Category: WFW

WhyFoodWorks is dedicated to people who want to understand what is happening to their food and their bodies when they eat. Each blog entry offers a question or concept about why a particular food or food component has an effect on your physiology. When you know better, you make better choices because you understand the value of food on a whole new level.

Because the understanding doesn’t stop at “why,” each entry will also include a recipe to show you how to integrate more of the right stuff into your diet – and hopefully get you excited to try some new things!

Trendy Tuesday: How do you trick people (including yourself) into eating more veggies? (Answer: Sarah’s guilt-free Ranch dip!)

Well, guess what: according to people who are paid by the food industry to figure out what future food trends will be, eating veggies is “in” in 2013.  Like, it’s cool…hip…way neato…to get your veg on with some funky brussels sprouts.  Don’t believe me?  Believe the Sterling-Rice Group, who say “In 2013, you’ll  find garden-grown foods as entrées (cauliflower steaks), starches (squash noodles), and even delicious beverages”…looks like my Butternut Squashta recipe is ON POINT!

On top of being so hot right now, new research highlights how our natural tendency to seek variation can be manipulated to help us eat MORE of the good stuff.  Investigators in a 2012 study gave study participants a meal of pasta and either broccoli, carrots or snap peas in a single, large portion and measured how much they finished.  In one meal, all three vegetables were included together…and this inclined the subjects to consume a higher amount of total vegetable weight than when they only had one option at a time – here’s the kicker – even when the one vegetable presented was their “favorite” among all 3!

Another proven way to get people (both adults and kids!) to eat more vegetables is by serving them with a dip…only problem with that is that most dips are sour cream or oil based, and very high in calories.  Enter: my guilt-free ranch dip.  The secret (well, not anymore…) is using plain greek yogurt, which is incredibly high in protein instead of fat.  A great crowd pleaser at parties (I heard there’s a football game coming up…), dinners, or as  a kid’s afternoon snack.  Or go ahead, eat the whole bowl yourself – you’ll only be better off!

To review, or in case you skimmed:
Ways to eat more vegetables

  • Know that it’s the trendy thing to do; feel cooler
  • Offer more than one kind at a time to trick your brain, which is hard-wired to seek variety
  • Serve with a dip…preferably the below dip…

Guilt-free Ranch Dip


●½ tsp dried onions
●½ tsp onion powder
●½ tsp garlic powder
●1 tsp dried chives
●½ tsp salt
●1 plain 6-oz low fat greek yogurt (do not mistakenly get vanilla, that would be a dire mistake)

Blend all ingredients together, stirring with a fork until  thoroughly mixed.  Add more onion/garlic as desired if necessary.  Enjoy with veggies or whole grain pita as a snack, or use as a spread for sandwiches or pasta salad.


Calories: 130
Total fat: 3.5g
Saturated fat: 2g
Total carbs: 7g
Protein: 17g
Calcium: 20% DV

What do you eat for breakfast, Sarah?

A great question, mostly because the answer is usually pretty great, too.  (If I do say so myself.)  Of the few distinct things I do differently from most people, my first meal of the day is one of the biggest divergences from the norm.  For example, in one national survey, less than 20% of adults report eating fruit at breakfast…that means just by eating an apple, or banana, or pear, I’m doing something so simple that over 80% of Americans aren’t.

The other categories I focus on are fiber and protein.  Quick, how many grams of protein did you eat this morning?  Most people aren’t aware that that number is likely less than 10g (cold cereal with milk eaters, this is probably you!).  Protein helps you feel full for longer, builds or maintains your lean body mass, and is best consumed in portions of 20-30g in a sitting for maximum absorption. 

Fiber also increases satiety, and provides fuel for your friendly gut bacteria (who are helping keep you healthy, whether the idea of trillions of the little guys residing in and on you is delightful or not).  You should aim for eating about 14g of fiber for every thousand calories you consume (for most people, that’s 25-30g/day; more if you’re a larger man).  Most Americans get around 11g a DAY.  Womp.

