Monday, September 28, 2009

what to eat when you're a girl

A while ago I had mentioned that I would stop cross-posting articles. And for the most part I have. But I feel that this article is important enough that I want to share it across the widest possible network so I'm listing it here as well.

Women's Health and Fitness Day is coming on September 30. The purpose is to raise awareness of health and health issues for women. It is part of an event that is planned to eventually become Women's Health and Fitness Week. As part of the day I've written an article about nutrition for adolescent girls. It's important to provide adolescent girls with the nutritional support that they need to be healthy now, during the second fastest growth phase of their lives, and when they are adults. I hope you'll take a moment to read the article and to share it with friends.

Be well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

environmentally and form friendly

I just ran across this beautiful rainbarrel and had to share. Sadly it's not available in the US although I hope that one day soon it will be.

Rainwater is a great resource, no chlorine or fluoride to go into your plants.

Apparently 1" of rain on a 1,000 s.f. roof can produce 6,000 gallons of rainwater. That's a lot of water! Why not use some of it to water plants instead of tap water? Until this one comes to the US look for local options for rainbarrels. The hardware is easy to find at your local hardware store, the barrel might be a little more difficult to obtain.

photo courtesy of:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

cherries are drugs!

The above statement seems startling. But if you think the same way the FDA does, cherries are drugs and therefore will need to be regulated by the government.

If you think this sounds like a joke. It's not.

The whole issue started with cherry makers sharing research that showed the healthful, antioxidant effects of cherries and cherry juice. This research, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, makes statements such as "supports the reputed anti-gout efficacy of cherries" and "compounds in cherries may inhibit inflammatory pathways." Another study, also by the UDSA stated, "[Results] suggest a selective modulatory effect of sweet cherries on CRP (C-Reactive Protein), NO (Nitrous Oxide), and RANTES (T-Cell indicators). Such anti-inflammatory effects may be beneficial for the management and prevention of inflammatory diseases." There is more research indicating other health benefits of cherries and cherry juice.

Strangely when cherry growers began to promote this information in marketing their product it caught the attention of the FDA. Mind you this is the same agency that is
failing at food safety. Responsible for under-inspecting food production facilities and imported food, unreliable in Pharmacolocial oversight, the FDA has nonetheless opted to go after whole food. While I'm not sure how the government would intend to regulate the sale of cherries if it were somehow indeed cast into the category of a drug, it seems bizarre and completely the wrong direction. The FDA should be keeping BPA out of our plastics, melamine out of our food supply, inspecting plant safety according to their mandate, and making sure that the drug manufacturers are responsible for their products (so that drugs are not released early before all symptoms are known, such as Vioxx or Accutane).

As part of the public record you can see that this letter was sent to these companies telling them that they are no longer allowed to share government research showing the health benefits of consuming a natural, fresh fruit. Shouldn't we be encouraging people to eat more fresh foods? Another thought that occurs to me is that if the FDA already can't meet it's mandate for public safety what the heck is it doing attempting to regulate a whole food?

My suggestion? Eat cherries, they're a tasty, whole food that is good for you. Drink cherry juice, it's also tasty and good for you.

Be well.

photo courtesy of clayoquot :$=pmtitlesearch4

Thursday, September 17, 2009

changing a recipe

Missy had a few questions about changing the flour in recipes, away from using wheat flour, for a ginger snap cookie she wanted to make. You can certainly substitute flours but it is important to remember that if you are using whole grain flours the density of your baked goods may vary a little bit. Also, it's important to let the batter sit for a few minutes to allow the extra fiber to absorb some of the liquid in the recipe. If you are using gluten free flours you may need to add stabilizers or thickeners to replace the missing gluten.

I have a few tips about whole grain baking and some yummy recipes on the blog, you can find the baking section

Missy also wrote that she was going to replace the butter in her cookie recipe with crisco. I don't actually recommend the use of crisco; it is a hydrogenated vegetable oil and hydrogenated foods are not a healthy choice. Instead a better substitute would be coconut oil. While I am not sure exactly why she is choosing to substitute for the butter, since it is a healthy fat, coconut oil is a healthy choice and provides lauric, caprylic and capric acids, all very beneficial. [ed note: I misunderstood, Missy substituted butter for crisco which is a much better choice. If you wanted to go dairy free you could still substitute the coconut oil for the butter.]

If you are looking to reduc fat, depending on how much butter the recipe calls for (and most ginger cookies call for a lot), you can substitute up to 1/2 of the amount with applesauce. This gives a great flavor and adds moisture if needed. With ginger snaps, if you are looking for a true "snap" you won't get it with the applesauce, but if you are just looking for a soft gingery cookie you could start by substituting 1/4 the amount of fat called for with applesauce. The applesauce gives no discernable flavor. Other substitutes for fat include pumpkin butter and prune puree both of which have a flavor but it is one that can be successfully paired with the other flavors of your baked goods to enhance them.

