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Great Eat-spectations is my outlet for sharing recent news that sparks my interest (and hopefully yours), tasty recipes that I have tried, fun food facts, and fascinating articles for you to enjoy!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bitter Melon: Sweet Reward for Diabetes?

Bitter melon is a plant that grows in regions of Asia, South America, East Africa, and the Caribbean. The fruit has been used, by natives, throughout time as food and in medicine to treat diabetes, cancer, viral infections, and immune disorders. The active ingredients in bitter melon have been extensively studied for the fruit’s blood glucose lowering properties.

Currently, there are 150 million people with diabetes worldwide, and this figure is expected to increase to over 300 million by 2025. For many people living with diabetes is a constant struggle. Checking their blood glucose levels, watching what they eat and taking medications doesn’t always mean that their diabetes is under control. A national survey conducted in 2007 found that 17.7 percent of American adults had used dietary supplements, other than vitamins and minerals, in the past 12 months for a health condition. With 18.8 million people in the United States diagnosed with type-2 diabetes some may look to the Internet for information and stumble upon bitter melon.

What is the Consumer Finding?
Patients are more proactive about their health in this new age. Unfortunately there is just as much inaccurate, or unsubstantiated, medical information on the Internet as there is accurate information. Homeopathic websites refer to bitter melon as “a natural remedy for type-2 diabetes” and “an alternative to insulin” yet provide little evidence supporting these bold statements. Top selling herbal supplement brands have websites that market bitter melon in a number of ways that could seem appealing for diabetics who are struggle with their blood glucose control. Some statements include:
  • “Bitter Melon, also known as Bitter Gourd, has been traditionally used to regulate blood sugar levels within the normal limits. It contains Gurmarin, a polypeptide that has been shown in experimental studies to achieve its regulating effect by suppressing the neural response to sweet taste stimuli. Bitter Melon is also a natural source of Vitamin C.”
  • “Bitter Melon, also known as Bitter Gourd, has been used to support already normal blood sugar levels and has been shown in experimental studies to achieve a regulating effect by suppressing the neural response to sweet taste stimuli. (These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease)”
What Does the Research Show? 
Scientists in India began studying bitter melon’s effects on blood glucose in the 1950s, and their work has lead to other researcher’s interest in investigating the fruit’s potential for blood glucose management for those with diabetes. Throughout the past sixty years, studies reveal varying evidence to support the effectiveness of bitter melon for diabetes.

The largest study to evaluate the blood glucose-lowering effect of bitter melon was published in 1999 in the Bangladesh Medical Research Council Bulletin. The clinical trial examined the effect of the fruit on 100 patients with type-2 diabetes. The researchers recorded the patients’ blood glucose levels both without food intake for 12-24 hours and after taking 75g of glucose. They then administered a bitter melon pulp suspension to the diabetic patients and the results revealed a significant 14% reduction in fasting and post-meal serum glucose levels.

In another study researchers examined whether adding bitter melon capsules to the 40 participants existing medication could decrease their hemoglobin A1c levels by 1%. The results revealed only a 0.217% decline in the experimental group. The authors relied on the subjects to administer the supplements themselves and did not state the dosage used. The researchers stated that bitter melon’s effectiveness is undetermined.

A 2008 study, published in Chemistry and Biology, isolated four compounds in bitter melon that activate an enzyme that is responsible for regulating metabolism and transporting glucose from the blood into the cells. The researchers touted that isolating these compounds could lead to medications that someday could control obesity and type-2 diabetes.

Should You Recommend Bitter Melon to Patients? 
Personally, I would not recommend such a supplement to my patients. Not because there is limited scientific evidence on it, but because sometimes it has the potential to work too well. If taken incorrectly blood sugar can drop to unsafe levels. Often, in the case of supplements, dosage can be vague or worse—consumers can view it as safe at any dose because it is natural. The herbal supplement industry is loosely regulated and potency may differ between products.

One potential side effect is hypoglycemia, which can be fatal for diabetics. Hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar drops too low, is the primary risk involved in taking bitter melon. If hypoglycemia is not treated quickly, the diabetic patient could fall into a coma that may result in death. 

With over 60 years of research bitter melon still lacks enough evidence for health care professionals to start recommending it for diabetes management. Many homeopathic websites justify the use of supplements by noting that several conventional medications used today came from natural substances. The difference is that conventional medications go through rigorous human testing before they hit the market. Make sure to always take in to consideration the cost, safety and effectiveness of supplements before recommending them to your patients.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Home-ish for the Holidays.

I realized, now that I am growing older, that controlling what you eat during the holidays gets harder and harder. Not because you have no self-control, although I am sure that is a part of the problem, but because someone else might be doing the cooking or you may be cooking for people that don't enjoy the same foods as you do.

