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!

Tomato pie with cashew cream

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Summer is the only season to eat fresh tomatoes

At least, if you live in the northeast, where the most amazing heirloom tomatoes start coming around mid July and stick around through October.  Tomatoes bred to travel well don’t usually taste like much, but the ones from local farmer’s markets are good enough to eat whole!  I’m lucky enough to have access to fantastic heirlooms working at Chesley Vegetable Farms in my neighborhood on Saturdays, and got some yellow ones last weekend.

Another thing that happened last week: cashew cream.  I guess most people call this cashew cheese, but I think the consistency is more like a spread than a true cheese, and I like to add some extra water so it’s a little saucier (also great over noodles this way!).  A new friend introduced me to this recipe and I promptly made a double batch (note: my friend added a little nutritional yeast to hers, which really put it over the top!).  Since the cashew cheese is vegan, I figured baking it in a vegan crust would fit nicely – and voila, a summer treat that is loaded to the brim with fiber, protein, and veggies.

Summer tomato pie with cashew cream

Ingredients
  • vegan crust (I used 100% whole wheat flour; olive oil would work best)
  • cashew cream (I added 1/2 cup of water and used roasted garlic cloves)
  • 5-6 medium tomatoes
  • dash black pepper
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Press the crust into a 9″ pan, up the sides and evenly onto the floor.  Add half the cashew cream and spread over the bottom with the back of a spoon.  Slice tomatoes across the side (perpendicular to the stem, not through it) and gently push seeds out to remove moisture.  Place de-seeded tomatoes in a single layer, then add the rest of the cream, spread, and add another layer of tomatoes.  Garnish with black pepper.  Bake for 1 hour, then remove and let cool for 20-30 minutes before serving.  (This would probably also be great with herbs between the cream and tomatoes, and might work well with other summer veggies…maybe some zucchini or eggplant??)

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Farmer’s market recipe of the month: babaghanoush!

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This month’s RecipeRedux theme is produce from farmer’s markets or CSAs – my favorite kind!  I work for a farmer in my Columbia Heights neighborhood, and it’s one of my favorite parts of summer.  A place I get to talk about food, obtain beautiful produce, and share samples with people?  Sign me up!  Early on, I tried to provide handouts with my recipes on them, but copies are expensive and paper gets dirty/blows away/requires pre-printing, so I switched to sending out a monthly e-newsletter of all the recipes I sample (you can sign up here!).

This month, I made a tried-and-true favorite: babaghanoush!  It’s basically eggplant dip, and made with the same ingredients as hummus, but the cooked eggplant gives a delicious, silky texture.  Incredibly easy to make, and best served with cucumbers or even endive leaves (veggies on veggies!), this is a go-to for summer entertaining with a Mediterranean twist.  Also great as a spread for sandwiches or wraps! (Be sure to click the blue frog at the bottom to see all the ways Redux members used produce in recipes for some healthy inspiration!)

Babaghanoush

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1-2 Tbsp tahini or other mild nut or seed butter
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions

Slice the tops off the eggplant and then in half down the long side.  Sprinkle with salt, and grill, roast or microwave until the flesh is soft.  Puree with all remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor.

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Microwave almond apple pie (in a mug!)

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For this month’s RecipeRedux, the theme is perfect for the first day of summer: pies!  Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy to bake a pie – but I realize others probably want to eat pie, but don’t have time to bake either, so here’s my solution: a mug pie.  Single serving, one whole apple, and a few little extra ingredients will get you from 0 to eating pie in 10 minutes! Apples have a wide array of health benefits, on top of being affordable and stocked year-round (with pretty good quality thanks to their storage abilities).  I always keep the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients!

Ingredients

  • 1 apple
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds or pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 graham cracker
  • dollop (2 ounces) vanilla greek yogurt

Directions

Chop apple in a small dice (skin on!), and toss in a bowl with the nuts, seasonings, sugar, vanilla and cornstarch to coat.  Place in a mug, and cover with a lid or piece of parchment.  Microwave on high for 3 1/2 minutes.  Meanwhile, crumble/smash graham cracker until small crumbs form.  When apple filling is cooked (soft to a fork) in the microwave, sprinkle cracker crumbs over and add yogurt.  Enjoy!

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Click the blue frog to see the rest of this month’s healthier pies!

Should you eat egg yolks? (+Strawberry-Banana Meringue Pie)

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By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Davidson’s Safest Choice Eggs and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Eggs: the most versatile food…ever?

