Wednesday, April 27, 2011

is your plastic making you fat?

plastic overflowing | photo: matei
Plastic, it's all around us, a significant part of our modern lives. From hangers to toothbrushes, hairbrushes, storage containers, toys, and decorative accessories we live our lives surrounded by plastic. One plastic ingredient that is still receiving lot of news coverage is Bisphenol A, also known as BPA. What exactly is BPA? It is a building block for making plastic and plastic additives. Discovered in 1891 it is highly used in polycarbonate plastic items such as shatterproof bottles, CD's and DVD's, eyeglass lenses, and medical and dental equipment. It has also infiltrated our food packaging which can bring serious health risks.

A large part of the concern about BPA is that it is now known to be part of a category of endocrine interrupting chemicals called obesogens. Simply put an obesogen gets into our body and causes harm by reprogramming stem cells to turn into fat cells, or altering gene function. A study published in 2009 in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology stated, "The recent dramatic rise in obesity rates is an alarming global health trend that consumes an ever increasing portion of health care budgets in Western countries. Recent research implicates environmental risk factors...evidence points to endocrine disrupting chemicals that interfere with the body's adipose tissue biology, endocrine hormone systems or central hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis as suspects in derailing the homeostatic mechanisms important to weight control."  In plain English, our exposure to BPA may be one of the factors that is contributing to the growing epidemic of obesity.

Obesogens also have the ability to mimic estrogen and it's effects on the body. This estrogenic effect may be linked to reproductive abnormalities, breast cancer, prostate cancer and even diabetes. Unfortunately, in spite of the knowledge of how bad BPA is for us, it still permeates our food chain. At the end of 2010 Canada acknowledged BPA as a toxic substance for both humans and for the environment; their government is working to remove it from use.

The use of BPA in our modern environment can be overwhelming.  One high exposure source of BPA is the thermal paper lining credit card receipts, the BPA makes the paper printable.  Unfortunately it also flakes off easily when we touch the paper, allowing transfer to anything you touch or ingest afterwards.  When you receive credit card receipts fold them inward so that the printed side (the side with the BPA lining) is more contained.  If the receipt is printed on both sides, which is happening more and more, try to handle the receipt as little as possible.

There are some things you can do to decrease your exposure:

Avoid products that are known to be most contaminated by BPA. Canned foods are a big health hazard as the lining in most cans has BPA in it. There are a few brands that claim to be BPA free but unfortunately an article from Consumer Reports, December 2009, showed that some companies which claimed to have BPA free cans still had trace amounts of the chemical in their product. The report went on to state that those foods in plastic containers with metal pull-off lids, specifically Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli in Tomato and Meat Sauce, had BPA levels that were 1.5 times higher than the same product in a metal can.

In addition to canned foods, plastics that are marked with a number 7 recycling code and any unmarked plastic containers are highly likely to be made with BPA.

Even products in glass jars may contain BPA in the lid. As a matter of fact those people who process their own food at home thinking that they are avoiding exposure may not be aware that Jarden Home Brands, the manufacturer of Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin brands, admits that there is some BPA in it's lids. Although it is a small amount, BPA is most highly released under heat and pressure, both conditions which are met during the canning process. (In fairness it is important to note that the plastic storage lids made by Jarden do not contain BPA) It is important to avoid these containers in order to reduce your exposure. Soups and other products are now available in cardboard packaging which does not have BPA. If you are planning on doing home canning you can purchase reasonably priced, reusable, BPA-free canning lids from a company called Tattler.

Other BPA containing products can include plastic bottles, plastic lined metal bottles, sippy cups, a lot of microwaveable cookware, and plastic bags. Using unlined stainless steel drinking bottles and cups can avoid exposure. When purchasing lunch-meats at the deli re-wrap them into wax paper or food safe BPA free containers (either glass or BPA free plastic). One new line of BPA free plastic containers is FreshKeeper available from Frye International. With an airtight seal, these durable nesting containers come in a wide range of colors and shapes. The company generously sent me a set to test and I found them convenient to use and easy to store.  They have also held up very well to heavy, regular use.

Nutritionally, aside from removing as much BPA from your environment as possible, one of the dietary changes you can make is to increase your intake of folate. Early stage research coming out of Duke University shows that increased folate intake by pregnant mice negated the harmful effects of BPA exposure. Good sources of folic acid are dark leafy greens. Kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, mustard greens and turnip greens. Folate can also be found in asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and lentils. Adding generous amounts of these whole foods to your diet is a healthy way to help protect your health.