I am spending my first holiday in Charlotte with my mother's side of the family. Not to bad mouth the area, but when I see macaroni and cheese listed as a vegetable side-dish on numerous restaurant menus I begin to doubt the food sanity of those around me. Since I will be helping to plan and cook the Christmas day menu I thought I should share with you how I intend to get in as many winter vegetables and whole grains so that even the kids will eat healthy.

The first challenge I faced wasn't even the people, it was where to find the healthy food. The local Walmart is where the majority of my family buys groceries, but their produce is often limited. So after traveling to three different supermarkets I was finally able to get all of the produce I needed for dinner.

The second challenge was to cut the sugar, salt and fat. Essentially, most recipes that I found I simply cut the sugar in half, eliminated adding salt by using pepper or spices instead, and used low-fat milk and half of the butter or oil. Cutting things out of recipes won't always work (especially with certain baked goods), but most of the time you can cut back on salt, sugar and fat without overly altering the taste. 

The third was to get everyone to try the food. (I avoided telling them that I had modified the recipes. Some may see this as unethical, but I think serving them the original recipes would be unethical).

My Christmas Day Menu
Hot Chocolate with Skim Milk
Baked Apples with Cinnamon
Roasted Butternut Squash with Beets and Parsnips
Winter Greens Salad with Balsamic and Dijon Dressing (Chicory, Radicchio, Escarole and Cabbage)
Pineapple Ham (Lean, Smoked, Shank Cut)
Smashed Potatoes (Reds with Skim Milk and a Little Butter)
Whole Wheat rolls

What was on your holiday menu?

Friday, December 23, 2011

StrongWomen Across America

For the past four months I have been working with StrongWomen Across America as part of a directed study at Tufts University. The StrongWomen Across America program is an evidence-based community exercise and nutrition program for midlife and older women. During the fall of 2011 the founder and director, Miriam Nelson, PhD, and the StrongWomen strength training program manager, Eleanor Heidkamp-Young, ACSM HFS, traveled from Kenai, Alaska to Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania visiting eight small towns to empower groups of women to make healthy changes for themselves and their communities.

I had the pleasure of helping out with the media, technology and communication aspects of the tour with the program coordinator, Allison Knott, RD. Allison and I spent many hours locked in an office editing photos, video and blog posts.

Check out our hard work and videos on the StrongWomen Across America blog and see what the StrongWomen Team and groups of women have to say.

Also, check out our podcast, an interview with Miriam and Eleanor about their 6,800 mile road trip, on Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Nutrition Talk Radio.


Work, work, work.

Sorry about the four month delay on posts. I have gotten a bit distracted with some of my school projects, volunteer stuff and work. I promise that this week I will put something up relating to the holidays and then never leave you alone for such a long time again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Massachusetts' Schools Are Giving Chocolate Milk the Boot.

Chocolate milk has been like a controversial celebrity in the news over the past several months.  The superstar of the cafeteria has been demonized and praised in the media. School nutrition experts can’t even agree on whether removing this sweet treat from schools is a necessity.  Questions have emerged on both sides of the debate. Will the children drink white milk? Does the added sugar and excess fat lead to childhood obesity? Will children be getting enough calcium, a nutrient that many school-aged youths are deficient in?

According to CDC data, 31.7% of children in the United States ages 2-19 years old are overweight. Overweight and obesity in children can have harmful short and long-term health effects and an endless list of contributing causes. The typical 8-ounce chocolate milk contains 160 calories, 15 grams of added sugar (about 3½ teaspoons) and 1½ grams of fat. If a child drinks chocolate milk instead of 1% low-fat milk with lunch they could be consuming an extra 50 calories per day, 250 calories per week and an extra 1,000 calories per month. Based on a 180-day school year a child could consume an extra 9,000 calories per year, which in theory translates to a possible weight gain of 2 ½ pounds.

Time Measurement
Add’l kcals from Chocolate Milk with Breakfast vs 1% White
Add’l kcals from Chocolate Milk with Lunch vs 1% White
Breakfast and Lunch Add’l kcals from Chocolate Milk vs 1% White
Year (based on 180 school days)

9,000 (or 2.5 lbs)
9,000 (or 2.5 lbs)
18,000 (or 5.14 lbs)
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the Institute of Medicine emphasize limiting the amount of added sugar because it can contribute to excess calories. “Saying we need to add sugar and flavoring milk is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples” said Ann Cooper, Chef and school nutrition pioneer. The USDA Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which regulates the school lunch programs, requires that flavored milk be fat-free. In addition to the USDA Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the newly passed Massachusetts School Nutrition Bill requires that 8-ounce flavored milk have less than 22g of total sugar. Unless products are developed that meet these standards, full implementation of non-flavored milk will occur in the state by 2013.