I’m an egg lover.  I came into dietetics at a time when the anti-egg guidance was finally starting to shift back to the “pro” side, and boy is that a good thing!  The white is almost 100% protein, while the yolk contains the vitamins, minerals, fat, and almost as much protein as the white – so I recommend keeping the yolks whenever possible.  Since eggs can be made in a myriad of ways on their own (I’m a sunny-side up girl, myself) and acts as a binder and protein boost in sweet and savory recipes alike, they could be one of nature’s purest gifts.  (By the way, the eggs we eat are unfertilized, so they would never grow into a baby chick.)

Why choose pasteurized?

Pasteruized eggs are treated to a warm-water bath to kill bacteria inside and on the egg’s surface.  I like to use them especially for populations with weaker immune systems (small children, the elderly, pregnant ladies) when the recipe doesn’t call for a fully cooked egg (like toasted meringue).  No risk of Salmonella!  This video describes the process:

Meringue pies: dessert of the summer!

What’s better in a summer dessert than a light, fluffy, creamy meringue topping?  Elegant to serve, and easy to make, the only problem with most meringue pies is that they’re way. too. sweet.  Makes it hard to enjoy the other flavors!  This pie is much lighter on the sugar, and higher in fiber and protein at the same time (loosely based on this Martha Stewart recipe).  Definitely something fun to try for your next gathering!  Click the blue frog at the bottom to see other sponsored contest entries.

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Strawberry-Banana Meringue Pie

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 cup cashews and/or almonds

Filling:

  • 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt

Topping

  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 lemon’s juice
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 300F.  In a food processor, pulse together the dates and nuts until the size of small crumbs.  Press into a pie pan (9″) with a a sheet of waxed paper.  Combine filling ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into pie pan over crust and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Meanwhile, combine strawberries and lemon juice in a bowl and allow to marinate for 10 minutes.  Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites on a slow speed and add the cream of tartar and sugar one tablespoon at a time.  Increase speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form (~4-5 minutes).  When pie is baked, spread strawberries on top and place meringue in dollops on top.  Using the back of a spoon, create peaks by gently swirling then pulling away.  Preheat broiler and move a tray to the second from top level in the oven.  When hot, place pie underneath and toast for 2-3 minutes, watching closely.  Meringue is done when brown on top.  (Alternatively, use a baking torch to toast.)

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DIY Ranch Seasoning

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This month’s RecipeRedux theme is “kitchen DIYs” – things that dietitians do themselves instead of buying!  Be sure to click the blue frog at the bottom of the post for everyone’s hacks.

I started blending my own garlic & onion mix years ago to put in greek yogurt as a healthy, easy dip, and I call it my Guilt-Free Ranch.  A few simple spices you probably already have on hand, and you’ve got the beloved Ranch Dressing flavor profile!  This is also a great base to add other dried herbs to – basil, dill, oregano…the great thing about spices is that they are easy to play with and add so much flavor (and even some phytonutrients and vitamins!) for 0 calories.

DIY Ranch Seasoning Base:

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons freeze-dried chives
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix ’em up, and put them in an empty spice shaker…OR a ceramic spice cell (which I also make and sell – contact me if you’d like one!)

Pre-workout smoothie

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Even the best of intentions need some help sometimes

Ever had one of those days where you scheduled, planned, and looked forward to your workout…until you lost steam an hour before?  Iron will or no, you want to “feel” like exercising – and feel good during the session, too!  On days where I need just a little extra to push me in that direction, I turn to smoothies.  They’re fast to make, fast to eat, and even portable if you have the right cup.

The Daily Burn recently reached out to see if I’d share a smoothie recipe – they’re a health and lifestyle resource site with lots of great articles, tips, and recipes with a beautiful website, so I was excited to be asked!  Here’s my trick: get a carb + protein boost with a hit of caffeine to start my engine.  As they pointed out in this article, caffeine can give your metabolism a little bump up, not to mention make you feel more alert.  The flavors are similar to a mocha latte, but the nutrient profile is way better.  Let me know how you like it!

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 1 cup of brewed coffee, chilled (or at least not super hot)
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves (also shown to help wake you up)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend and enjoy!  Makes 2 servings.

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The Dietary Guidelines: Stop Complaining, Start Contributing

foot-art-famous-portrait-1Ever feel like “the government” is responsible for all your woes (or at least has a big part in creating them)?  Living in DC, I’m particularly close to the bureaucracy, litigation, and law making that is part of our lives, for better or worse.  And the sphere of nutrition recommendations is no exception: I’ve heard everything form conspiracy theories (“the government wants you to be unhealthy so the pharmaceutical industry makes money!”) to the everyday offhand comment about school lunches.

