How to Bake Healthier

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We all have our weaknesses when it comes to food, what’s yours?

For someone who loves food, it’s truly hard to pick just one. Sushi, ice cream, Nutella sandwiches…basically most foods are weaknesses. But among all of my favorite foods to eat, there’s one that has made it to the top of the list. Freshly baked goods. Warm cobbler, gooey chocolate chip cookies, and don’t even get me started on bread. The smell of freshly baked bread should be an air freshener scent. Really.

When it comes to baking, it’s tempting to grab a box of cake, brownie, bread, you name it, mix from the grocery store. But consider why baking from scratch is better:

  • You have total control! You know exactly what is going into your food.
  • You decide on the type and amount of sugar, fat, and flour used the baked product.
  • Most mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil (yes, that’s trans fat!), food coloring, and preservatives.

While baked goods are often seen as diet splurges, you can still satisfy your cravings while still incorporating healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. Here are some tips to modify any baking recipe to make it more nutritious! These tips can also be applied to baking mixes.

Oil or butter

Fat is used in baked goods to provide moistness, flavor, and texture. Fat is a necessary nutrient for our bodies; make healthy changes by reducing the amount of unhealthy or excessive fat consumed. Try substituting some or all of the fat in a recipe with:

  • Mashed ripened bananas
  • Pureed pumpkin
  • Pureed sweet potatoes
  • Fruit puree (prune, peaches, etc.)

For ideal texture, substitute half of the fat in the recipe with:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Applesauce

Sugar

Sugar plays an important role in baking because it contributes to moistness, browning, and sweetness.

Alternative sweeteners?  Some sweeteners are advertised as being healthy because they are “all natural”. For example, Agave syrup is from blue Agave plants native to Mexico, South America, and part of the United States. The syrup you see sold in stores is a processed product made from the natural sweet liquid that comes from the plant. Little evidence shows that Agave syrup is significantly healthier than sugar. When it comes to sweeteners the bottom line is to focus on the amount that is added rather than the type of sweetener.

  • Overripe bananas are sweeter so you can reduce the amount of sugar you add
  • Cut back on ¼ or 1/3 of the amount of sugar the recipe calls for
  • Top cake with sliced fruit and a light dusting of powdered sugar instead of using frosting
  • Use spices and extracts such as vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.
  • Choose a recipe that has less sugar

Flour

Typically white flour is used in baking but unfortunately much of its nutrients are stripped away during processing. The US Dietary Guidelines recommends half of the grains we consume each day to be whole grains and what better way to incorporate that than with baked goods! Instead of opting for the usual white flour, experiment with new flours by visiting the bin aisle of your local health foods store.

1 cup of all-purpose flour can be substituted with:

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all purpose flour (note: whole wheat pastry flour will work better in cakes and muffins)
  • Buckwheat flour works well in bread recipes
  • Barley flour can be used in pancake recipes
  • Almond flour is high in vitamin E, copper, protein, and more! Read more about it here

If the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour you can substitute ¼ or ½ cup of it with flaxseed meal. Flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans, which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Lastly, add nutrient dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to baked goods as a subtle way to increase the nutrition profile. Try these black bean brownies to satisfy your chocolate craving while consuming fiber-rich black beans!

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

Weird Foods Worth Trying

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Is it just me or did your parents also make smoothies out of apple, banana, bitter melon, kumquat, and bell pepper growing up? Really, just me? Oh okay.

When I was in middle school my parents discovered something revolutionary, a Vitamix blender. Thus began their journey of blending every single fruit and vegetable in sight. To this day, my dad still prides himself on his homemade smoothies that contain 20 different fruits and vegetables. During the beginning of their blending obsession, I was introduced to odd fruits and vegetables that I surprisingly enjoyed (granted, I preferred eating them whole). That’s probably the reason why I get excited about trying unique produce that looks strange at first glance.

Although carrots and apples are great, I want to expose you to foods that aren’t well known but packed with nutrition! Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to throw it all into a blender… all I ask is for you to be open-minded and give these yummy foods a try.

