place the cooked chicken in the bowl with the grilled onion.  Add the remaining raw onion slices, chili pepper, garlic, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Mix well.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. 
4. Toss the ground roasted rice into the mixture and serve on a platter. Serve with rice and fresh green leaf and/or red leaf lettuce, cucumber, and other fresh greens (eg, cilantro, mint, Thai basil).

*To make ground roasted rice, toast uncooked sweet rice over low-medium heat on a dry pan until golden brown, stirring continuously. This takes about 10-15 minutes.  When toasted, remove from heat and let cool.  Grind the rice with a mortar and pestle.  Save extra for future use.

Serves: 4
Nutritional Information:
Calories: 268   Carbohydrate:  4 g   Fat:  19 g   Cholesterol: 85 mg   Protein: 20 g   Fiber: 0.4 g   Sugar:  1.7 g   *Sodium: 592 mg  
High in: niacin, vitamin B6, B12, and magnesium.
*Sodium content can be adjusted down by using less fish sauce.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quench your thirst with these juicy foods

 Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Are you thirsty? If so, then you are most likely mildly dehydrated. Drink up -- or eat up!  The average adult male needs about 3.7 liters of water daily while the average woman about 2.7 liters of water each day.  While drinking water is a great way to meet most of your body's fluid needs, we can also obtain water from food.  This may be an ideal way to help boost water intake for those who aren't really fans of drinking plain old water.  Now that I'm feeling the summer heat, I find juicy foods to be a very appealing way to help me quench my thirst.  Not only are many of these foods high in water content, but they are also typically lower in calories and higher in nutrients than many other less juicy foods.  Here are some nutritious and juicy foods that you may want to consider to help meet your daily fluid needs:

Watermelon: What list of juicy foods wouldn't be complete with out it?  One cup of diced watermelon will provide a little over 1/2 cup of water and only 46 calories.  It's also a good source of lycopene, a phytochemical that may act as an antioxidant in the body, vitamin C, and vitamin A, which is essential for health of the eyes, skin, bones and teeth, reproductive system, and immune system! How to enjoy it?  Puree with other melons and fruit with a dollop of yogurt for a nice cold soup.  Its subtle crunch also makes it an excellent component of a summer fruit salad.

Tomato:  1 cup of cherry tomatoes also offers over 1/2 cup of water at 27 calories.  Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, A, and lycopene.  They also are good sources of potassium, folate, B vitamins, vitamin K, and fiber.  How to enjoy it?  Toss them into salads and slip them into sandwiches.   Blend them with other vegetables and seasonings for a refreshing gazpacho.  Prepare a simple panzanella.  Use them to make a salsa topping for wraps, baked sweet potato, or egg white omelet.   

Pineapple: This tropical juicy fruit doles out a little over 1/2 cup of water and almost 2.5 grams of fiber per cup.  You'll get a boost of vitamin C, too, since it contains a whopping 79 mg per cup!  How to enjoy it? It works well in a fresh tropical fruit salad.  Pineapple also makes an sweet and tangy salsa that can be served over fish.  And since it's summer, try grilling it!

Zucchini: This summer squash contains almost 1/2 cup of water and 19 calories per cup.  Zucchini is a good source of both lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that are important for eye health.  In fact, several long-term studies have detected a relationship between higher intakes of these two carotenoids and lower risk of age-related eye disease and possibly even cataracts.  These crunchy, fresh vegetables are also a good source of potassium, manganese, and vitamins A and C.  How to enjoy it? Sprinkle freshly grated zucchini onto salads, sandwiches, and wraps.  Make a nice zucchini salad or dip zucchini sticks into a tasty, nutritious dip.

Blackberries:  A one-cup serving will provide 1/2 cup of water and packs a fibrous punch with 7.6 g per cup!  It also boasts plenty of vitamin K and vitamin C.  These sweet, plump berries also have a very high antioxidant power rating (ORAC rating) ranking among the highest of all fruits! This is likely due to it's high ellagic acid and anthocyanin content, a pigment that contributes to their dark purple color. Consuming these antioxidant compounds from foods may be helpful in slowing the aging process.

