March 30, 2010

Is Celery Really a Nutritionally-Void Food?

Celery gets a bad rap - for a lot of bad reasons. Maybe you've read that celery is a "negative calorie" food - as in you burn more calories chewing a stalk of celery than you actually get from the celery itself. Another constant comment, "oh celery...that's a waste: just water and nothing else good for you." So what's the deal - and how does celery really stack up from a nutrition standpoint?

First of all - celery is a very low calorie food. One medium eight-inch stalk has only 6 calories. Put another way, if you were to cut up and eat one cup of chopped celery, you'd get about 16 calories. That 16 calories might not sound like much - and it's not - but for almost no caloric intake, you get 1.6 grams of dietary fiber. Not bad considering you'd have to eat 1.5 cups of romaine lettuce, 2 cups of raw spinach or 2 cups of chopped iceberg to get the same amount of fiber.

Some other benefits of celery:
  • High water content helps with hydration
  • Naturally low in salt
  • Good source of vitamins A & C
  • Cholesterol and fat free
  • Low calorie means you can munch freely
The Fruits & Veggies More Matters campaign offers ten ways to enjoy celery, including:
  • Stir-fry celery
  • Top salads with celery
  • Add to salsa, soups or coleslaw
Celery is available year-round. Try using celery as a base for low-fat chicken salad or tuna salad instead of bread. If you're looking to lose weight, celery is a great, low-calorie snack (provided you don't load it up with peanut butter!) Eating two cups of chopped celery gives you more than 10% of your daily recommended intake for fiber - not bad considering you get that for less than 2% of your daily caloric budget (based on an 1,800 calorie per day meal plan for weight loss).

March 22, 2010

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds have been in the news lately as a nutritious additive to foods. Although they've been part of indigenous Central American diets for millennia, popularity in the US skyrocketed with the 2009 publication of the book Born to Run. Author Christopher McDougall writes about the Tarahumara people of Mexico who are known for their extreme running talents and a diet heavy on the chia seed. From there to shout outs on the Huffington Post and - and even the American Dietetic Association getting on board - 2009-2010 has been good business for chia seed people.

Chia seeds are small seeds used originally in the diets of Mayan and Aztec populations. They're touted as a great source of alpha linolenic acid, a healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Chia seeds are also hailed for their high fiber content: the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter (March 2010) says that 1 ounce (3 tablespoons) of chia seeds has 11 grams of fiber. The fiber in chia seeds is almost entirely soluble, meaning that it forms a thick viscous gel when mixed with water. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that has been shown to have cholesterol lowering properties.

The health claims of chia seeds range from the outlandish to the very plausible. The American Dietetic Association says that chia seeds can help:
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
We know that a diet high in fiber can help with weight control by promoting satiety - or the feeling of fullness. However, in a 2009 study of 76 people published in Nutrition Research, scientists determined that chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. So while they might be an interesting addition to traditional foods, there's no guarantee that chia seeds are a miracle additive.

You can use chia seeds by sprinkling on cereal or in yogurt, adding to breads and muffins or with water for high fiber drinks. You've probably even heard of chia seeds indirectly, as the sprouts of chia seed are the same ones used in Chia Pets.

March 19, 2010

Edamame: High Fiber & Perfect Protein

Edamame are out-of-the-shell edible soybeans that are most frequently found in Japanese cuisine. The literal translation of the Japanese name 枝豆 means "beans on branches". Edamame are a dietitian's dream: they are a high-fiber, complete protein food with a moderate amount of calories that make for a satiating snack or appetizer. One cup of edamame in the shell has 190 calories, 8 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein. 

Soy foods and soybeans (including edamame) are unique in that they are a very rare non-animal source of complete protein. To be a complete protein, a food has to have all nine essential amino acids in its protein profile. This makes edamame and other soy foods an excellent source of protein for those adhering to a vegetarian diet.

To prepare edamame, boil the pods until they are only slightly firm, drain, rinse to cool and eat right out of the pod. Try sprinkling edamame on salads, or dry-roasted and salted as a snack (available at Trader Joe's.) You can also blend boiled edamame beans into dips and casseroles. Here's a great Edamame Dip recipe from Alton Brown of the Food Network: Edamame Dip Recipe.

March 17, 2010

Brown Soda Bread on St. Patrick's Day

Irish Soda Bread is one of the most simple, quick bread recipes you can make.  It requires no yeast, takes less than five minutes to prepare and can be easily adapted as a high-fiber recipe. The story goes that St. Patrick was  holding a piece of soda bread in his hand as he drove the snakes out of Ireland...whether or not this is true, traditional Irish Soda Bread has only four ingredients:
  • Flour
  • Baking soda
  • Buttermilk
  • Salt
Here's a recipe that is a little doctored, with added oatmeal and whole wheat flour to increase overall fiber content:

Brown Soda Bread

Recipe by Margaret M. Johnson from The Irish Spirit: Recipes Inspired by the Legendary Drinks of Ireland (Chronicle Books, 2007).
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon McCann's quick-cooking (not instant) Irish oatmeal
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the whole-wheat flour and 1 cup of the oats. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and egg. With a wooden spoon stir until the mixture forms a soft dough. With floured hands, form the dough into two rounds. Transfer the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the remaining one tablespoon oatmeal. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops are browned. Remove from the oven and let the loaves cool on a wire rack.

Nutrition Analysis
Makes 2 loaves (12 servings), per serving:
  • 185 calories
  • 1.5 grams fat
  • 36 grams carbohydrate
  • 3.3 grams fiber
  • 8 grams protein

March 15, 2010

Fresh, Frozen, Canned & Dried Fruit: How Does Fiber Content Stack Up?