Adzuki Beans

adzukibeans
photo by Oprah

Adzuki beans are small red beans that are traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Although we often associate beans with savory flavors, Adzuki beans are often sweetened and used in desserts. In traditional Chinese medicine, this legume is used to support kidney, reproductive, and bladder function. Adzuki beans are high in:

  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese

Whew! These beans may be small but they’re definitely nutrition powerhouses.

Preparation:
Begin by washing your beans and soaking them overnight in water. If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, you can also use put them in a pressure cooker for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and simmer the beans in water for an hour. Again, you can also use a pressure cooker by cooking the soaked beans in 2 cups of water for 5-9 minutes under high pressure.

Storage:
Store the beans in a sealed container in a dark and cool environment. They will last 5 days refrigerated or 6 months in the freezer.

Use:

  • Add to soups and stews
  • Mash the beans and use for bean tacos with avocado, salsa, lettuce, etc.
  • Pair with other beans to make a bean salad

Dandelion Greens

DandelionGreens
photo by Nourished Kitchen

Dandelion greens are more than merely pesky weeds that have invaded your garden. It may surprise you to know that they help control inflammation in our bodies and have been shown to be beneficial as anti-cancer agents. On top of that, they are also high in:

  • Vitamin A, E, and K
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Fiber

Use the leaves by:

  • Tossing in salads along with your favorite leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc.)
  • Blending with fruits to make a smoothie
  • Chopping and adding them to grains such as brown or wild rice

Feeling adventurous? Try using other parts of the plant as well because the flower, leaves and root are all edible!

Purple Yams

Purpleyams
photo by The Kitchn

If the beautiful violet hue hasn’t convinced you to try these yet then the flavor definitely will. Lightly sweet, smooth and starchy, you’ll feel like you’re indulging when you take a bite into a purple yam. The great news is that yams are full of:

  • Complex carbohydrates and fiber
  • Vitamin C and B6
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Magnesium

My favorite way to eat yams is to simply bake them. Wash thoroughly with water and pierce them a few times with a fork or knife. Place yams on a baking sheet or pan lined with foil. Bake at 425 degrees for approximately 1 hour, although the time will vary depending on the size of your yams. Remember to shake the pan occasionally while the yams are in the oven to ensure even cooking.

Baked yams make for a great snack, a quick breakfast on the go, or a healthy way to satisfy any sweet tooth!

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi
photo by In Sonnet’s Kitchen

Can be eaten raw or cooked

  • Vitamin C and B6
  • Isothiocyanates, which are beneficial against certain cancers
  • Dietary fiber
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Try this! Revamp classic French fries by making kohlrabi fries. Begin by removing the stems and leaves from the bulb (you can save them and sauté it!). Next, peel the bulb and slice it into thick matchsticks. Drizzle the kohlrabi with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also spice things up by adding chili powder or paprika. Spread out the fries on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

Wheat berries

Wheatberries
photo by Food Network

Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that are commonly ground into whole wheat flour for baking. Because the kernel is left intact, it contains all of the health benefits associated with the bran, which include:

  • Fiber
  • Iron
  • Protein
  • Vitamin E

Preparation:
Add 1 cup of wheat berries and 3 cups of water to a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and cover the pot. At around 30 minutes check the berries to see if they’re done. Look for a texture that is chewy! Continue to check every 5 minutes until they’re ready. You can store the berries in the refrigerator for about one week after they are cool.

Use:

  • Add to chili for a hearty texture
  • Stir into cooked oats
  • Toss with olive oil, corn, red onion, and arugula for a quick salad
  • Pair with roasted fennel and bell peppers

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

Five Herbs Worth Trying!

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I think we can all agree that sometimes life feels a little “blah.”

There comes a time when we become tired with the monotonous day-to-day activities and need something different. Whether its going for a therapeutic run, seeing a favorite movie, or getting a scoop (or two) of your favorite ice cream (lemon cookie), we all need some spicing up in our lives from time to time.

When it comes to cooking, herbs are nature’s wonderful gifts to jazz up our food when it begins to feel a little boring. Sold at farmers markets and your local grocery stores, there are many varieties accessible to all of us! On top of that, they’re inexpensive, full of health benefits, and easy to use… need I say more? Follow this easy guide to understand more about herbs and how to incorporate them into your meals. Before you know it, your ordinary food will be popping with fresh flavors!