So I made a little infographic of my breakfast this morning that outlines my general rules, and how this meal nails it:

  • At least 15g of protein
  • 5-10g of fiber
  • Contains a fruit or vegetable
  • Isn’t too big, OR too small (I ballpark around 500 calories)
  • Tastes awesome




  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 oz part skim mozzarella cheese
  • 2 c raw kale, destemmed and roughly chopped
  • pepper & garlic powder (dash of each)

Spray a pan with some olive or canola oil and heat on the range.  Put the kale in a bowl with 1/4 c water, sprinkle with pepper and garlic, and place under a sheet of waxed paper in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, until it has reduced in size by about half.  Beat the eggs in a bowl, pour into pan, and move them around with a spatula until they’re cooked through (there’s a great tutorial here showing what I mean).  Add the cheese and cooked kale, fold over, and enjoy 🙂

How do you make eating vegetables feel like you’re not eating vegetables?

Answer: the Oxo Julienne Peeler, as seen here. Several months ago I got this little kitchen gadget and LOVE IT: it’s a peeler that makes vegetables into noodles!  Then, I lost it, then, upon finding it, broke it, and waited weeks to replace it – when I got the idea to make noodles out of butternut squash!  Or…butternut SQUASHTA (yuk yuk).  Last night my roommate made a fantastic pasta dish with pine nuts, sage, and browned butter, and the perfect storm happened to create this recipe.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, I eat all foods, and pasta is definitely delicious, but we tend to abuse the portion sizes – have you ever seen a true (2oz dry, 1/2c cooked) serving of wheat noodles?  It’s really about the amount that you could fit in your fist to throw in a food fight.  High in carbs (40g for just that much!), pretty low in vitamins and minerals, and if it’s not whole grain, low in fiber.  An entire cup of butternut squash, on the other side of the scale, has only 16g of carbohydrate and almost 300% of your daily vitamin A.

So here it is: butternut squashta with pine nuts, sage, and mushrooms in brown butter.


  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 c pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped sage
  • 8oz fresh sliced mushrooms
  • salt/pepper to taste

Directions:Boil salted water in a medium pan; meanwhile lightly peel the butternut and then use the Oxo Julienne Peeler (or a mandolin with skinny blades) to shave into noodles.

IMAG1317It takes a little bit of practice; so don’t get frustrated.  And you’ll never be able to make the whole thing into noodles; I pulled down FROM the larger end.  Next, toss them into the boiling water for 8-10 minutes.


While that’s going, brown the butter in a separate pan by melting it and then letting it continue to cook until light brown (usually medium heat accomplishes this in a few minutes).  Add the pine nuts and sage.  Put the mushrooms in a small bowl with waxed paper on top and nuke them on high for 4 minutes, or until soft and juicy. (Why not add them in with the butter?  Because raw mushrooms are like sponges, and will greedily soak it all up!).  Add the cooked mushrooms to the butter, toss in some salt and pepper, and add to drained noodles, tossing gently. IMAG1321

I’m not a food stylist and I need a better camera, to be sure, but this was DELICIOUS.  It would make 4 lovely side portions to some fish or chicken…oh, and about the butter.  Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it’s best absorbed into your body if consumed with fat…the amount I used comes out to only about 60 calories (6.5g) per serving, and makes ALL the difference in the flavor!

What is the difference between a resolution and a goal? (subquestion: what is the best flavor of Chobani?)

In 2012, my resolution was to be kinder to strangers on a daily basis – to ask the cashier at the checkout how she’s doing and genuinely respond to the reply; to make eye contact and smile at homeless people (I don’t usually give money, but smiles are free and I figure it’s at least better than being ignored!); to be the person that jumps to help when someone drops a glove or trips.  Over the past year, I’ve helped moms carry their strollers up and down steps, chatted with the Target cashier about my favorite kind of Chobani (PASSION FRUIT is the best one!!!), and yesterday I let the check out guy scan my ID so the lady in front of me could buy cough syrup.  (Don’t worry, she was definitely over 18 and I assessed her not to be looking for a cheap, syrupy high.