Cauliflower:  This mild-tasting flowery vegetable is a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin K, and choline.  A surprisingly excellent source of vitamin C, this cruciferous vegetable is chock full of phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, indole, and glucosinolate, which may have been linked with lowering the risk of certain types of cancersHow to enjoy it? These make the perfect crunchy crudite served with dip.  They also work well sauteed with various seasonings or pureed into soups!  Or have you ever had cauliflower popcorn?  Mmmmm!

Grapefruit:  This tart and tangy citrus fruit squeezes out a good amount of fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.  It's also rich in lycopene and scores among the best when it comes to its antioxidant ratingHow to enjoy it? This fruit makes a unique addition to green salads. Or try it as the main component of a salad.  Use it to make a citrus salsa as a perfect accompaniment to fish.

Grapes:  These poppable fruits serve up a good amount of potassium, manganese, and vitamin K.  The red variety is a powerhouse of phytochemicals, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and resveratrol, and boasts a high antioxidant rating to boot!  How to enjoy them?  For a summer treat that beats the heat, try freezing them for a sweet frozen snack.  Add them to fruit salads or toss them into green salads for pop of sweetness.  They also pair well with cheese for an elegant appetizer or snack.

Mango:  This nutritious powerhouse of the tropics is loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals.  Mangoes are also rich in phytochemicals, including phenolic acids and lutein.  How to enjoy it? These are a fantastic addition to fruit smoothies.  Grill them or add them to side dishes, like couscous.  They also make a lovely salsa that serves well over fish.

Cherries:  This antioxidant rich fruit contains anthocyanins, antioxidants which contribute to their perfectly red color.  They also contain a good amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.  How to enjoy them? Add fresh cherries to fruit or green salads for that perfect bada bing!  Toss into couscous or oatmeal for a sweet, tart twist.  Serve as part of a sweet sauce over poultry or pork.  Blend into a fruit smoothie.

What is your favorite juicy food?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's on your workout playlist?

Photo credit: ~~Tone~~ (flickr)

Have you ever felt like checking out early during a workout?  Or maybe you feel like picking up the pace, but you just can't seem to bring yourself to do so?  One thing that gets me through those workout humps is music.  Music drives my workouts, so one of the best workout-related investments I've ever made was my iPod nano.  The great thing about the iPod or other mp3 players, like Zune, is that you can create special playlists with your favorite workout songs, and you can change them often.  For my runs, I usually like to start out with something a little slower paced, and then a few minutes into it, I really like to kick it into high gear.  I find that I change my pace according to the beat, and I love that.  I'll sometimes find myself mentally starting to drag.  However, a new, high energy song comes on, and it gives me the extra push that I need.  When I'm ready to take it down a notch, then I can cool down to some slower tunes.  It's fantastic.

I was on a run last night when I realized that I need some fresh music to add to my playlist.  Fortunately, I have some extra money leftover from a lovely iTunes gift card that I received (great gift for iPoddies, by the way), so I thought I'd spruce up my playlist with your help.  So, let's do a little playlist share.  Here's what I have on my playlist.  (And yes, I am aware that this list may very well put me in the runners hall of shame with some of the choices.  Forgive me!)
What's on your playlist? What do I need on mine?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Foodie Friday: Warm Corn and Bean Tostadas

 Photo courtesy of: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

I adapted this recipe from one of my favorite foodie celebs, Rachael Ray.  I spied an all grilling Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine in May, and I just had to have it.  Grilling is one of my favorite ways to cook.  I love the fact that this is a colorful, tasty, and easy vegetarian option.  I'm all about cooking with ease.  You can accumulate about half of your daily recommended fiber needs along with a host of other key nutrients from one serving alone! Enjoy!

Warm Corn and Bean Tostadas
Adapted from: Rachael Ray, May 2010
3 cups frozen corn
Vegetable oil, for drizzling
Ancho chili powder or traditional chili powder
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup of 2% evaporated milk (you could also use whole milk or half and half)
1 tsp chipotle adobo sauce (if you like heat, you may want to use an actual chile, seeded and chopped)
1 can (15 oz) low-fat vegetarian refried beans (preferably light sodium, like Amy's Organic Refried Black Beans)
4 cups shredded romaine lettuce for topping
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped for topping
1 small red onion, finely chopped for topping
1/4 cup or large handful of chopped cilantro for topping
1 cup 2% milk shredded Monterey Jack cheese for topping
8, 6-inch corn tortillas