At the Store

When buying fresh herbs there are some key points to keep in mind.

Look for:

  • Vibrant color and aroma
  • Fresh appearance
  • Fragrant
  • Crisp stems

Avoid:

  • Limp or wilting leaves
  • Yellow or black spots
  • Damaged stems and leaves
  • Dry appearance

How to Store Herbs

Store in a damp paper towel in a sealed plastic bag filled with air. Most herbs will last refrigerated for up to five days, but some may lose their flavor after a couple of days. Wash with cool water right before using and pat dry!

You can also freeze herbs by rinsing, patting dry, and transferring to a sheet pan to freeze. After the herbs are frozen, transfer them to a freezer proof bag and freeze up to 1 month.

Basil

There are many varieties of basil but Sweet Basil is the most common; it gets its name from the sweet aroma the stem and leaves give off. Basil was traditionally used as a medicine for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. This herb is a good source of:

  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium

Ways to use fresh basil:

  • Pesto
  • Paired with tomatoes used in tomato dishes, such as tomato sauces
  • Infused olive oil
  • Tossed with salads (tomatoes, cucumbers, mozzarella, etc.)

Dill

Did you know that dill was used in the Middle Ages to protect against witchcraft? Today it is used as a remedy for digestive problems and loss of appetite. It also contains:

  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A and C
  • Iron

Pairs well with:

  • Beets
  • Cucumbers
  • Fish
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Add dill towards the end of the cooking process so that the heat doesn’t destroy the delicate flavor.

Peppermint

Take advantage of this seasoning by adding peppermint to drinks and food for a refreshing burst of flavor. Peppermint can be used whole, torn, or muddled. Try using this herb in:

  • Iced tea
  • Add torn leaves to sliced strawberries
  • Toss in a fruit salad
  • Freeze leaves inside ice cubes
  • Add one or two leaves to steamed vegetables and remove before serving

Health benefits:

  • Relieves abdominal discomfort (cramping, pain, and bloating)
  • Contains Rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to be beneficial in reducing asthma symptoms.
  • Reduces heartburn
  • Soothes headaches by applying peppermint oil topically

Cilantro

Cilantro has a bright flavor that will pop in any dish! I love using this herb but when I’m left with a large bundle  – what do I do with it?? Here are some fun ways to incorporate this herb into your cooking:

  • Stir chopped cilantro into cooked brown rice
  • Mix it into salsa and guacamole
  • For a quick sauce, blend it with a cup of Greek yogurt and a jalapeno
  • Make cilantro pesto

Use cilantro in a dish by chopping the leaves and stems or simply by using the leaves whole.

Health benefits include:

  • Reduces bad cholesterol
  • Good source of fiber
  • Leaves are rich in antioxidants
  • High in vitamin A and K

Chives

Chives belong to the same family as garlic, onions, and leeks. With a mild onion flavor, chives make a great substitute for those who are looking for an onion alternative. Here are some ways to use chives:

  • Mix chopped chives with Greek yogurt and dollop it on a baked potato
  • Use in scrambled eggs and frittatas
  • Used chives in homemade salad dressings (chives, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and olive oil)
  • Make a simple sauce with Greek yogurt, lemon, salt, pepper, and chives to serve over fish or chicken

Not only do chives provide a fresh and aromatic flavor, they also contain:

  • Contain Allicin, which reduces bad cholesterol and increased good cholesterol
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Folic Acid
  • Antioxidants that help protect against cancer

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

How to Build a Healthier Sandwich

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I have a theory.

My theory is that food tastes best when you take a big bite full of different textures and flavors all at one time. You see I’m not much of a nibbler, which probably explains why I love sandwiches so much. You get crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty all in one epic bite. On top of that, there’s nothing complicated when it comes to sandwiches, except for maybe how difficult it was for me to spell the word growing up…sandwitches? sandwhiches? It took me a while to get that part right.