It is important to be mindful of the different ways that BPA exposure exists in your environment. With these tips you can help limit and control your exposure.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Social change happens slowly. Sometimes it's difficult because the organizational mountain that is entrenched does not want to be moved.  With the second season of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution well underway we are once again seeing the challenges that many parents face trying to get better choices for their children at school.  As this video from the last meeting for the National School Lunch Program shows, manufacturers and lobbyists are extremely prevalent (although not always very visible) in making school food decisions.  These standards are only revised once every five years; with this highly politicized structure, our children are the ones who suffer the consequences.

A friend of mine, P.W., shared her recent frustrations with her school district, the mixed messages kids are getting, and the challenges of helping adolescents to better understand nutrition and health so that they can make better choices.

In order to protect privacy names and identifying information have been removed. These letters were edited for clarity. 

P.W. wrote to her school district:

Our daughter saw "Super Size Me"  today in health class at school and it really made an impression on her. Talk about NOT practicing what you teach! Good nutrition is so highly tied to academic success and yet my daughter's options for a school lunch are absolutely dreadful. Our daughter has access to multiple fried foods with a Gatorade every day. Your lunch program conditions them to a high fat, high calorie junk food diet. The lack of nutrition causes them to crave more, as well as affecting their overall development. I do not understand why the schools are able to teach the 
horrors of a junk food diet and then NOT offer them a sensible lunch that will provide the nourishment they need. It grieves me to think that this may be the only decent meal some of these kids have each day and it is junk!
This is something that has bothered my husband and I since our children were in grade
school. To see this hypocrisy is more than I can take.
I am certain that you must know what a good nutritional diet really looks like. I can only assume that there are other factors that are causing the schools to fail our children this way. What do I need to do to help you fix this problem?

[In order to protect the words and privacy of the Health Teacher I am summarizing their responses]

The teacher wrote to my friend explaining that there has not been a fryer in the school kitchen for 10 years, that all hot food is either steamed or baked. The school does have a conveyor oven that gives a crisp texture without frying.
The school is not allowed to serve any product over 23 grams of fat and follow strict portion sizes.

The nutritional plan has changed to allow for higher fiber, lower sugar, lower fat foods.

Cucumber slices and green bell peppers are offered during the week, fresh fruit is available on each school line every day and beverage choices available daily are water, 100% fruit juice and low fat milk.

The teacher remarks that there is a challenge in providing healthy menu choices that the kids will want to eat within their budget.

P.W. was invited to research the nutritional information of the food online at the school's website. The Health Teacher also suggested that the child should be educated at home about portion sizes and healthier choices.

P.W. responded:

It is encouraging that our daughter is learning about better nutrition,
 recognizes the value of fresh produce and is making an effort to make better
 choices. I appreciate her having access to fresh fruits and vegetables 
at school. It is also somewhat comforting that you are limiting the amount 
of fat and using a cooking process that avoids frying. However when I researched 
the menus and nutritional information on the Parent Access site, the hot
meals are all basically junk food and do not have much variety.

I sympathize 
with your challenge of balancing a budget with high product and labor costs,
 but I believe that we should offer a better and more varied menu and it can
 be done without breaking the budget. My concern is that the junk food
 offered daily, even though it is a "healthier" variety of junk food, clearly
 needs to be a small percentage of our diet and yet it is the majority of 
what is offered. Although you are making an effort to serve lower
 fat/higher fiber items, they still have the appearance, taste and texture of
 high fat. I don't see that they have much access to a home-style hot meal 
that isn't highly processed or available on a daily basis.

From the menu, it
 doesn't appear that much is made from scratch, much less from local products 
and it largely looks to be heat and eat. Preservatives and chemicals are just
 as much an issue as the empty calories of fast food.  From what I hear,
 much of the fruit offered is not fresh either, which translates into a much 
lower nutritional product. I also don't understand why our kids are only 
offered 1% and skim milk, when whole milk would be a better choice for most. 
Adding a full fat live yogurt to the menu would be a great addition, as well 
as seasonal melons, berries, grapes, and citrus. 

The other issue I have is that my daughter is on 4th lunch. This means that by
 the time she gets to have lunch, the cafeteria is out of certain things, 
others are over cooked or burned, or the lines are so long that time 
prohibits her from even eating some days. This cannot be considered acceptable.