1.  Preheat a grill or broiler to high, placing a rack on the second level.
2.  In a medium saucepan, drizzle corn with oil and sprinkle with chili powder and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook on medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until heated through.  Toss with lime juice. 
3.  In a small saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, adobo sauce, and lime zest over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly reduced.
4.  Combine the refried beans and 1/4 cup of water in another small saucepan over medium-low heat until heated through. 
5.  Grill or broil the tortillas briefly, just to heat.  Remove from grill or broiler.  Top each tortilla with refried beans, cheese, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro.  Drizzle with chipotle sauce.  Serve 2 tostadas per person. 

Serves: 4
Nutritional Information:
Calories: 497   Carbohydrate: 71 g   Fat:  14 g   Saturated fat:  5 g   Monounsaturated fat:  2 g   Protein: 21 g   Cholesterol:  22 mg   Fiber:  12.5 g   Sugar: 10.5 g   *Sodium: 562 mg
High in:  thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
*If you would like to reduce the sodium content further, you can use no salt refried beans, use reduced sodium black or pinto beans (drained, rinsed) and mashed, or make your own refried beans to control sodium content. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trendy Bytes: Agave

Photo courtesy of Suzie T (flickr).

Agave nectar or agave syrup seems to be one of the latest celebrities in the world of sweeteners.  Agave syrup has a slightly thinner consistency than honey and is considerably sweeter than regular table sugar, and it has been touted as a more superior alternative to refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  It's often acclaimed for being a more natural sweetener and for its low glycemic index.  On its rise to fame, agave nectar has gained many fans hopeful that this new alternative sweetener will help them accomplish things, such as improved nutrition and weight loss.  So, how does it stack up against the competition?

Agave syrup, that's just a naturally-occurring nectar that is simply extracted from the agave plant, like aloe from an aloe plant, right?  Not necessarily.  There are several different species of agave that can be used to produce agave syrup; however, regardless of where it comes from, the liquid extracted from the agave plant undergoes heat and/or enzyme treatment that breaks down larger carbohydrate molecules into simple sugars, fructose and glucose.  This process vaguely reminds me of the one used to make HFCS.  Natural? You be the judge. 

Agave syrup has a lower glycemic index than sugar, so it's better for me, right?  Not so fast!  The glycemic index (GI) of agave syrup ranges between 10-35, which is considerably lower than the comparative standard of 100 for pure glucose or white bread.  However, the GI has its flaws.  While most GI test portions included 1-2 Tbsp of agave syrup, most people using it would not just eat 1-2 Tbsp of pure agave syrup alone.  They often use it in or on other foods, and each food or beverage consumed with that meal affects the overall glycemic response. There are other factors, such as the presence of diabetes, that can affect glycemic response, too.  Consider this, some vegetables, legumes, and fruits have a higher GI than fructose, but does that mean they aren't nutritious?  While many diet books and programs proclaim the benefits of the low-GI diet for weight management, the evidence doesn't really support its use for this purpose.  On the other hand, some evidence suggests that using the GI may be helpful for those who have diabetes.  However, carbohydrate counting continues to be the most effective dietary strategy for managing blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.

Well, it's got to be better than high fructose corn syrup or table sugar, right?  As previously mentioned, agave syrup is actually composed of fructose and glucose.  In fact, HFCS is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, table sugar is 50% fructose and 50% glucose while agave syrup can range between 85 - 97% fructose and 3-15% glucose.  Yes, its fructose composition is even higher than HFCS. Gasp!  (That is actually what contributes to its low GI.)  Some studies suggest that high intakes of dietary fructose (>/=20% of total calorie intake or about 50-100 g/d; 1 Tbsp of agave could provide about 14-15 g of fructose) may contribute to elevated triglycerides and increased LDL-cholesterol in certain populations.  For individuals with fructose malabsorption, consumption of agave syrup may contribute to digestive disturbances, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort, due to its high fructose content.  While the actual agave plant may have a high antioxidant capacity, agave syrup appears to have lower antioxidant levels than raw cane sugar, dark and blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and honey.  Also keep in mind that agave contains approximately 4 calories per gram or about 16 calories per teaspoon, which is comparable to both HFCS and table sugar.  Essentially, agave syrup is another form of sugar.  Because it is not naturally occurring in foods, it is considered an added sugar in the diet, and current guidelines recommend limiting the intake of added sugars.