Trying to increase dietary fiber intake usually means adding more fruit to your diet. As a rule, fruit has more fiber per serving (3-5 grams/serving) than do vegetables (1-3 grams/serving). But what kind of fruit is best if you're concerned about fiber? When we're talking about fruit, there are generally four categories the fruit can fall under:
  1. Fresh fruit
  2. Canned fruit
  3. Frozen fruit
  4. Dried fruit
Fresh and frozen fruit are usually identical when it comes to fiber content. Canned fruits tend to have the same amount of fiber as their fresh/frozen counterparts, however, there is often added sugar (from syrup or juice) that increases calorie content of canned fruits.

Dried fruit is a little trickier - the dehydration process removes the water-holding capabilities of fiber. Dried fruit tends to be lower in fiber per serving than the fresh fruit it came from. Certain types of dried fruit are often sweetened with extra sugar (think dried pineapple and cranberries), which increases calorie counts and decreases overall nutritive value. 

Additionally,  because of the compact nature of dried fruit, it's easy to eat a LOT of calories worth of dried fruit in a short period of time. You can pop 130 calories of raisins (1/4 cup's worth) in a few bites; whereas, eating 130 calories of grapes (about 1 cup's worth) takes a longer amount of time, meaning you're likely to consume less calories overall with fresh vs. dried fruit.

So when weighing your fruit and fiber options - fresh is usually best (with frozen options high up on the list too). Compared to dried fruits, fresh fruit:
  • Has no added sugar
  • Contains more water
  • Often contains less calories per serving
  • Is higher in fiber

March 8, 2010

Multigrain Pringles - Wolves in Sheeps' Clothing

Pringles potato chips has a new line of Multigrain Pringles that claims to "succeed where many others fail, giving you a multigrain snack that tastes great". They might taste great - if you like salt and fat - but a good source of whole grains they are not!

All three flavors (Truly Original, Creamy Ranch and Cheesy Cheddar) have only 1 gram of fiber per serving. They all list rice flour, vegetable oil and dried potatoes as their first three ingredients - a good indicator that this is not anywhere close to a whole grain or good source of dietary fiber food.

So how can a manufacturer get away with misleading consumers about a "multigrain" product that is really no different from its refined grain counterparts? Technically, Pringles isn't lying. There are "multiple" types of grain in the product - rice, corn, etc....what they're doing however, is banking on your lack of knowledge that there is a significant difference between "multigrain" (which can basically mean anything) and "100% whole grain" (which means good source of dietary fiber). You'd be hard pressed to find a 100% whole grain potato chip - especially given that potatoes are vegetables, not grains.

So if you like potato chips - go for the real thing, just keep it in moderation...and don't get fooled by the multigrain "super stack"!

March 5, 2010

Red Quinoa Salad: Texas de Brazil Style


Quinoa is a pseudocereal - not exactly a whole grain or  even a grass - that originates from the Andean area of South America. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has a unique combination of amino acids that makes it one of the very few non-animal based sources of complete protein. It's also a great source of dietary fiber - one cup of cooked quinoa has five grams of fiber, 220 calories and eight grams of protein.

Quinoa by itself doesn't have a lot of taste, and it can be rather bland if not prepared corretcly. I recently had one of the best quinoa dishes I've ever tasted: the "Peruvian Salad" from the Brazilian Steakhouse Texas de Brazil. This version uses red quinoa, difficult to find in traditional grocery stores, but available in the bulk foods section at Whole Foods Market. This recipe comes compliments of Evandro Caregnato, Culinary Director at Texas de Brazil.

Texas de Brazil Quinoa Salad
  • 1/2 lb red quinoa
  • 1/2 gallon boiling water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened raspberry puree
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup chopped scallion
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • Salt & fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  1. Cook the quinoa in boiling water for about 15 minutes until tender but not mush.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the vinegar, raspberry puree and sugar. Set aside.
  3. Using a fine mesh colander, drain the water and let the quinoa cool.
  4. Once quinoa is cool, add the vinegar mix, scallion and cranberries. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 6 servings. Nutrition Information: 222 calories, 3 grams fat, 7 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams protein, 205 mg sodium per serving.

If you're interested in learning more about quinoa, check out this great cookbook, The Art of Cooking with Quinoa from Bob's Red Mill.

March 1, 2010

Getting Back to Basics During National Nutrition Month


March is National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme is "Nutrition from the Ground Up". The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices - and God knows, consumers today are faced with a LOT of food choices! This blog regularly highlights new products that are high in fiber - some of which are more "natural" than others. More often than not, the verdict on these new high fiber products is, "they're not bad - but there are better, whole food options out there". 

To celebrate National Nutrition Month - let's get back to basics regarding foods that are high in fiber. The best, naturally-occurring sources of dietary fiber remain:
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
How can you piece these parts of the diet together to meet your fiber needs? The key is to include a little bit of dietary fiber in every meal or snack. American adults should be aiming for at least 30 grams of fiber per day (even though the average American only gets 10 grams per day!) Here is a sample menu to show you how easy it is to get your fiber, without having to resort to fiber-added packaged or processed foods:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (4 grams) made with 1 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup blueberries (4 grams)
  • Medium-sized apple (4 grams) and part-skim mozzarella string cheese
  • Sandwich made with 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread (6 grams), turkey, cheese, lettuce & tomato
  • Medium-sized pear (5 grams)
  • 1 cup nonfat yogurt with 1/2 cup high fiber cereal (3 grams)
  • Burrito made with 100% whole wheat tortilla (6 grams), 1/2 cup black beans (8 grams), reduced fat cheese, salsa and chicken
  • Green salad with 1/2 cup chopped vegetables (3 grams)
Grand total grams of dietary fiber in this daily menu: 43 grams!