In this age group, peer pressure and the school 
experience trumps whatever is being taught at home. It is a huge challenge 
for us to feed our kids well at home when their taste buds become conditioned to a fast food diet when attending school. Years ago, I had the
 privilege of being in a school kitchen that prepared food and distributed it 
to all the area schools. This district must be large enough to be able to support 
such a venture and be able to better utilize seasonal and local products, as well as to create a fresh high quality meal for our kids and staff. You have an 
enormous responsibility to our kids and I respect your challenges and 
appreciate your response, but I can't say that it provides me the assurances
 I was looking for and hope that a new approach is being considered.

P.W. Wrote me privately and shared:

Another thing that really upsets me is that when I was in school, there was a wash basin for the kids to wash their hands when entering the cafeteria. None of the schools here have that and supposedly, the teachers are taking the kids by the bathroom to wash up before lunch, but I don’t believe it. They have staph and other contagious diseases running rampant all the time and good hygiene is essential. There should be a state law that requires hand washing before meals in schools.

My take on all of this:

I frequently find myself very frustrated by school districts serving fatty, sugary, nutritionally deficient foods and then claiming that it is the parent's responsibility to teach their children to eat better and make better choices.  Many families that I know do teach their children these things and do provide much better choices at home.  However in the school environment there are not too many children who are going to choose from the highly limited often not-really-that-healthy option over french fries and pizza.  I believe the school has ice cream and cookies and fast food options because those are the more profitable items.

I know several children who are vegetarians and have heard disturbing stories of the distasteful looking or even empty salad bars that the cafeteria staff refused to replace or refill leaving that child with no viable option.

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to speak with my local Great Harvest Bread company.  They had received an opportunity to bring whole grain bread, preservative free sandwiches into the school system.  However after a short period of time their contract was reduced to four schools and cut back in the number of days that they were allowed to provide.  They believe part of the reason for this reduction was because the school wanted to bring in Chick-Fil-A more times per day as that was a more profitable option for the school district.  Great Harvest was not allowed to send notes home to parents letting them know that this healthier sandwich option was available.

I believe it is an unfortunate truism that most children, even those who have received more nutritional education at home, will opt for high fat, high sugar foods because they are enticing.  By having an overabundance of these products the school virtually guarantees that they can feed children the least nutritious, cheapest foods and make large profits.

In defense of the school system I do agree that they have a difficult job trying to feed as many children as they need to with the minimal federal dollars allowed.  However this should not be an excuse to allow Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Chick-Fil-A lines in a school cafeteria.

I believe another part of the problem is that school districts simply do not want parents to be involved in the decision making or to have input into the nutrition served at the cafeteria.  School lunches have become a profit center, if not for the school then at least for the food service corporations.  Moves such as this one in Chicago disallowing lunches to be brought from home make me highly suspicious of the intent.  I believe, unfortunately, that many schools are marketing to a captive audience and can therefore preach one thing and do another.

I applaud P.W. and many others like her all around the country who are rallying on behalf of the kids.  Change is happening all across the country.  From the Edible Schoolyard to the Renegade Lunch Lady, Two Angry MomsBetter School FoodLocal Food Dude and more, we need to push for the children to have decent nutrition and take back our cafeterias.

Friday, April 22, 2011

the high density orchard

Indus Valley Sustainable Living Institute
Recently I visited the Indus Valley Sustainable Living Institute run by my friend Priyanka.  It was wonderful to see all the amazing things that they do there and learn about recycling and reusing on a bigger scale.  One of their tag lines is "eco-logical design."  I love it.  What a perfect phrase and concept for living sustainably and in harmony with our environment.

While I was there I was able to see the high density orchard.  It's amazing to see all the different fruit trees that are planted in a very small space.   They can be grown closer together in part because there is no need to plant them wide enough for commercial machinery to get through for harvesting.  There's also no need to prune/thin to maximize production.  The trees will be shaped to make getting through the orchard and around the trees easier, but they will produce enough to be sustainable.

I was very happy to see the way the orchard was laid out.  Priyanka shared that they have 6 citrus, 3 figs, 3 persimmons, an avocado, 2 apples, 4 bananas, an olive, two pomegranates a loquat, black berries, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, and "a few more growing around here."  Their combined orchard and vegetable garden is all in within a 1/6 acre piece of the 1.25 acres that encompass the property.

It made me realize that what we are doing with our little 1/4 acre property is just right, at least for us.  It also made me realize that yes I can have an avocado if I simply move the butterfly ginger just a pinch to the right.  Another interesting concept was that in the orchard squashes were growing in between the trees.  Priyanka told me that many times vines are encouraged to grow up the tree trunks as a means of support.  I think that's great and plan to figure out how I can protect baby squash from the ravages of my little terrier-mix puppy and try to put some in there.