On the bright side, agave syrup is sweeter than regular sugar (thank the higher fructose content), so users report needing to use less to sweeten their beverages and food.  That could help reduce overall added sugar and calorie intake.  It is also a vegan-friendly alternative to honey.

What's the bottom line?  Agave nectar is not necessarily more nutritious than table sugar, honey, or HFCS.  It's a form of added sugar, and it's best to curb our intake of added sugars to achieve our best health.  In more practical terms, my advice is to move toward 2 or fewer servings of added sugar, like agave nectar, daily while focusing on consuming enough of the more nutritious foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Foodie Friday: Hearty Berry and Cinnamon Quinoa with Toasted Walnuts

Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. 

I fell in love with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) while I was in undergrad and had to make a quinoa pilaf for a food prep class.  It looked like birdseed, so I didn't know what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised by its slightly crunchy texture and hearty, nutty flavor.  This pseudocereal seed prevails as a powerhouse plant-based source of protein because it contains a healthful balance of all essential amino acids and is well-digested by the body.  Its protein profile makes it the perfect component in the vegetarian diet.  Quinoa is also an excellent plant source of iron, magnesium, folate, and managanese and a good source of fiber and copper.  Newer data also indicate that quinoa harbors a host of phytochemicals, including polyphenols, flavonoids, and phytosterols.  Because it's gluten-free, it also works well for those with celiac disease.

Quinoa's versatility has won me over.  It provides the perfect alternative for those who are a little bored with the brown rice or whole wheat couscous routine.  It works well in soups, salads, and for breakfast.  I also love the fact that you can actually cook it in a rice cooker. And like rice, it also freezes well, so you can cook ahead and store for future recipes.  So simple!  You can also find gluten-free noodles and other products made from quinoa that can sub for other gluten-containing foods.

If you're not sold on it yet because a dietitian's doing the sales pitch here, then trust my husband.  I introduced him to this a few years ago, and he finds it quite tasty!

Here's a delicious, warm, wholesome breakfast quinoa.  Try it, and let me know what you think.

Hearty Berry and Cinnamon Quinoa with Toasted Walnuts
{Print this recipe}
1 cup quinoa, rinsed (I used red quinoa in the photo above.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup 1% milk (You could use soy or almond milk, too.)
2 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed (You could also use other berries, such as blueberries.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 c chopped walnuts  (You could also use other nuts, such as pecans.)
4 teaspoons brown sugar or to taste (You could also use honey, agave, or maple syrup.)

1.  Rinse and drain quinoa through a fine mesh strainer thoroughly before cooking.  (This removes any remaining bitter-flavored saponins.)  Combine the water and quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.  (If you have a rice cooker, that will work perfectly, too!)
2.  While the quinoa is simmering, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.
3.  After the quinoa is cooked, stir in the milk, blackberries, cinnamon, walnuts, and brown sugar. 
4.  Enjoy!

Serves: 4

Nutritional Info:
Calories: 345     Carbohydate: 44 g     Fat: 14.5 g     Saturated fat: 1 g     Monounsaturated fat: 1.4 g     Protein: 11 g     Cholesterol: 1.5 mg     Fiber: 15 g     Sugar: 10 g     Sodium:  30 mg
High in:  omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acid, riboflavin, vitamin B12, magnesium, and zinc

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

10 summer drinks that you might want to re-think

Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan (flickr)

With the onset of summer, we often look for ways to feel refreshed ...a trip to the beach, a dip in the pool, or sometimes a nice, cool drink.  While some of those beverages can help us beat the summer heat, others can bust the calorie budget. When it comes to those summer libations, you may want to ask yourself this question first: "Do I want to drink my calories or do I want to eat them?"  Why should you ask this?  Some studies suggest that calories in beverage form may be better at satisfying our thirst not our hunger.   For instance, Barbara Rolls, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan, conducted a study comparing subjects' satiety levels and energy consumption at meals following consumption of a whole apple, applesauce, or apple juice.  Which one do you think enhanced satiety and curbed energy intake the most?  The whole apple!