Will children drink white milk? Many studies funded by the Dairy Council report that children will not drink white milk, while many independent studies suggest otherwise. A preliminary report by the Harvard School of Public Health, The Healthy Lunch Study, evaluated 3,188 school lunch trays and reveals “when only 1% white milk was served instead of chocolate milk, students still drank the same amount of milk.” Lauren Smith, Medical Director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, commented on the issue saying  “Studies have shown that when flavored milk is banned, milk consumption drops slightly but then rebounds.”

Many parents are condoning the removal of chocolate milk complaining that schools are acting as food police. According to the CDC’s Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report, 2011 “The environments to which children are exposed in their daily lives—schools, child care facilities, and their communities—can influence the healthfulness of their diets. With the high prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S., supporting healthy food environments is a key strategy to reach the public health goals of reducing childhood obesity and improving nutrition.” Children typically eat 2 out of 3 meals per day at school, therefore schools need to provide children with a healthful food environment and model healthful habits that children can become accustom to and continue into adulthood.

Sorry chocolate milk, although you are just one of the many, many culprits in this epidemic, you may have to take the fall on this one. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, Oh My!

A dinner party invitation is a great opportunity to bake seasonal favorites and have your friends help you eat it all! Obviously, I chose to contribute dessert because I have a sweet tooth. Since strawberries and rhubarb are in season and at their peak of flavor I thought this sweet and sour crisp would make a great addition to our meal. I love this crisp served hot or cold; as dessert or breakfast and sometimes I take seconds and thirds.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

2 cups rhubarb (cut off the ends and slice into nickel sized pieces)
2 cups strawberries (cut off the stems and slice into a similar size as the rhubarb)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 water
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (keep cold until use)
Cinnamon- as needed

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine your strawberries, rhubarb, brown sugar and water in a 9 x 9 inch baking pan.
3. In a mixing bowl combine the flours, oats, and sugar and mix well.
4. Add the butter to the sugar and flour, mix with your hands until everything is well combined and resembles pea-sized pieces. *Do not over mix*
5. Add the sugar and flour mixture to cover the top of the strawberries and rhubarb.
6. Sprinkle cinnamon onto the crisp topping and place in the oven.
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the crisp is golden brown.
8. Let it cool for 30 minutes and then DIG IN!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Taste of Food and Culture.

          "Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are”-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Foods are often a central aspect in every culture. They are an important part of various traditions, religious practices, and social gatherings. Every cultural group has its own unique food and nutrition concepts. The evolution of cultural cuisines has been greatly influenced by geographic factors and history. Regions not only vary in the staple grains, fruits, and vegetables that they use but also in the cooking methods, spices, and ways in which they eat the food.

Asian Food
In many parts of Asia the traditional cuisines among different regions focus on fresh vegetables, flavorful ingredients, and rice as a staple. In Northern Asia rice, noodles, dumplings and steamed buns are most popular. Healthy cooking methods that are most often used are steaming, roasting, braising, and stir-frying. Northern Asian cuisine is known for its use of garlic, leeks, scallions, chili peppers, and hot sauces.

Southeast Asia has its own distinct food and culture with rice also being its staple food. This region utilizes root vegetables, soybeans, and fresh herbs and spices. Flavors such as soy sauce, green onion, garlic, ginger, and lemon/lime juice are incorporated in many dishes. Lard is a popular fat used in frying but in very small amounts. To prepare many of the regional dishes broiling, grilling, steaming, or stir-frying are healthy options.

An island nation surrounded by ocean, Japan has various fish dishes. Fresh, raw fish cuisines are very popular in Japan and well known as Sushi and Sashimi. Japan’s traditional food focuses on seasonal vegetables, beans, grains, and seafood with little to no meat. Tofu is a versatile lean protein source that is popular.
India is a very diverse country with many races, religions, and cultures. Typical Indian meals are a combination of meat or vegetarian dishes with rice, bread, dal, chutneys, and desserts. Many spices are blended to enhance the flavors of various dishes. Pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, ginger, vanilla, tumeric and cumin are used to season a variety of foods.
Mediterranean Food
The Mediterranean can be divided into three cultural regions: North African (especially Morocco), eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey), and southern European (Italy, France, Spain). Wine and herbs are central to Southern European cuisine, while spices intricately and boldly flavor North African foods.
Vegetables play a primary role in dishes throughout the region. Onions, garlic, and tomatoes, surrounded by olive oil, begin many dishes. Eggplants, squash, peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, artichokes, okra, and various greens and lettuces are popular. Legumes are eaten often: lentils, chickpeas, fava beans in Egypt, green beans in France, white kidney beans in Tuscany. Fresh herbs that are utilized in different regions include rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill, fennel, and oregano.