I’m not saying this to make the point that I’m some kind of saint, or worthy of praise.  If anything, last year’s resolution just moved me up to what should be the bare standard for being a citizen in a free, safe, country.   The only thing noteworthy about my resolution is that it stuck – I went from forcing myself to think about it to enjoying small interactions in my community all year long.

So now it’s time for a bigger jump – launching WFW means creating resolutions and goals for the business as well as myself, and I’m going to share them here to increase accountability.  To be clear, I’m going to classify “resolutions” as what I do on a regular basis and “goals” as the outcomes those actions will lead to.


  • Write something (blog, letter, brochure, PR outreach, etc) every day
  • Make a new contact every week (comment on a blog, introduce myself at an event, get in touch with related community businesses)


  • Host 75 dinner parties, and do 5 for free for low socio-economic populations
  • Be featured on 10 blogs
  • Post (at least) one WFW blog entry and one WFW Skin Edition blog weekly

Everyone I’ve ever taken life advice from says you should write down your goals, aspirations, and vision.  So join me, and do that.  And Happy New Year. 🙂

Easy homemade applesauce

Why you should do this:

  • it tastes better
  • it contains more fiber (skins stay on!)
  • it’s easy
  • it’s “green” – those ugly apples with spots all go in the pot!

This is really all it takes:


  • 2c water
  • 6-7 medium apples
  • cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger…any or all, your choice!


Bring the water to a boil in a large pan, roughly chop apples (don’t peel them, there’s vitamins and fiber in there!), and simmer for 10-12 minutes.  Mash with a potato masher or puree in a blender, season (I used 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, and just a dash of cloves and allspice – they’re strong!).

Notice what’s NOT on the ingredient list – sugar!  You won’t miss it though – homemade applesauce is SWEET, not bland like the grocery store kinds.  I used Nittany apples; any other sweet and firm variety would work well too (Braeburn, Honeycrisp, York, Cameo).

Pair with nuts or cheese for a snack, top on vanilla ice cream for dessert, or blend into a baked good in place of oil.  It makes a nice gift, too – people will be IMPRESSED that you did this, but you don’t have to share how easy it was! (Or, do consider sharing how easy it was, and refer your friends to this post!)

Squash Soup!

A few days ago I whipped up a little batch of squash soup.  I did what I usually do – read a few different recipes to see what the crucial steps are, then pretty much winged it.  Usually I try to refine amounts in recipes I post, but this is a hard one to mess up, and nearly all variations of it are wonderful.

First, you have to get yourself some squash.  I chose butternut and delicata, and threw in an apple for good measure.  I roughly peeled the butternuts, and sliced everything in half (the apple in quarters).  I also added a clove of garlic and onion to the tray, after taking this pic:

Then I stuck them all on a cookie sheet (with a super-awesome non-stick silicon liner) in the oven for about an hour.  (Next experiment: using the microwave to cut this down!)

After deseeding, I simply put them all in my Ninja blender with a bit (half cup?) of apple cider and milk (1 cup?).  Here’s where things kind of stop mattering…just add as much milk or cider as you’d like to get a sweet vs creamy taste, and to make it the consistency you want.  Mine tends to be thicker, since I leave skins on (that’s where the fiber and vitamins are most concentrated!), which gives a nice thick texture.

Oh, and use real milk.  Like, whole milk.  Vitamin A, which gives most squash varieties and pumpkins their vibrant orange color, is a fat soluble vitamin – meaning you absorb more when consuming it with fat.  There’s only 8g of fat in a cup of whole milk, and this makes at least 4-6 servings, so maybe even drizzle in some (a few tablespoons) olive oil!

Then the other fun part: spices!  I used a pinch of cinnamon, cloves, and some cumin.  I also added a vegetable boullion cube and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It would probably be good with ginger, and maybe even a hit of red pepper.  Like I said, hard to mess up.

Unless you go REALLY wild and add some Old Bay.

Maybe even that would be good??  Now I’m considering it…

Anyway.  Garnish with almonds or a drizzle of cream, and serve warm:

WFW: Know your numbers – the IMPORTANT ones!