Check out these 10 higher calorie summer refreshments and their lower calorie alternatives. 

Iced espresso drinks:  One Grande Iced Caffe Mocha from Starbucks will set you back 320 calories, 17 grams of fat (mostly saturated), and 28 grams or 7 teaspoons of sugar.  Just play 36 minutes of beach volleyball and you've got the calories covered.  The Alternative?  Go for it but request nonfat milk and no whipped cream.  You'll save yourself 150 calories and 14.5 grams of fat, and you'll still get 9 grams of protein and 20% of the Daily Value for calcium.

Lemonade:  One cup of lemonade will rack up about 130 calories and 33 grams of sugar, the equivalent of almost 15 Hershey's KissesThe Alternative?  Twist some citrus, like lemon or orange, into a tall glass of ice cold water.  You could also consider adding fresh berries or apple, pear slices, or cucumber slices to your water.  Eat the fresh goodies afterwards, and get a nutritional boost!

Margarita: A 10 ounce mango margarita will deliver about 740 calories and 56 grams (14 teaspoons) of sugar.  Alcoholic beverages offer a triple whammy.  Not only are they high in liquid calories, but they can also lead to higher calorie consumption when consumed before or with meals. Alcohol also has a diuretic effect on the body, which can cause greater water loss through urination.  This loss of water (as well as the extra salt on the rim of the glass) triggers thirst, which could lead one to drink even more alcohol.   The Alternative?  A high quality tequila on the rocks with a splash of lime juice contains about 136 calories and virtually no sugar saving you a whopping 640 calories!  Pair this with a glass of water to sip on, too! 

Sweet tea: Sweetened teas can really boost the daily calorie count.  A large sweet tea from McDonald's serves up 230 calories and 59 grams of sugar or the equivalent of about 75 jelly beansThe Alternative?  Go plain jane here.  A 32 oz unsweetened iced tea contains less than 10 calories and no sugar.  If you want some flavor, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprig of mint to your iced tea.  

Milkshake: Would it surprise you to find out that milkshakes can run upwards of 500 calories depending on what goes in it?  The Chocolate Turtle shake from Ruby's Diner contains 1060 calories, 33 grams of fat, and 157 grams of sugar.  Yes, you read that right!  That's more calories than a double grilled cheese bacon burger from Carl's Jr. and the sugar equivalent of 34 Oreo cookiesThe Alternative? Go for a nice tall glass of low-fat milk and make your own more nutritious smoothie at home.

Flavored and enhanced water:  Maybe it should be called Vitamin and Sugar Water since it delivers around 125 calories and 33 grams of sugar per bottle.  That's equivalent to 8 1/4 packets of sugar!  The Alternative?  Get more of your vitamins consuming a well-balanced diet and drink plain water instead.  If you need some pizazz try sparkling water with a splash of lemon or cranberry juice.

Beer:  Not all beers are created equal, but you already knew that, if you are a beer enthusiast.  Most beers average around 12 calories per ounce, but some run even higher.  Sierra Nevada Pale Ale contains 175 calories per 12 oz and the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot tips the scale at 330 calories per 12 oz.  The Alternative? Light beers serve up an average of 10 calories per ounce, but for more taste on fewer calories, you could opt for a Guinness Draught at 126 calories per 12 oz.  And remember the water!    

Energy drinks:  You're going to need these to keep up with your busier summer schedule, right?  They'll give you energy alright. In fact, Rockstar  Energy Drink will crank out a good 280 calories worth of energy and 62 grams of sugar.  That's okay, you'll just need to walk up stairs for over 30 minutes to burn that off.  Or think of it like this, that's the sugar equivalent to about 5 McDonald's baked apple piesThe Alternative?  Look for other ways to optimize your energy levels, and if you need a mental boost, go for a cup of joe or tea instead.  Need the chill, then opt for the plain iced coffee, iced caffe americano, or unsweetened iced tea.

Pina Colada:  You might like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, but you also might want to consider  jumping rope for at least an hour to burn off the 644 calories that come with that drink.  That's more calories than the KFC's Double Down sandwich. You know, the one with bacon, cheese, and sauce squished between two fried chicken filets.  The Alternative?  Try a virgin banana pina colada which offers 2 servings of fruit and only 130 calories per serving.