The primary means of communication about what we should eat (and how school lunches should be structured, and how food manufacturers should formulate food) from the government is communicated by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and they’re updated every 5 years.  To keep a very long story short, the Dietary Guidelines (DG’s, I’ll call them) are formed from a two step process:

  1. A committee (the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) reviews all the scientific research on various nutrition topics, and creates an advisory report

  2. The Department of Health & Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture review the report and make the guidelines

What most people don’t realize is that not only are the recommendations the guidelines are based created by a volunteer (unpaid!) committee of esteemed food & nutrition experts, but there is open public commenting on both stages of guideline creation.

Open.  Meaning you, me, and any other schmo or lobbying entity, for that matter, can give our input and point to reasons or research that back it up.  And there’s already buzz about some of the recommendations that could be made, based on the committee’s report – that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern (my take: we should have been focusing on fiber intake all along to lower blood cholesterol levels) and the highly controversial idea that we should focus more on a plant-based diet and eat less meat, red in particular (my take: not controversial, let’s focus on the plants!).

The report is long, and wordy – but it’s all up for you to read, and the commenting period to the government is open through May 8th at 11:59pm…so I encourage you to exercise your ability to give input!  The commenting page also provides a link to the full report.

Click here to participate.

The message about vegetables we shouldn’t be sending

What’s your favorite commercial?

Let’s be real – I actively try not to watch commercials.  They’re a waste of my time squeezed into something I want to watch, and most of them are pretty dry at best – and misleading at worst.  But there are some that get my attention, for good or bad reasons, and I want to call out a few in the food industry.  Surprisingly – trust me, I can’t believe I’m going to say this – some companies selling healthier foods are doing a worse job!

Two examples: the one below from Progresso and this one from Bush’s.  Vegetable soup and beans – both companies sell products I don’t buy often, but on the spectrum of prepared foods, aren’t too bad.  But the message they’re sending in these commericals: veggies need to be “snuck” in for kids to eat them.  Take a look and see what I’m saying (if you haven’t already been bombarded by these!).

Then we have this: it’s a McDonald’s commercial.  I’m going to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I had their food (my fast-food splurge of choice is a twice-annual Arby’s trip with the works), and of course this is a blatant attempt to position themselves as a healthy option…but the fruit and veggies are prominent, and being cheerfully enjoyed by kids.  That’s a message that should be reinforced!

What are the best commercials you’ve seen?  The ones that irk you most?

On processed foods (+greek yogurt gnocchi)

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“Processed” foods have been blamed for everything from the chronic disease epidemic to the demise of cooking skills.  And it’s certainly true that our current food supply has more ready-made options on the market than ever before, with thousands of new products debuting annually.  But there’s a large, grey spectrum of processed foods – after all, cooking is processing – and not all of them equal “bad choice.”

When I’m evaluating any food that isn’t in its just-picked form, I ask two questions:

  1. How many other ingredients have been added?
  2. What nutrients have been lost?

Sometimes, the answers are none and nearly none – as with frozen, plain veggies – and sometimes a lot is added, and a lot is lost!  Obviously, those are the products I tend to buy extremely rarely.  Potato flakes fall somewhere in the middle, and probably closer to the “low” side of things: ingredients include dehydrated potatoes and some sodium based preservatives, and they still contain 300mg of potassium in just 1/3 cup of flakes.

Now, if I’m making mashed potatoes to serve, I will absolutely do them from scratch – I leave the skins on for extra fiber and texture, fold in some sauteed garlic and parmesan…so good!  But if mashed potatoes are merely an ingredient in another recipe, I like to use the dehydrated ones.  Heat a little milk in the microwave, stir in some flakes, and you have mashed potatoes in less than 3 minutes; can’t beat that.  I had bought a box of potato flakes last month for fastnacht making, and didn’t use the whole thing.  Since this month’s RecipeRedux theme is to repurpose a recipe or meal, try using your leftover mashed potatoes (or flakes) to make some gnocchi!  Click the link below to see the rest of the recipes for this month.

Greek yogurt gnocchi

Ingredients
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes, warm
  • 2/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • dash salt
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
Directions

Bring water in a large pot to a boil on the stovetop.  In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, yogurt, mozzarella, salt and parmesan, stirring until evenly combined.  Add 3/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup at a time, while stirring.  Sprinkle a clean surface with flour, and lightly knead dough to incorporate as much more flour as necessary.  Dough should be soft, but not sticky.  Pat into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick.  Cut with a pizza cutter, creating pieces roughly an inch square – should make ~30.  Lightly press each with a fork.  Place in boiling water; don’t over fill the pot – gnocchis should barely touch each other.  Boil for 8 minutes per batch.  Enjoy with any sauce you prefer!