Even though building these beauties is simple, sometimes it can be tricky knowing how to build sandwiches that are healthy. Follow some of these tips and I guarantee you’ll want to make a sandwich your new simple go-to meal.

Step 1: The Bread

Like all great masterpieces, we must begin with the foundation. White breads spike blood sugar levels and lack protein, fiber, and essential B vitamins that give your body energy.  Try some of these whole grain options that are both nutritious and filling:

  • Whole wheat baguette
  • Whole wheat English muffins
  • Whole grain pita bread
  • Rye
  • Pumpernickle bread
  • Whole wheat Ciabatta

Quick tip! Scoop out the inside of thick crusty bread, such as a baguette and Ciabatta, to remove some calories. You can use the bread to make breadcrumbs by blending it in a food processor and baking it in the oven at 300°F until brown.

Step 2: The Moist Maker (aka Spreads)

Here’s where the calories can really start to sneak up on you! Many of us spread thick layers of oil-based spreads to add moistness to our sandwiches. What if I told you that the moist factor could be achieved without adding excessive calories?

Add a light layer of spreads like mayonnaise, Aioli, and creamy dressings on one side of your bread.  By adding a thin layer, you will experience the full flavor without piling on the calories. Keep in mind only one tablespoon of mayonnaise has 94 calories and 10g of fat!

Feel free to add more of your favorite low calorie spread. Try some of these delicious options:

  • Hummus
  • BBQ sauce
  • Mustard such as Dijon, honey, spicy, etc.
  • Avocado or guacamole

Don’t want to use spreads, but still want to add flavor? Toss your veggies in your favorite salad dressing and add it to your sandwich.

Step 3: Cheese

Look for your favorite cheese made from skim or part-skim milk, which has less calories and saturated fat. Use just one thin slice!

Step 4: Vegetables

This is where you can experiment with your favorite veggies! It’s also the perfect chance to try new vegetables you’ve seen at the farmers market. It’s more than just lettuce and tomatoes now…here are my personal favorites:

  • Spring mix
  • Arugula
  • Caramelized onions
  • Avocados
  • Roasted peppers
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets
  • Pickled vegetables

Step 5: Protein

Some things to consider when looking for meat:

  • Look for meats naturally low in fat and saturated fat.
  • Aim for less than 500 mg of sodium per serving. Some processed meats are very salty.
  • Choose deli meats free of nitrates and nitrites, which are used as preservatives.

Try some of these:

  • Turkey
  • Roast Beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Chicken, tuna, or egg salad made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.
  • Eggplant
  • Tofu: made from soybeans and is subtle in flavors so it will easily absorb any spices or marinades.
  • Tempeh: made from fermented soybeans and has a unique flavor different from tofu. It has a great chewy texture and it is packed with protein and fiber.

You can also make it without meat and pile on hummus and more veggies!

The last step is slicing it diagonally… it makes the sandwich infinitely better.

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

What is Your Food Package Telling You?

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Growing up I loved reading mystery novels and playing mystery board games. Yes, I was a Nancy Drew and Clue type of girl. I was captivated by the thrill and challenge of solving crimes with just a few hints…Mrs. Peacock in the library with a candlestick. It was fun decoding things that didn’t always mean what they appeared to be on face value.

Now that I’m older, sometimes I feel like I’m playing a confusing mystery game whenever I shop for groceries. Food packages have a variety of health claims and what do they really mean anyways? Is multigrain better than whole grain? Are organic cookies better for me? And if it says no trans fat then I can eat as much of it as I want, right?

This post is going to walk you through some of the challenges of understanding food packages. So grab your detective gear and let’s get started!

Multigrain vs. Whole Wheat Bread

When shopping for bread, we often automatically assume brown is good and white is bad. This may not necessarily be true. The key to understanding the difference between types of bread is to remember the word whole, which means the bread contains the entire grain. The reason why we look for whole grain is because the outer layer of the grain, the bran, is high in nutrients and dietary fiber. Without the word “whole” listed on packages, you won’t be receiving the health benefits associated with the bran.