In case you just want the higher points, here are the contents of this entry:

  • An infuriating story that briefly describes a major problem with our priorities in this blessed country
  • A quick bio lesson about how your body uses cholesterol so you can impress your friends (when that hot topic comes up at the next dinner party)
  • A yummy recipe to enjoy and feel good about eating

Infuriating Anecdote time:
A middle aged man came into the outpatient clinic to get nutrition
counseling for his high cholesterol.  He had forgotten the form with
his lab work, and couldn’t remember the exact number, just that it was
elevated.  “I have 6 bank accounts, and I could tell you to the penny
how much is in each one of them,” he said with pride. “But I couldn’t
tell you what the number on the sheet was – I don’t think I even
looked!” he laughed.


Let’s look beyond the fact that this guy didn’t bring paperwork to an
appointment set up JUST to discuss the results.  Everyone is forgetful
sometimes.  But memorizing how much money you have and not even caring
enough to look at your own health information?  A question to
consider: what exactly does he think he’ll be spending his money on if
his health fails? Or DOING to enjoy his money if he’s too sick, or too
dead, to spend it?  It seems that his money was closer to his heart than the actual wellbeing OF his heart, since having high cholesterol puts you at higher risk of heart disease.

(Ghandi said, “it is health that is the real wealth, not pieces of gold and silver.”)

The Inspirational Conclusion
Luckily, the man was open and ready to make some changes, which is the
best kind of client to have, and fascinated to learn about how what
you eat can change those dire numbers on the page…whatever they
happened to be.  Here’s what I explained to him.

The Awesome Bio Lesson
Your body has two sources of cholesterol – what you eat and what it
makes.  In fact, 80% of your cholesterol is likely a result of your
body manufacturing it, and the other 20% comes from animal products
(meat, milk, eggs, etc).  BUT you can influence how much your body
keeps by eating the right foods – namely, foods high in fiber, like
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.

See, your body makes cholesterol as a building block for hormones,
vitamin D, and bile.  When you eat, especially protein and fat
sources, bile is secreted to help break down the food.  As the
calories are absorbed, your body can re-absorb the bile and recycle it
– UNLESS it gets caught in some soluble fiber that you ate along with
the fat and protein.  Fiber is carbohydrate that the body can’t
digest, so it tends to move through your intestines and out the other
end (if you catch my flow, pardon the pun) – and it can attach to
bile, and take it along for the ride to the toilet (there, was that
direct enough?).  Which, of course, forces your body to make more bile
with the cholesterol it has and keep the whole cycle going.  (What
else keeps the cycle going?  EXERCISE.  Get movin’.)

So, what has this entry come to help you realize?  Hopefully a few things…namely:

1. If you have NO IDEA what your cholesterol is, it’s time for a
physical and some blood work.  EVEN and ESPECIALLY if you’re healthy –
you want a benchmark.

2. What will make you happier in the long run, a pile of money or
feeling healthy and vibrant, with all the potential in the world?
Probably both, but having the latter can get you the former.  Give your heart some LOVE!

3. Eat a high-fiber diet.  Recommendations say 25g for women and ~35g
for men.  Almost no one eats that amount – keep track for a day and
you’ll see.  Oh, and be physically active – at least 30 minutes a day!

Nutty Quinoa Pilaf

  • 1/2 c red lentils
  • 1/2 c green lentils
  • 1 c quinoa
  • 1/2 c slivered or chopped almonds
  • 1/3 c dried cranberries
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper

In 3 separate pots, boil 2c of water for each of the grains.  Add the red & green lentils and quinoa to each (you can combine all in 1 pot, but this causes discoloration and look very grey when finished) and reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until tender.  Drain the lentils; the quinoa will absorb all the water.  Combine all in one bowl; dress with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Fold in the cranberries and almonds.  Enjoy as a side in place of rice!

Makes ~6 servings, approximately 3/4 c each: 306 cal, 15g protein, 45g carbohydrate, 8g fat, 13.5g fiber