Latin American Food
The Latin American diet is high in complex carbohydrates and abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. Corn and rice are staple foods of many Latin American countries. Depending on the country pork, chicken, sausage, veal, and seafood may be eaten. Condiments made from fresh ingredients are used in many dishes such as salsa and guacamole.

Chili peppers, onions, tomatoes, and beans are native to many areas and are therefore used most often. Tropical fruits are abundant and eaten when in season. Latin America’s food guide pyramid differs from other countries in that its places equal importance on grains, fruits, and vegetables.

African Food
Africa is the second largest continent in the world and offers a variety of different regional cuisines. 

Central- The basic ingredients used are plantains, chile pepper, peanuts, spinach, tomato, onions, okra, ginger, beef and chicken. Meals are generally in the form of a stew.
East- The main food and spices used include maize (corn), green bananas, rice, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, pomegranates, lentils, lemon, lime, chilies, tomato, pineapple and domestic pigs. The most utilized method of cooking is roasting.

Horn- In the highlands, injera bread is the staple diet and is eaten daily. Injera is made from teff, wheat, barley, sorghum and corn and is formed into a pancake. In the lowlands, the main dish is akelet, a porridge made from wheat flour dough. Somali cuisine varies from region to region and all food is served halal. Basmati rice is usually served as the main dish and spices like cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage are used.

West- A typical West African meal is heavy with starchy items, meat, spices and flavors. Common foods and spices include yams, cocoyams, cassava; cereal grains like millet, sorghum or plantains; seeds of Guinea pepper (also called grains of paradise), chillies, tomatoes, native rice, rice, groundnuts, black-eyed beans, brown beans, and root vegetables Cooking is done in multiple ways: roasting, baking, boiling, frying, mashing, and spicing. In some areas, beef and mutton are preferred, and goat meat is the dominant red meat Guinea fowl eggs, eggs and chicken are also preferred.

North- Over several centuries traders, travelers, invaders, migrants and immigrants all have influenced the cuisine of North Africa. There are noticeable differences between the cooking styles of different nations. The foods and spices of North Africa include sausages, wheat, couscous, olives, olive oil, saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and chilies.

South- This region’s influences include its many indigenous African tribal societies, Asian and European. Different foods and spices consumed throughout South Africa include seafood, meat products (including wild game), poultry, as well as grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits include apples, grapes, mangoes, bananas and papayas, avocado, oranges, peaches and apricots. Desserts may simply be fruit, but there are some more western style puddings. Meat products include lamb, and game like venison, ostrich, and impala. The seafood includes a wide variety such as crayfish, prawns, tuna, mussels, oysters, calamari, mackerel, and lobster. Milk products are consumed in many different forms such as buttermilk, yogurt and sour cream.

American Food Culture

America is a melting pot of many different cultures. Take a look at your diet today and see if you can use your knowledge of cultural cuisines and foods locally grown to incorporate healthier foods and cooking methods into your life.
  • Try using a combination of fresh herbs and spices while cooking an Indian inspired dish. 
  • Research how to use tofu in smoothies, stir-frys, and in place of ground meat. 
  • Add lemon, ginger, garlic, and olive oil to broiled fish for an Asian inspired entrée. 
  • Snack on some hummus and pita for a healthy Mediterranean inspired bite. 
  • Make taco night healthier and more traditional with whole grain corn tortillas, beans, and fresh tomato, lettuce, onion, and jalapeno.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Going on Vacation Doesn't Mean You Can't Eat Well.

Eating away from home can be stressful for anyone trying to eat healthy and maintain their weight. Traveling can present many food-related obstacles such as “How much time do I have to eat”, “Where will I eat”, and “What should I eat?” Not only are our normal eating habits disrupted but we often are presented with unfamiliar foods making the decision that much harder. So let us begin with the question of “Where will I eat?” There are many places that you can purchase food: gas stations, grocery stores, chain restaurants, airports, fast food, deli’s, pizza, Chinese take-out, upscale restaurants, café’s, hotel room service, etc. So how do we decide?

It may sound silly or overly simple but researching the area where you will be staying will not only save you time but it will save you from packing on some extra pounds. Make a quick note of the types of restaurants in the area and choose a few within each category that you know or believe will have the healthiest options. Keep in mind how much time you have. Will you have time to sit down? Should you grab something to go? Can you pack snacks or meals to bring with you? Once you have chosen the “where” and planned your time accordingly you can start to contemplate the next question “What will I eat?”