I will share from personal experience that if you try to change everything at once you may find that you get an unpleasant result and that you're not sure why it happened. I usually change the flour first, then the fat, then the sugar. I've made some great doorstops/hockey pucks in my time by switching everything in the recipe and not understanding where I need to make further changes. Keeping notes along the way helps me to understand the evolution of the recipe.

Missy was also thinking of replacing the sugar with sucanat. This is an excellent choice, especially for a ginger cookie. Sucanat stands for SUgar CAne NATural, a very low process sugar that still retains a lot of the molasses. This gives it a very dark flavor that compliments the ginger a lot. I have written more about sweeteners here.

If you're looking for a good gingersnap type recipe here is one that I was given by my friend Barb. It's a fabulous, tasty recipe, perfect for the fall season.

Barb's Gingerthins

Melt 3 sticks of butter
Mix together with 2 C. Sucanat
Add 2 eggs
Add 2 t. baking powder, 2 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, 1 t. cloves
Add 5 cups. soft white flour (if you don't mill your own you can use King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
Mix well

Let dough sit in fridge for 20 minutes while preheating the oven to 350 F

Make small balls, roll in Sucanat/cinnamon mixture or white sugar and bake on un-greased cookie sheet 8-10 minutes

Let cookies sit 1-2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cookie rack

photo courtesy of

Friday, September 11, 2009

the turnips are coming, the turnips are coming

With the fall season fast approaching root crops are coming into season. Turnips are a great root vegetable and can be very versatile in the kitchen.

Turnips are a member of the brassica family which means they are related to cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and others. Although there is an old fashioned tradition of cutting turnips into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, I think they are far to tasty to be put to this use; far better to eat them. One of the wonderful things about turnips is that you not only eat the root, but also the greens.

The root is a great source of fiber, calcium, potassium and is an excellent source of vitamin C. Turnip greens are high in fiber, folate, iron, vitamin C, and calcium. They are also an excellent source of manganese (an antioxidant which is important for bone health and digestion), vitamin K (important for bone health and coagulation of the blood), and Vitamin A (an antioxidant which contributes to eyesight, tissue and skin health and may help lower your risk for cancer). So all around they are an excellent choice to have in your Fall/Winter pantry. To take advantage of all of that nutritional goodness, turnips can be cooked in a variety of ways: sauteed, mashed, baked, boiled, the list goes on.

My very favorite cookbook for greens is “Greene on Greens” by the late Bert Greene who was a Food Columnist for The New York Daily News. In it he writes about the tonic power of turnip greens,” It must have had some therapeutic effect, for turnip foliage was brewed into potions, restoratives, and pick-me-ps from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century with vary report of it's good pharmacy. Even today in the deep South, a cup of turnip green “pot likker” is still reputed to be the best cure for hangover ever invented.” While I've never tried pot likker as a cure for hangover I do know that when I get turnips I like to use the greens to add extra flavor, texture and nutrition to whatever I am making.

As the weather gets cooler, soup becomes a weekly item on our family menu. Warm and comforting, it's an easy meal and a great way to use turnips and their greens together. This recipe is based on Bert Greene's Mixed Turnip Chowder. I simply substituted a leek for the onion, added turnip greens and a couple of cloves of garlic. If you can't get rutabagas you can increase the turnips and potatoes to make up for them.

Mixed Turnip Chowder

2 T. unsalted buttermilk
1 leek rinsed and finely chopped
1 large rib celery finely chopped
1 pound turnips peeled and diced
1 ½ pounds rutabagas peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 quart vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/8 t. mace (note: I don't use this)

Melt the butter, add the leek and garlic and cook a couple of minutes
Add the celery and cook a few minutes longer
Add the root vegetables and broth
bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer
Simmer about 20 minutes
Remove half of the vegetables and 1 C. broth
Add greens to the remaining soup in the pot
Blend the removed vegetables and broth until smooth
Return to the pot and add salt and pepper
Simmer another 5 minutes and then serve


photo courtesy of
staying healthy with nutrition, Elson Haas – pp 95, 108-109
Greene on Greens, pp 185, 387

Thursday, September 3, 2009

no artificial colors in kraft foods overseas, why here?

My newest column as the Houston Holistic Health Examiner deals with the buzz and rising dismay over Kraft Food Inc. using artificial colors in their products in the United States but not in places such as Europe and Australia.

Consumers there were upset about studies showing the negative health effects of artificial colors. This is not new news. In a paper that I wrote previously on artificial colors I pointed out that in 1968 Dr. Benjamin Feingold published a paper detailing how food additives were a source of allergic response in children. Unfortunately Dr. Feingold's work did not convince food manufacturers and 40 years later Kraft has finally decided to remove these chemicals from their products. But not in America. Probably not in many other countries either, especially developing nations. One can only assume that this is motivated by profit and an enormous lack of concern for the health of the very consumers of their products. is an organization that works to help promote a healthy, family-friend America. They are currently working on a campaign to convince Kraft that the American public does not want these chemicals in their pantry. You can help by signing the petition or writing a letter of your own.