Having your own vegetables and fruit is a great way to connect with your food.  On a very basic level there is just something fabulous about picking tomatoes and basil from your own garden to toss into the pan and make a meal.

I have been using Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening for years.  It's been great and allows me to grow a large number of vegetables in a relatively small space.  For those who don't have a yard, container gardening can be the way to go.  There is quite a lot that can actually be grown in containers and a well done container garden is very attractive.  From Container to Kitchen, The Vegetables Gardener's Container Bible, and Bountiful Container are all good choices to help you get started with container food and herb gardening.

Another good book is Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping.  With a lot of great information about incorporating food plants into the garden in an aesthetic and pleasing way it's a good resource and has a lot of useful ideas for those of us (okay mostly me) who aren't good at landscape design.

While there isn't a similar book that is specifically focussed on growing fruit trees and bushes there are a number of books related to small scale homesteading.  These include The Backyard Homestead, Mini Farming, and The Practical Homestead. I'm going to check them out and see if there is information there that I can pass along.

In the meantime if you garden, in the yard, in a container, on your windowsill, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

protecting your teeth

Keep your teeth | photo: Bamagirl
I was recently talking with someone who was concerned about her young son.  He apparently has weak dental enamel and has developed a cavity at a very young age.    Because he was born with weak enamel she wanted to know if there was anything that she could do nutritionally to help his teeth.  I am certainly not a Dentist and highly recommend that if you or someone you know has dental problems that you get it checked out.  

That said there are a few important things that you can do to protect your teeth, especially if you have weak enamel.  Here are five tips to help your teeth stay healthy:

1.  Make sure you have regular dental check-ups and cleanings.  Obviously the Dentist and Hygienist see your mouth from a totally different angle and can let you know if there are problems forming. Additionally it's important to brush and floss daily.  I know we all know this, but it bears repeating since children frequently don't seem to think it's as important.  It really is and is one of the best simple things that you can do to help protect your teeth.

2.  It's also important to eat foods that have fiber or that require us to bite and chew.  We are designed that way.  If we eat soft foods most of the time we are not using our teeth the way they are meant to be used.  The soft foods are frequently higher in carbs and sugar which can leave behind a plaque which then feeds the bacteria in our mouths leading to dental decay.

3.  Make sure you are drinking enough fluids.  Staying well hydrated keeps your gum tissues hydrated and can help them stay healthy.  Healthy gums can help keep your teeth healthy.

4.  Xylitol is known to be very protective of tooth enamel and can be very helpful in re-mineralizing enamel.  One study published in 2003 concluded "These results indicate that xylitol can induce remineralization of deeper layers of demineralized enamel."  A 2009 study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine noted, "Xylitol oral syrup administered topically 2 or 3 times daily at a total daily dose of 8 g was effective in preventing early childhood caries."

Xylitol is easy to add to the diet.  As an alternative sweetener it is a far better choice than any of the artificial sweeteners.  Made from either corn or birch it is actually a sugar alcohol and is lower in calories (11 calories per serving vs. 16 for white sugar).  There are also a growing number of xylitol products on the market, gum, candy, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

It is important to note that because xylitol is a sugar alcohol it can only be consumed in moderation otherwise it can have a laxative effect.

5.  Calcium is required for healthy teeth since they, like our bones, are made from it.  But don't worry, this doesn't mean that you need massive amounts of milk.  Calcium can be easily (and deliciously) obtained from a number of other sources.  Sesame seeds have quite a bit of calcium in them as do dark leafy greens, especially spinach, and blackstrap molasses.  

In addition to calcium you need vitamin D which helps your body absorb the calcium.  The only way to tell if you have enough is to do a blood test at your doctor's office.  If you are low in vitamin D you can get it either through exposure to the sun (without sunscreen for 20 minutes), cold water fatty fish, or supplementation.

Take care of your teeth and keep smiling!  


Saturday, April 16, 2011

budget (and eco-)conscious grocery shopping

Grocery shopping | photo: BotMultichillT
Several times in the recent past when I've given a lecture to a parent group or other organization one of the questions I've been asked is about grocery spending.  Many people are noticing that their grocery bills are going up but the packages are shrinking, as reported in a March 28, 2011 column in the New York Times.

As they look harder at their grocery bills people also question how much they are spending overall.  Wondering what other folks are spending.  Several have told me they are curious but afraid to ask, it seems rather personal and it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison.  After all the chances of two families buying everything the same is pretty minimal.