The “what to eat” tends to be the hardest question when traveling and it often depends on where you have chosen to dine. Here are some basic guidelines for finding healthy choices within different types of food establishments:

Whether it is a diner, chain, or upscale restaurant the menu and server are your most valuable resources for choosing what is best. Most menus will describe how the item is made and/or the ingredients used to make the dish. When in doubt ask the server for specifics and even suggestions on what to choose. Here are some tips:
  • Choose soups made with vegetables and broths rather than creams. 
  • Look for oil and vinegar dressings and ask for salad dressing on the side 
  • Limit unnecessary toppings on salads such as cheese, croutons, bacon, fried chicken strips. 
  • Try to select entrees that are broiled, baked, steamed, or grilled. 
  • Go easy on items with heavy sauces, cheeses, or creams. 
  • Choose poultry, seafood, or vegetarian entrees 
  • If you decide to order dessert look for a low calorie sorbet, a fruit, or a half portion of higher
    calorie items.

  • Top your slice with extra vegetables instead of high fat meats. 
  • Choose thin crust over deep dish. 
  • Try to avoid the breaded chicken sandwiches, chef salads, or meatball subs. 
Sandwich Shops and Cafes:
  • Choose lean turkey or chicken breast instead of high fat deli meats such as salami and bologna. 
  • Ask for extra lettuce and tomato and go light on the cheese and dressings. 
  • Order a whole grain roll, wrap, or bread. 
  • Choose baked chips if offered or a piece of fruit. 
  • Choose wonton or miso soup as an appetizer instead of fried dumplings or rangoons. 
  • Try to select chicken and seafood stir-fry 
  • Ask for “light sauce”. 
  • Look for brown rice instead of white or fried rice.
Fast Food
What do I mean by fast food? Chain restaurants or even gas stations that have “value” menus, most often a drive thru window, and can hand you your meal within 5 minutes. The good news about fast food chains is that they are everywhere and often offer low-calorie items.
  • Choose a grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried chicken or fish. 
  • Order the smallest size, bigger means more calories. 
  • Try to ask for no sauces or cheese. 
  • Have a salad, soup, or baked potato instead of fries. 
  • Choose low-fat milk, diet soda, or water for your beverage. 
  • Try an entrée salad with a light dressing on the side. 
You can also check out the local grocery store if you have access to a refrigerator where you are staying. Pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on or even nuts and dried fruits to carry with you. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

National Celiac Disease Awareness Month

When I learned that May was National Celiac Disease Awareness Month I thought that I would help spread my expertise on the subject. My best friend is part of the 1 in 133 people throughout the United States who have Celiac disease. She has a poster, that I found at the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Expo, hanging on her bedroom door that portrays a sad woman with the quote "I love bread but my body doesn't." If you asked her though, I bet she would say that living a gluten free life isn't really as hard as you would think. Yes, there are a lot of restrictions and rules but these days the market is full of tasty gluten free alternatives.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance are all names for the same digestive disorder. Celiac is an inherited autoimmune disease involving the small intestines, although many people mistake it for a wheat allergy. The exact cause is unknown, but research has revealed a strong genetic link. Those with family members who have any type of autoimmune disease are at a 25% increased risk of having Celiac disease.

For those with Celiac ingestion of the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barely, causes an immune response within the digestive tract. The reaction causes damage to the villi on the surface of the small intestine. The villi are responsible for absorption of nutrients therefore damage to this vital part of the intestines can lead to weight loss, bloating, diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps, or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. When gluten is totally eliminated from the diet, the lining of the intestine has a chance to heal. The disorder is best diagnosed with a biopsy (tissue sample) of the small intestine. Blood tests are also being refined to identify celiac markers.

The only effective treatment for Celiac Disease is a gluten free diet. The idea of eliminating gluten may be ominous at first but those who follow it soon discover that gluten free guidelines are similar and often the same as the basic healthy eating guidelines. This includes; plain meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, corn, rice, dairy products; milk, butter, margarine, real cheese, yogurt, plain fruits, vegetables, vinegar (excluding malt vinegar), and vegetable oils. Reading labels is crucial when shopping for gluten free foods. Specialty foods are not always necessary because some popular food brands may already be gluten free!

Be cautious of and avoid the following ingredients:
Wheat, rye, barely, spelt, kamut, einkorn, emmer, titicale, durum, farina, enriched flour, wheat starch, self rising flour, graham flour, bulgar, semolina, cake flour, pastry flour, matzo, bran, bread crumbs, gelatinized starch, gluten, miller’s bran, modified food starch, pastry flour, vegetable gum, wheat germ, soy sauce, malt.

Wheat Free Does NOT Mean Gluten Free!
Safe grains and flours include corn, oatmeal labeled gluten free, potatoes, arrowroot, tapioca, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, Montina, flax, Job’s tears, millet, sago, soy, sorghum, teff, cornstarch, maioc, nut flour, bean flour.