Root beer float:  It'll make you feel like you're back in the 1950's, but it'll also take you up in calories.  Sonic's regular-sized root beer float weighs in at 339 calories, 14 grams of fat (mostly saturated), and 49 grams of sugar.  You'd need to do jumping jacks for 38 minutes to burn that many calories.  Ouch!  The Alternative?  You could opt for just the root beer or just the ice cream or if you must, make your own using diet root beer and light ice cream.

What are your more nutritious summer drink alternatives?

*Calories burned doing various activities are based on 150 pound person.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Trendy Bytes: Fiber Invasion

Used with permission by the American Dietetic Association.

The food manufacturing industry has unloaded an arsenal of products boasting a high fiber content.  I'm sure you've seen them.  Not only can we get "double fiber" bread, but now we can also consume foods that aren't typical sources of fiber, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and even water!  When these products first started invading the marketplace, my dietitian radar of skepticism was immediately raised.  Is this because I'm not a fan of fiber?  No, I definitely believe that fiber-rich foods offer a wealth of potential health benefits, including improved bowel regularity, blood glucose control, and cholesterol management.  Also, Americans are definitely not consuming enough fiber -- only about half of the 20-35 g/day that's recommended.  However, I'm more of a fan of foods brimming with naturally-occurring fiber over those that have been infused with isolated fibers, like inulin (from chicory root) or polydextrose. These are also known as functional fibers.

Here are 5 reasons why I favor naturally-occurring sources of fiber (eg, whole grains, legumes, bran, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) over foods spiked with functional fibers.
  • Processing alters the plant's natural structure.  Some earlier research suggests that the more refined the plant food, the less effective it may be at promoting health.  For example, one study found that as wheat-based foods became more refined, the greater the insulin and blood sugar response.  So frequently consuming these more refined products may make managing a health condition like type 2 diabetes more challenging.  Another study found that subjects had more difficulty with bowel movements when consuming finely ground wheat bran in comparison to those consuming coarse wheat bran.  Essentially, the more refined the plant food (and these isolated fibers are refined components of foods), the less benefit we may actually get from the natural form of the food.  So focus more effort on consuming foods that are less refined.
  • When we extract one component of a food (eg, fiber), we are missing out on a host of other valuable nutrients and phytochemicals that the original plant-based foods offer.  For example, we can obtain naturally-occurring sources of inulin from onions, bananas, leeks, asparagus, shallots, peaches, and garlic.  All of these contain a variety of valuable nutrients and phytochemicals.  Think of the possibilities!
  • When we purchase a product based solely on the marketing claims on the label, our attention may be diverted from some of the less nourishing ingredients.  For example, I had a client who wanted me to evaluate the new granola bars she'd been consuming for an occasional snack.  The label on the box highlighted that they were only "90 calories" and contained "35% of the Daily Value for fiber" (mostly inulin from chicory root extract).  However, upon closer investigation of the ingredient list, we found that the product was riddled with several sources of added sugar, contained few high quality ingredients, and was not a significant source of many other key nutrients. So look beyond the clever marketing claims!
  • These fiber-laced foods may be substituting other nutritious foods.  For instance, the high-fiber granola bars may replace a serving of vegetable or fruit that could be eaten as a snack instead.  Also, some people may lax up on their consumption of foods naturally high in fiber since they're getting fiber from the fortified foods.  Remember to consider what nutrients or phytochemicals we might be missing out on by doing this.
  • Little research has been conducted on the health benefit of these functional fibers.  The evidence that is available seems to be very weak in terms of their impact on optimizing health.  I don't necessarily believe that these isolated fibers aren't capable of promoting health like their naturally-occurring counterparts; however, the evidence doesn't support their widespread infiltration into the food supply just yet.  In fact, one recent research study suggests that higher intakes of isolated inulin may lead to mild gastrointestinal discomfort in the form of bloating and gas.  So it may be wise to practice moderation with these foods, especially if you already have GI disturbances. 
What do you think of these fiber-spiked foods?

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    A Giveaway, A Guest Interview, and A Recipe

    Happy 4th of July!