There is one resource that you can use to help you determine your food budget.  The USDA publishes a Food Plan document which they claim represents categories that people can use to see if they spend in various categories (Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate, or Liberal).  The link is to the last available publication as of the time of this writing, February 2011.  Our household consists of two adults, one teenager, two dogs and a cat.  I do include the animals because I buy food for them, even though I know this is not factored into the USDA document.  Our family currently spends in the Low-Cost category.  I'm comfortable with that for a few reasons.  Obviously the aforementioned animals, but also because we choose to spend some of our food dollars on certain organic foods.

Now I understand that not everyone can afford to purchase organic.  I don't know anyone who can afford to purchase 100% organic.  That being said, you can learn where to get the biggest bang for your buck.  The choices that you make are up to you so you need to define what works for you and your family.  One thing I have noticed over time is that certain organic foodstuffs are coming out in storebrands and the prices are dropping.  I call this voting with my wallet.

If enough people are willing to support these foods, producers will take notice.  When it hits the storebranding you know you've made an impact because grocery stores do not spend massive advertising dollars to convince folks to buy something, they let the big guns do that and they come in when they see it's something people want.  It happens all the time, and not just with food.  Look at what has happened to the cost of iPhones.  The first ones were extremely expensive.  Enough people bought them that in just a few months the price was slashed 50%.  The law of supply and demand.  We can effect the same change in our food.  If we choose to purchase foods without artificial ingredients or that are not GMO (and organic is the only way to tell at this point for some foods).  If enough of us do this it sends a message.

Okay, off the soap box and back to the post.  In the interest of helping folks save some money at the grocery store I'd like to offer my

Five Top Tips for Budget (and eco-)Conscious Shopping:

1.  If you're going to buy organic fruits and vegetables buy the ones that really matter.  The Environmental Working Group has put together a Shoppers Guide to Pesticides wallet card that lists the Dirty Dozen; those twelve fruits and vegetables that are most likely to be contaminated by pesticides.  They even have an iPhone app if you'd rather have it with you at all times.  The card also lists something called the Clean Fifteen; those foods that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides.  So save your money by not purchasing those organic bananas and buy organic strawberries instead.

2.  Buy more whole foods.  Yes those organic apples may seem more expensive.  But how much is that applesauce?  And how much more applesauce can you eat than whole apples?  Orange juice?  Did you know that there is an average of four oranges in one eight ounce glass of juice?  That glass goes down pretty easy but I think most people won't sit there and eat four oranges in one sitting.  On average the more whole foods you buy the more nutrient dense your dietary intake.  Overall this should equate to less money spent at the grocery store.

3.  I truly deeply believe that organic dairy is the way to go.  It has no added hormones, no antibiotics, and the cows are not fed pesticide-laden grain.  What goes into that cow goes into it's milk so it makes sense to not drink or eat those products by choosing organic dairy.  Having said that, it's not always easy to find or afford 100% organic dairy products, I truly understand that.  If you cannot add organic dairy to your budget it is important that you at least purchase products that are free of rBGH.  This hormone was created to make cows give more milk.  But it doesn't go away just because the cow has been milked.  So we consume it right along with the cheese or yogurt or whatever dairy product we are eating.  You can download a free RGBH Free Dairy list for your state from Sustainable Table.

4.  Eat less meat.  Somehow we have become convinced that we NEED meat and we have to serve it at almost every meal.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Most Americans eat far too much meat.  We could stand to eat more beans and other legumes.  A great source of protein with less environmental impact and far less expensive.  A package of lentils costs less than a dollar at my local grocery store and makes five cups cooked.  That's a LOT of lentils and a lot of protein.

5.  Waste less.  This is probably the biggest money saver out there.  Stop for a moment and think about how much food you may have thrown out in the last week, two weeks, a month?  That's all food that you paid for.  You probably even cooked it, increasing it's value more as you spent time and energy to create the dish which rotted in the back of the fridge before being sent to the landfill.  Jonathan Bloom has an excellent website about the topic of wasting less food and that's his book on the left there.

The premise is simple.  Buy less and you're likely to waste less.  Or at least buy less perishables.  And plan.  Plan not only what you are going to eat but what you might do with the leftovers.  I wrote about this over a year ago in my post on Sequential Eating.  By making a plan it does help to avoid waste which in turn helps to reduce your grocery budget.