Cross contamination
Cross contamination occurs if a gluten free food comes into contact with a gluten-containing product. This can occur when cooking in a pot or pan that has been unwashed after cooking a food with gluten, toasting gluten containing products in the same toaster, double dipping with a knife in jars after spreading on bread, placing a food on the same plate or surface that is touching a gluten-containing food, and even using the same knife used to cut non-gluten free products to cut gluten free products.

When following a gluten free diet be cautious of breads; breading on meats or vegetables; cereals, crackers, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies, gravies, sauces, snack foods, medications, cosmetics, stamps and stickers.

For more information visit The Celiac Disease Foundation website or the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tufts University Slow Foods- Sharpening Up on Knife Skills.

About a month ago Tufts University Slow Foods Student Organization approached me to host a skillshare at my apartment to discuss knives, I gladly obliged. The evening began with some basics that included an overview of knives and knife skills and ended by using all of those meticulously cut vegetables in a tasty vegetable and herb soup. Here are some of the topics that we discussed:

Overview of Knives
You don't have to be a trained chef to produce a great meal. Knife skills are one of the fundamental components to becoming an exceptional cook. Knives come in many shapes and sizes, each having its own specific purpose. Many people become discouraged by all of the different options that are available, but it really is not necessary to have more than the four basic types of knives.
  • Chef's Knife
- The most versatile of all knives, with a wide blade that is 8" to 10" long. It is best to choose a knife that feels good and balanced in your hand. The knife should have a full tang (this means that the blade should go all the way through the handle for the best wear and stability). 
  • Paring Knife
- Paring knives are generally 2-1/2-4" in length. It is ideal for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, cutting small objects, slicing, and other hand tasks. 
  • Boning Knife- 
This type of knife has a more flexible blade to curve around meat and bone. Generally 4-5" long. 
  • Bread Knife
- Bread knives are usually serrated (having teeth like a saw). Most experts recommend a serrated knife that has pointed serrations instead of wavy serrations for better control and longer knife life. You must use a sawing motion when using a serrated knife. 
Knife Cuts
The main point I stressed when discussing knife cuts was uniformity. If all of the pieces are about the same size the vegetables will cook evenly. One of the best ways to learn, besides doing, is by seeing. Check out this video by Bobby Flay to see how to cut red peppers and garlic (his favorite).

Knife Safety Tips
  1. Chop slowly and carefully. 
  2. Always cut away from your body. 
  3. Make sure your hands are dry. 
  4. Make sure that you curl your fingers under on the hand holding the food. This takes a while to get used to, but will become second nature with practice. If your fingers are curled under, the chances are good you will never cut yourself. 
  5. Watch what you're doing at all times. 
  6. Using your dominant hand, hold the knife firmly and using a rocking motion, cut through the food. The knife should not leave the surface you're working on. Move your hand (with the curled under fingers) along as the knife cuts the food. 
  7. Always make sure that your cutting board is secured and will not move while you are cutting. Try placing a wet paper towel or dishrag underneath your board.
Sharpening and Truing
 A chef once told me "a sharp knife is a happy knife." It's a little sentimental for my taste. I prefer the saying "a sharp knife is a safe and efficient knife." Having a sharp knife ensures that you have even cuts. Dull knives can become dangerous when you apply extra pressure while pressing down on the knife, the extra pressure leads to less control. There are several ways to sharpen your knife such as using a wet stone, a handheld sharpener and an electric sharpener. Personally, I prefer the handheld sharpener because it is cheap, effective, light and safe to use.
Handheld knife sharpener
Another tool used to keep your knife sharp, but it does not actually sharpen your knife, is called a truing steel. This long, round object keeps knives sharper by straightening out the edge. To use a steel hold the knife in your dominant hand and the steel in the other, with the steel point pressed into a solid waist-high surface. Hold the knife base at the top of the steel at a 20 degree angle. Slowly draw the knife down the length of the steel, pulling the knife back so the entire blade, from base to tip, moves against the steel, as if you were slicing off pieces of the steel. Repeat on the other side. Do this five or six times. Here is a video to show you how to properly use a steel.

Simple Vegetable Soup Recipe

5 medium red potatoes- cut into medium cubes
2 red onions- cut into a large dice
4 carrots- peeled and cut into a large dice
1 cup mushrooms- cleaned and roughly chopped
Slow Foods members cutting up vegetables.
1 large yellow squash- cut into a large dice
1 head of garlic- peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups vegetable stock
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh sage leaves
4 sprigs fresh rosemary

  1. In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms and yellow squash.
  2. Cook the vegetables on medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large sauce pan. Add the potatoes and cover with the vegetable stock.
  4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the thyme, rosemary and sage and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  6. Season with salt and pepper if necessary and serve hot.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Naturally Debatable.