  • Whole grain bread includes any grain. Examples of grains include quinoa, bulgur, rye, oats, and wheat.
  • Whole wheat bread only contains wheat as the grain.
  • Multigrain bread simply means that different types of grain were used to make the bread but it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily more nutritious. Remember that the key is to look for the word “whole”!

Remember to look at the ingredients list. You want to see that the first ingredient contains the word whole, such as whole grain, whole wheat, etc.

No Trans Fat

When one serving of the product contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat, it can be labeled as 0g or no trans fat. However, if you see the words partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list, the food contains trans fat. Unlike saturated fat, trans fat is artificially created by the food industry and does not naturally occur in most foods. Try avoiding foods containing partially hydrogenated oils because trans fat has been associated with increased bad cholesterol, decreased good cholesterol, and increase risk of heart disease.

Lightly Sweetened

Products that are lightly sweetened don’t necessarily mean it’s low in sugar. It may surprise you to know that the FDA doesn’t regulate the term lightly sweetened. The FDA does regulate sugar-free and no added sugar, but what’s the difference?

  • Sugar-free: less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving
  • No added sugar: no sugar was added during processing

Organic

The term “organic” means plant foods are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals used for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones. There are three categories for labeling organic foods:

  • 100% organic
  • Organic: made with at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients: made with at least 75% organic ingredients

Keep in mind that foods labeled as organic can still be in high in fat, sugar, salt, or calories. Don’t depend on the organic label to tell you if it’s nutritious, always read food labels carefully!

Natural

The FDA defines foods without added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances as natural. However, these requirements don’t make a huge impact on ensuring the nutritional value of the food. For example, salt and sugar are natural ingredients but it doesn’t mean we should consume them in excess. To avoid falling into the all-natural trap, steer away from products with ingredients you can’t pronounce, which contain preservatives and food additives.

Is Eating Late Bad For Your Health?

Open Late

As a recent college graduate, I often find myself reminiscing about the good old days.

Whenever I take a walk down memory lane, it’s always fun to remember freshman year in the dorms, including, of course, late night cramming. One of my favorite memories is venturing on late night food runs! It’s one of the many defining moments that make the college experience unique.

As most of you know, college students stay up until the wee hours studying (or attempting to do so). And let’s face it, when it hits midnight and you have an insatiable desire to munch on something salty, chewing on gum isn’t going to cut it.  At that point, trying to resist eating is pretty much a losing battle (instant noodles, anyone?)

For years, there has been a negative connotation associated with late night eating. The popular saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” has become the popular mantra surrounding a healthy lifestyle. So the age-old question becomes, is eating late bad for your health?

Not necessarily.

Weight maintenance occurs when the caloric intake equals energy expenditure. This means that at the end of the day the total amount of calories you’re consuming is what matters the most for weight control. The common problem with late night eating is that we often opt for unhealthy foods or we tend to overeat. Here are some things to consider the next time those late night hunger cravings hit:

Are you really hungry?
Using food as a coping mechanism is common. When we feel anxious, happy, or even bored, we tend to turn to food. When you get the urge to snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re simply bored and want something to do. Try finding non-food mechanisms to cope with your emotions, such as going out for a walk or talking with a friend.

Choose smart options.
Yes, it may be tempting to drive to the nearest fast food restaurant but the overly processed food you’ll find there will leave you feeling bloated and sluggish.

What to look for:

  • Snacks and smaller meals that are easier to digest compared to large meals.
  • Low-fat cheese, yogurt, and lean meat all contain slow digesting protein that will allow you to feel full.
  • Fruits and vegetables are guilt-free snack options low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber, which will help fill you up.
  • Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, increase levels of serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin regulates mood and contributes to overall emotional well-being.

Curb late night hunger by trying:

  • Greek yogurt topped with your favorite fruit.
  • Whole grain crackers with low fat cheese and sliced turkey.
  • Whole wheat bread filled with hummus and veggies.
  • A sandwich on whole wheat bread, lean meat, and veggies.
  • Oatmeal topped with sliced bananas.

Be prepared!
Having fresh healthful ingredients on hand will make it easier to combat junk food temptations. Stock up on your favorite snack options when you go grocery shopping so you’ll always be ready when hunger hits.