Below is my letter to Ms. Rosenfeld:

"As a Nutrition Educator and the mother of two children who are sensitive to food coloring I am pleased to see that you have removed the artificial colorants and aspartame from your products sold in other countries. I feel that this was a responsible decision made in reaction to the demands of your consumers which highlights that KraftFoods has the ability to effect change in partnership with the requests of it's consumers. I am stunned, however, by your decision to continue to use these very chemical additives in the U.S. version of the same products.

There are a number of studies which underscore the health risks posed by synthetic additives, especially when it comes to the developing bodies of young children, a prime market for many of your products. Given the overwhelming reach of your company into the pantries across this country and around the world I would think that a response to such consumer requests should have prompted a revision in your manufacturing processes across the global market instead of merely in a few countries.

There is no need whatsoever for these ingredients, and indeed they are harmful to your consumers. I urge you and your company to be a responsible member of the global community, to care about the health of those who buy your products and make the same change that you did in Europe, Australia and other countries by removing artificial colorants, aspartame and other unhealthful chemical additives to the foodstuffs that you sell, not only in the United States, but around the world.

Mira Dessy, NE"

photo by BrokenSphere courtesy of

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

whole wheat pear torte

In light of the previous post I decided to share this one to highlight that inventing or even modifying recipes is not always a straightforward process.

My friend Teresa generously gave me a bag of home grown pears the other day. They looked delicious. "Eat them right away" she said, "you want to eat them while they are still firm."

Pears are a great fruit. They are very high in fiber, a good source of vitamin C, they also provide dietary copper. Copper is an antioxidant that is required by the body for good health and it helps the body to process iron. Fairly low in calories, a medium sized pear has around 70 calories making them a great snack choice.

I had initially thought that I would can them because firm pears hold up the best to the heat of canning. Or perhaps pear butter. But in the end I wound up making a torte for dessert. It was delicious with a nice balance of flavor and sweetness; the pears turned out just right, firm and not too mushy. But the torte was too dense and a little dry. It definitely could have used a sauce of some kind to help out. My husband's response was "it needs some ice cream."

I may try to make this again with regular pears; if I do I would make a few changes. Possibly adding some applesauce to moisten it up a bit, perhaps soaking the flour in a small measure of apple juice to help soften the fiber, maybe adding a little more fat. I'm not sure but I do know that, as I said before, it's not easy to always get it just the way you want it on the first go. But keep playing with it and enjoy the process and the results.

Whole Wheat Pear Torte

2 eggs
1/4 C. milk
1/2 t. salt
1 C. evaporated cane juice crystals
1 1/2 C. whole wheat flour
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F
Peel, core, and slice pears
Mix together eggs, milk, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, and evaporated cane juice crystals
Add flour and mix well
gently mix in pears

Grease a 9" cake pan
Coat the pan with sucanat
Pour torte mixture into pan
Bake 30-35 minutes or until done


cake questions

My friend Claire recently learned about using carob as a substitute for chocolate and decided that she wanted to try it. She felt that it was best to start with a recipe that already used carob and try to change the sugar/fat ratios so she picked this recipe.

Here are her notes, "Instead of using 2/3 cup I substituted with 1/2 cup brown sugar plus 4 tbsp's milk. It turned out looking & tasting just like a chocolate cake; just not as sweet as the ones you normally get from the store, because I didn't use as much sweetener. I shared it with a friend and she liked it and thought it was a chocolate cake. The texture of the cake is dense and more like that of a banana bread. I think if I use 100% all purpose flour or cake flour it will make a difference. I baked for 30 minutes and it turned out a little dry, so I would probably bake less than 30 minutes next time. Also adding icing might help with the dryness but I didn't use it."

My reply: "This certainly looks great and your picture looks wonderful!! I would make one small change. Instead of brown sugar (which these days is nothing more than white sugar stained with molasses) I would try demerara sugar which is a lower process than white sugar and has a fairly good moisture content mimicking the effect of brown sugar.

In case you are wondering why manufacturers pull the molasses out of sugar to make white sugar and then add it back to make brown, it's so that they can get a consistent color palette in the product. Silly but that's why they do it.

As to the moisture...the cake probably came out a little drier because you used less sweetener. You can try to modify that by either adding a little more fat (oil or butter) or by adding something like sour cream (just a little) to help which would also give a subtle richness to the cake or applesauce which would help add moisture. The applesauce typically doesn't add anything to the flavor profile, just moisture.

Since I personally encourage people to eat more whole grains I would leave the whole wheat the way it is is the recipe, switching back to 100% enriched flour is nutritionally less desirable and will also significantly change the properties of the cake."

As a general note, when you are modifying recipes it's sometimes difficult to remember all the different pieces that make up the whole. Changing one ingredient can have a major effect on the overall result. When working with baked goods the most important things to think about are if your change will impact the loft (whole grains are more dense requiring possibly more moisture or more leavening), the moisture, or the flavor. But most importantly, like Claire, have fun and experiment with your food.

Photo: Courtesy of Claire Wang