The definition of natural foods, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “food that has undergone minimal processing and contains no preservatives or artificial additives.” What is and isn’t considered natural, in relation to food, depends on whom you ask. The food industry throws around the term for potato chips, canned soups and even jellybeans! Some definitions, although broad, have been developed by the United States Department of Agriculture to govern certain food products, while other agencies have no regulations that directly deal with natural food claims.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no formal guidelines for the use of the term natural in food claims. Since the late 1980s, the agency has maintained a policy that it will not restrict the use of the term except for added color, artificial or synthetic substances, and artificial flavors. Natural, according the FDA, refers to “nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” The agency does take action against labeling that is considered misleading or misbranded under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

For many consumers, confusion isn’t solely due to the ambiguous meaning of natural on a food label, but also arises when they try to distinguish between natural and organic products. A 2009 study performed by the Shelton Group, a company that specializes in marketing sustainability, revealed uncertainty among American consumers about products within the green market. The results showed that consumers consider "natural" to be a greener term than "organic." The President and CEO of the company, Suzanne Shelton, noted that the consumers who were surveyed overall felt that “organic was just a fancy way of saying expensive. They think 'natural' is regulated by the government but that organic isn't, and of course it's just the opposite.”


The food industry has tried to sway the government into clarifying the issue through legal actions. Today, there are petitions pending before both agencies from players in the food industry requesting that they each define “natural” by regulation. One of the petitions before the FDA was submitted by The Sugar Association in February 2006, and requests that FDA define “natural” by adopting USDA’s policy in a regulation.

The Sugar Association’s petition states that the actual chemical state of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners have been altered so much during processing that it cannot be considered natural. The Corn Refiners Association sent comments to the FDA in response to the Sugar Association’s petition, stating the claims would draw an “unjustified and inconsistent distinction between sucrose and the high-fructose corn syrup”.

Natural foods are a large and profitable sector for the food industry. During 2010, “natural” was the number one claim on new product packaging, appearing on 23% of new products. It seems that the natural food market will continue to grow. The FDA may never issue a definition that clearly defines the use of natural food claims. Furthermore, even if the meaning of “natural” is defined it does not guarantee clarity on the issue or that industry will approve of the definition. Another question still remains as to whether regulation will benefit the consumer. If consumers continue to view natural as a synonym for healthful, many more issues can arise that may be out of the scope of the government and even the food industry.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ethics of Eating Dinosaurs and Paleolithic Diets

Just kidding. Although I did recently have a conversation on the ethics of eating dinosaurs I think it would be best to stick to pre-historic diets rather than extinct reptiles. I have to admit that I was a bit thrown off by the name paleo diet at first and skeptical that it was something worth looking in to.

The diet is based on the way that early humans ate before the development of agriculture. Paleo diet followers preach some of the same concepts that dietitians say day after day to their clients. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed food.  The diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, root vegetables and nuts and discourages eating grains, beans, dairy, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

So why would someone follow such a restrictive diet? Paleo diet enthusiasts argue that diet is the main cause of modern culture's diseases of affluence. Only a few small studies have shown favorable results by following the diet. In 1975 a gastroenterologist, Walter Voegtlin, wrote a book that proposed following a diet similar to that of the Paleolithic era would lead to less chronic disease. He argued that by nature humans are carnivorous and a diet that was mostly fat and protein, with little carbohydrates, was optimal because modern humans are genetically suited to the diet of their paleolithic ancestors. According to Voegtlin, and many of his followers, human genetics have not changed since the development of agriculture and cannot handle the abundant amount of carbohydrates in the modern diet.

Many scientists and experts are highly skeptical of the paleo diet and dispute the "evidence" that it is based upon. These scientists agree that:
1. There is evidence that humans were consuming grains during the paleolithic era.
2. The low fiber and high saturated fat content of the paleo diet can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. It has been shown that humans have evolved to consume dairy and grains since their introduction into the diet.
4. Implementing the diet worldwide would not be realistic because we would not have enough meat or vegetables to feed the world.
5. The diet is too restrictive for many people.

