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!

Back to the table: chunky market veggie gazpacho


Produce, produce, everywhere

It’s getting to that point of the summer when I actually have more produce than I can handle around my kitchen…between bringing home a load from the market weekly and visiting my mom’s garden on Tuesday, I have a glut of cherry tomatoes, beets, corn, peaches, and peppers.  One of the best problems to have, right?  Since this month’s RecipeRedux theme is “back to the table,” I decided to put out a bunch of yummy dishes and have an al fresco smorgasboard for a friend visiting from out of town.  Summer dinners are much more casual, but convening around food at the end of the day is an important family ritual to keep up, even if you don’t need to use silverware for all the food!

A word about gazpacho

Gazpacho should be easy.  After all, it’s basically a vegetable smoothie that you eat with a spoon.  Some recipes call for blanching and deseeding of tomatoes, peeling cucumbers, and chilling overnight but that all seems overly complicated to me.  Yes, my soup will have more texture than a restaurant version, but that means more fiber and other nutrients.  This article reviews the “5 mistakes of gazpacho” – and I’m making that one on purpose!  My friend said it was the best gazpacho she’d ever had, and that she loved the texture, so it goes to show that a few extra peels never hurt 🙂


Chunky market veggie gazpacho


  • 3-4 medium [fresh, local] tomatoes (or about 3 cups of cherry tomatoes)
  • 2 small bell peppers (yellow, orange, or red work best)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic (this may be the only thing you want to roast – left raw, it gives the soup a spicy edge!)
  • 1 small English cucumber
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • toppings: fresh basil, corn, croutons, parmesan cheese…try what you like!


Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse into chunks; puree to desired thickness.  Optional: add breadcrumbs for a thicker texture.

Is red meat bad for you? (+grilled flat iron steak + peach salsa)


I received beef product mentioned in this post at no cost. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by The Beef Checkoff and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Red meat: how much is too much?

Some people will tell you that any amount of red meat is unhealthy.  Some will tell you a diet of mostly meat is the way to go – so who’s right?  The truth is probably somewhere between the two: in the US, we eat a LOT of meat, and a healthy diet is all about balance.  We rank 3rd in world beef consumption at 85.5  pounds/person/year consumed (behind Uruguay and Argentina, in case you were curious), and the hamburger is basically synonymous with American food culture.

I believe the problem with way we eat red meat in this country is threefold: in context, amount, and source.  Context: most meals are based on meat and refined grains/fried foods (hamburger on a roll, steak and fries, meatballs over pasta, etc).  Amount: portions are huge!  Source: cheap meat is cheap because the animals were fed inexpensive grains, which alters the nutrient content from those fed a grass-based diet quite a lot.  If you change the context (a balanced meal, with lots of produce), the amount (small, to reflect that you don’t need much and 30-40g of protein is ideal for digestion/absorption), and the source (choosing grass-fed meat with a higher amount of omega-3’s), the healthfulness of the meal is drastically increased.  Eating meat this way, for a few meals a week, is good way to practice moderation while still enjoying the variety of cuts and luxury of availability we have!

For this recipe (part of a RecipeRedux contest), I wanted to combine some unexpected flavors: the sweetness of peach salsa with savory meat – it’s the onion and cilantro that really take it over the top!  I got my flat-iron steak from Country Vittles, a farm near my hometown about 2 hours north of DC.  The cattle spend their life from birth on the farm, and are grass-fed by the family who have generations in the business.  What I love most about buying from them (and all the market vendors) is that you can ask questions, hear the story, and get tips directly from the people who are doing the farming.

They were sold out of the skirt or flank steak I wanted by the time I got to them last week, but suggested using the flat iron instead, and it worked perfectly.  At $13/lb, it was one of their less expensive cuts, and I know that sounds like a lot – but remember, meat should be expensive!  It’s extremely labor and resource intensive, and reflects more closely the real price of eating animals (that you don’t have to go out and hunt yourself!).  A little reverence & gratitude for the life of the animal who provided it might also be in order!

So here it is: the recipe!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on eating meat, eating meat with fruit, and how you find balance…and don’t forget to check out the rest of the beef recipes by clicking the blue frog!

Grilled flat-iron steak and peach salsa

  • 8 ounces flat-iron, skirt, or flank steak
  • 4 lg peaches
  • 1 lg onion
  • 3 banana peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 bunch cilantro

How to grill (or broil) the perfect steak:

  1. preheat grill to high; ensure that grates are well-oiled
  2. dab meat dry with a paper towel, then season with salt & pepper
  3. with grill hot (~450F), lay the meat down and close the lid
  4. cook for 5 minutes, then open grill and flip, close lid then cook for 5 more minutes (this will be rare; cook longer for medium or well-done)
  5. remove from the grill and place on a plate.  Allow to rest for 8-10 minutes (crucial step!)
  6. slice against the grain (make cuts perpendicular to the direction the muscle runs)

Dice and combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl to make the salsa.  Serve over strips of steak. (8 ounces raw meat should serve 2 servings of 3 ounces each cooked; salsa will yield 4-5 cups and is excellent as a dip for chips, too!)

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Tomato pie with cashew cream


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

  • 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

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!


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!)



  • 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


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.


Microwave almond apple pie (in a mug!)


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!


  • 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


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!


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

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


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.


Strawberry-Banana Meringue Pie



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


  • 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


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


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.)


DIY Ranch Seasoning


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


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!


  • 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.



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?