    Thank you to all who submitted entries for the $40 e-card giveaway from CSN Stores!  And the winner is...


    ...#10 entry using the True Random Number Generator at   

    Thanks again!
    Please check out my guest interview at Fooducate and the new "Foodie Friday" recipe for the best chicken tacos ever that I posted for 4th of July weekend.

    Foodie Friday: The best chicken tacos ever. Seriously!

     Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

    I've decided to start sharing more recipes and food/cooking info on my blog. So I am going to start what I will call "Foodie Friday" for which I will contribute nutritious and tasty recipes or discuss the health benefits of specific nutritious foods and practical ways to incorporate more of them into your diet.  To send you off into Fourth of July weekend with a bang, I thought I would leave you with one of my all time favorite grilled chicken recipes ever!  For one, I know you're going to be grilling this weekend, right?  If so, you should try it. Seriously!  It will not disappoint.  Secondly, so many people tell me that they don't like chicken or that they get bored with it, and let me tell you, this will not be boring at all. It will only tantalize your taste buds and the aromas it delivers will be amazing!  Oh yeah, and it's easy! 

    Let me give you a little bit of background on this recipe.  I am possibly obsessed with the Food Network and cooking shows, and one of my favorite chefs is Bobby Flay.  After watching an episode of Grill It! with Bobby Flay about two years ago, I just had to try this recipe. It sounded so delicious, and it is delicious!  Keep in mind that I have made a few modifications from the original to enhance the nutrition profile.

    Spice-rubbed Chicken Breast  Tacos with Grilled Poblanos and BBQ Onions
    Adapted from: Grill It! with Bobby Flay - Food Network

    {Print this recipe}
    Grilled poblanos:
    3 large poblanos
    Canola oil
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    BBQ Onions:
    2 sweet onions, leave skin on and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick sliced rings
    Canola oil
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce

    Chicken tacos:
    2 Tbsp ancho chili powder
    2 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 tsp ground cumin
    2 tsp light brown sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    4 boneless, skinless chicken breast
    Canola oil
    8 whole wheat flour tortillas (or you could use 16 corn tortillas for ~2 per person)
    2 grilled, sliced poblanos (from recipe above)
    Barbecued onions (from recipe above)
    Shredded Romaine lettuce (Bobby has a coleslaw recipe that he uses with the tacos, but I'm not a coleslaw fan. I used broccoli slaw in photo above, and it worked great for some added crunch.)
    Diced tomatoes (about 2 tomatoes)
    Guacamole (Bobby Flay's recipe is phenomenal. Everyone we serve this to raves about it.) 

    1. Preheat your grill to high.
    2. Brush the poblanos with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until lightly blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the grill, place in a bowl and cover with plastic for 10 minutes. Remove the skin, seeds and stem and cut into thin slices. Set aside.
    3. Brush the onions with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until lightly golden brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes each side. Brush with some of the barbecue sauce during the last few minutes. Remove the skin when the onions come off the grill.  Set aside. 
    4.   Mix the chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, brown sugar, salt and black pepper together in a small bowl.  Rub each side of the chicken with the rub mixture.  Drizzle with oil and grill each side for about 4-5 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the grill and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
    5.  Grill the tortillas very quickly (about 5-10 seconds max) to warm before serving. Make tacos by filling each tortilla with some of the chicken, poblanos, onions, lettuce, tomato, and guacamole.
    6.  Serve with a side of grilled corn on the cob or other grilled vegetable (or fruit) and you have a nice well-rounded meal! 

    Serves: 8
    (The Food Network website suggests 4 servings; however, I think that one taco paired with some sizzlin' grilled vegetables would still satisfy most. We use the leftovers in a variety of other ways, such as in salads, sandwiches, or in wraps.)
    Nutritional Info:  
    Calories: 346     Carbohydate: 26.5 g     Fat: 8.5 g     Saturated fat: 1.6 g     Monounsaturated fat: 4 g     Protein: 40 g     Cholesterol: 96 mg     Fiber: 12 g     Sugar: 6.5 g     *Sodium:  600 mg
    High in:  niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin A, and vitamin c
    *Consider going easy on the salt to further reduce the sodium content, if you are moderating your sodium intake.

    HAPPY 4TH!
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