My advice. Eat more fruits and vegetables, limit your refined grains, consume low-fat dairy (if you're able to digest it), reduce your salt intake, limit added sugars, EAT LEGUMES and eat lean meats. In general you should be eating more whole foods.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Border Cafe

Since I couldn't afford to go on spring break this year I chose to pretend I was in Mexico with the rest of the college students in the nation. So I headed over to the Border Cafe in Harvard Square in Boston, a large restaurant that offers a Tex-mex Cajun fusion. Border Cafe opened its first restaurant, in Cambridge, Massachusetts,  in 1987. Between 1990 and 2001 they expanded opening 5 more Border Cafes, 3 in Massachusetts, 1 in New Jersey and 1 in Delaware.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked in was the mouthwatering smell of hot fajitas. The restaurant was packed for a Wednesday night. We had to wait 25 minutes to be seated, but I was reassured by my friends that it was well worth the wait. The establishment has two large dining areas and a designated bar area. The top floor was loud and crowded but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. We were eventually seated to the second floor where it was much quieter.

 The atmosphere was friendly, the tables were humble and wooden and the waiters were as nice as they get. The menu was as expected for a typical high volume mexican restaurant with a few creole appetizers, entrees and side dishes added in. There was a good mix of pricey items and less expensive items. Of course I chose a pricey item, the Salmon San Sebastian, and it was worth every penny.

The dish came out looking beautiful and tasted delicious. The mixed green salad was livened up with cilantro and a homemade herb dressing. The bean salad was tangy and sweet and the salmon was tender and moist. If you decide to visit the Border Cafe and order the Salmon San Sebastian I recommend you also try the house margarita on the rocks because the acid complements the fish so well.

If you like good food, a social atmosphere and are in the Harvard Square area this is the place to go.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vitamins, Sugar and Water.

Recently, The National Consumer League has come down hard on Vitamin Water (a Coca Cola Company product) over misleading advertising. The drink's ad campaign this past winter promoted it as a replacement for the flu shot and having the ability to reduce the risk of getting sick. The league wrote a letter of complaint, which was sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in February of 2011, stating “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public health agencies, have recommended that many Americans get a vaccination to protect them from contracting the flu. Advertising that discourages consumers from following that advice can create substantial consumer injury”.

Vitamin Water contains 33 grams of sugar (about 8 ¼ teaspoons) per 20-ounce bottle, exceeding the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake of added sugar . In the United States the number-one source of added sugar in the diet is sweetened beverages such as soda, juice and sports drinks. Americans consume an estimated excess of 150-300 calories per day, with half of these calories coming from sugar containing beverages. 

Essentially, Vitamin Water is a junk food disguised as a dietary supplement drink. A 20-ounce bottle of Vitamin Water contains half the amount of sugar as a regular 20-ounce Coke. Someone who typically limits their sugar sweetened beverage intake may mistakenly drink more of the product than they would if they were aware of its sugar content. The “Nutrient Enhanced Water Beverage” may potentially be harmful to consumers’ health. Diets containing excess amounts of added sugar could likely lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Between the FTC and the FDA, standards for what food companies can and cannot say, and under what circumstances, remain broad. Companies will continue to use health claims to effectively market products. It is evident that misinformation and exaggeration about the benefits of Vitamin Water could potentially harm public health in the long run. Promoting junk foods as healthful could send consumers the wrong message and direct them away from eating actual healthful foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Under the Sea.

This past Sunday (March 20th) I attended the International Boston Seafood Show, for free thanks to my generous insider-friend. Oysters, crab cakes, seasonings, sauces, lobster claws, fresh water prawns, lobster bisque, clam chowder and so many more scrumptious seafood samples were drawing me from exhibitor to exhibitor. The overall theme I kept hearing about was sustainable fishing and the seafood industry's move toward aquaculture.

Although aquaculture and the dilemmas that the industry will be facing in the future are an important topic, I would rather talk about fresh water prawns. The clean and sweet taste. The firm and mild flesh. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Free samples are a great way to get potential buyers to take an interest in your product, but the boys at the American Prawn Cooperative booth knew how to draw me in and keep my attention. They talked with sweet southern accents and had a true confidence in their product. Fresh water prawns grown by the American Prawn Cooperative are an "Eco-ok" choice under Environmental Defense Funds seafood selector, in case you were worried I wouldn't follow through with the sustainability theme.

The giant freshwater prawn has a longer, narrower body and legs than its cousin, the saltwater-shrimp. They are similar to crayfish and lobster, but their arms are long with fine claws. Prawns are marketed in many forms: shelled or unshelled, raw or cooked, and fresh or frozen and available in many markets and grocers. Cooked, shelled prawns should be plump and firm.

Prawns, just like shrimp, are high in protein and omega 3's and low in fat. They can be used in any recipe that calls for shrimp. Give them a try, you won't regret it!

Nutritional Information

Serving = 3.5 ounces of raw edible food, wild species. 
Amount per serving
Calories106 g
Total Fat1.73 g
Total Protein20.3 g
Omega-30.49 g
Cholesterol152 mg
Sodium148 mg
Source: USDA