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The Story of Chocolate & Health (+nutty chocolate brittle)

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The story of how chocolate began to become the darling of confectioners and scientists alike is wrapped up in the story of Alfred Nobel – of the “Nobel” that initiated the peace prize, no less.  Since this month’s RecipeRedux features favorite chocolate pairings (I haven’t met a dietitian yet who wasn’t a least a moderately serious chocolate lover), I did some digging to find out where all the buzz about chocolate and health started, and was fascinated by what I found.  As explained the journal Nutrients, it started with a bang:

“Ascanio Sobrero (1812–1888) traveled from Turin, Italy, to Paris, in the mid-19th century, to work under the renowned chemist Theophile-Jules Pelouze. In Pelouze’s laboratory Sobrero uncovered the reaction whereby mixing glycerol with nitric and sulfuric acids created an explosion, except if the mixture was cooled during the reaction process. This new compound was labeled: nitroglycerine (NG)…Records indicate that Sobrero tasted nitroglycerine and found it sweet, but warned “precaution should be used, for a very minute quantity put upon the tongue produces a violent headache” [6]. Four years later, Alfred Nobel sought tutelage in Pelouze’s laboratory…Nobel’s family was in the road/tunnel construction business in Sweden. Recognizing the financial potential of such a product, Nobel returned with NG to Stockholm. Nobel was concerned with world peace, supported the humanities, and of course valued scientific discoveries. He bequeathed his entire estate to a trust designed to award those, who through their hard work and discoveries, might change the world. Thus, the origins of the Nobel Prize can be linked back to nitroglycerine.

Nobel suffered from poor health and intense pain related to angina pectoris. He was advised, coincidently, to take NG for his heart complaint. At the time, it seemed incredulous to Nobel to consume a compound utilized in road construction. Seven weeks before his death he wrote:

My heart trouble will keep me here in Paris for another few days at least, until my doctors are in complete agreement about my immediate treatment. Isn’t it the irony of fate that I have been prescribed N/G 1(nitroglycerine), to be taken internally! They call it Trinitrin, so as not to scare the chemist and the public.

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Why did the physicians prescribe NG? Twenty years earlier Benjamin Richardson, a medical doctor and researcher working in London, investigated the physiological effects of amyl nitrite that was administered to a frog. The capillaries in the frog’s foot dilated demonstrating the relationship between NG and vasodilatation [8]. Others worked on the physiology and mechanistic pathways of nitrites over the 19th century. William Murrell, a London physician, prescribed NG to patients and published the positive effects NG provided on relieving chest pain [9,10,11,12]. During this period NG was prepared as a liquid and not easily transported. Murrell wrote to British chemist William Martindale requesting that a solid form of the drug be prepared so that patients could consume the drug, regardless of location, when angina pectoris occurred. Murrell suggested placing the drug (hundredth of a grain) in chocolate [13]. At the turn of the 19th century, consequently, NG and chocolate became linked. The public loved this “drug,” while Murrell regretted his request. He believed the chocolate-coated NG pill would be misused and treated as candy; he tried to retract his original suggestion, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he continued to prescribe NG to his patients [14]. Murrell had no way of knowing that an active ingredient in cocoa (flavonoids) would be investigated for its up-regulation of nitric oxide (a derivative of NG).”

Fascinating, right?  You can read the rest of the article here: Cocoa and Heart Health: A Historical Review of the Science. (For a peer-reviewed publication, it’s easy to read and eloquently written!)  It’s important to remember that chocolate, like any drug, should be taken with the right dosage and frequency.  A small amount of cacao or dark chocolate (which contains more of the active compounds) on a daily basis is better than a hunk of milk or candy chocolate a few times a month in terms of health benefit.  I look for chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao – and particularly love it with salt and nuts – or both!

Which brings me to my loaded chocolate “brittle” – easy and quick to make, but impressive to gift or serve.  With the crunch of toasty pecans & cashews, the sweetness of dried fruit, and a salty flavor when it hits your tongue, this is the perfect thing to include in a gift basket, or just twist into cellophane as a party favor.

 Nutty Chocolate Brittle

Ingredients
  • 1 bar dark chocolate
  • 1 oz nuts
  • 1 Tbsp dried fruit
  • dash salt
Directions

Heat oven to 300F.  Place the chocolate bar in a piece of tinfoil with 1-3 inches extra space around each side; pinch around form of bar and corners to make a mold.  Distribute the nuts and dried fruit onto the bar, making sure each piece comes in contact with the chocolate.  Sprinkle on salt.  Place in oven for 5-7 minutes until chocolate is melted.  Remove and chill until hardened.  Peel off tinfoil.

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