If you have the space in your yard and you do wind up with some vegetable waste you can at least compost it.  This way it gets turned into good usable dirt that you can put into your garden.

It's important to remember that if you are making changes to your eating habits and to your grocery budget to make these changes gradually.  Change doesn't happen overnight.  In order to be successful at these changes make one at a time.  Once you've mastered one change you can make another and continue to improve your grocery habit (and spend more wisely).

Monday, April 11, 2011

peas in bloom

Pea blossom | photo: Brynn
Outside in the garden today I noticed that my peas are blooming.  I love their pretty white little flowers and, of course, love the delicious peas soon to be eaten.

Peas have a lot going for them.  While they are definitely in the starchy vegetable category they are also very high in a lot of wonderful nutrients that help our bodies in many different ways.  High in phytonutrients they are a good choice as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory vegetable.  And although they are sweet, peas are actually considered to be a low glycemic index food (anything below 55 GI is considered low, peas come in around 48) probably due in part to their level of fiber and protein.

Peas are also high in vitamin K, manganese and vitamin C.

They go into a wide variety of dishes and can be eaten raw when young or in any variety of cooked methods when they are more mature.

One family favorite way to eat them is in a dish I call Peas-y Peas and Celery.  When I was a kid I used to love it when my mom would make a dish of new potatoes and peas.  It tasted like spring to me, fresh, bright and delicious.

Of course peas also great thrown into a huge Chef's Salad or used as an appetizer or sandwich spread in Mark Bittman's Pea Dip.  There are just so many different ways to enjoy them.

However you enjoy them in very short order there are going to be lots of delicious, fresh, new peas at farmer's markets and groceries near you; perhaps even in your own garden.  Enjoy them, savor them, let me know what your favorite recipes are.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

swiss chard

Swiss chard | Jonathunder
I love Swiss chard.  Of course I love all of the dark leafy green but Swiss chard is one of my favorites.  Colorful, delicious and easy to use in so many different ways it's really a fabulous green to add to your food plan.  I just finished planting some in my garden and am eagerly awaiting it's growth so that we can enjoy it.

Apparently originally from Sicily one of the great things about Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is that you can eat the leaves when they are young and quite tender but they are still tasty when they are larger and more mature.  The ruby and rainbow varieties are more colorful and I confess a preference that is totally related to that color as  I enjoy seeing their beautiful stems and leaves in the garden or in my dishes.  For productivity however, the plain green variety does seem to produce more heavily.  On the other hand, like beets, the red and rainbow varieties are higher in betacyanins, which are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and believed to support detoxification.

Nutritionally, like all the dark leafy greens, Swiss chard is a powerhouse food to add to your diet.  One cup of the cooked greens provides more than the RDV for vitamin K and vitamin A and around 50% of the RDV for vitamin C.  It also delivers a substantial amount of minerals like magnesium, manganese, potassium, and iron.

Recently I came across these two recipes for Swiss chard from Martha Rose Schulman in her New York Times column and they look so delicious they will definitely be included in how we eat this fabulous green this summer.

Stir Fried Swiss Chard and Red Peppers

Swiss Chard and Chickpea Minestrone

What's your favorite way to eat this wonderful leafy vegetable?  I'd love it if you'd share a recipe or two.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I've been seeing changes in yogurt in the grocery stores lately.  It used to be that yogurt was mostly a gelatinized "Swiss-style" fruit mixed in or on the bottom kind of product.  At least that's what was presented to us at the grocery store.  Then came those tubes followed by the drinkables.  Now we're getting back to the real thing and the choices for whole milk, organic, live culture yogurt are easily available.

Greek yogurt has come to the forefront.  Many people seem to prefer it even in the face of the higher cost.  Greek yogurt is higher in protein, almost 50% more according to the Berkeley Wellness Letter.  The whey is strained out giving it a thicker consistency and a longer shelf life.  When you strain out the whey you wind up with a product that is higher in fat and lower in calcium but also lower in lactose (the milk sugar that some people have trouble digesting).  So you have to decide what you want.

Of course what many people don't realize is that you can make a Greek style yogurt of your own very simply.  Take a 32 ounce container of whole milk, organic, live culture yogurt.  Place cheescloth (I use a coffee filter) into a colander.  Place the colander on top of a bowl and then dump the yogurt in.  Put the whole thing in the fridge overnight and in the morning you have a thicker, Greek style yogurt, and the whey which has strained out.  The whey is great for soaking beans or grains, it can be added to soups, and some people even drink it straight.  It's a little tart for me for that so if I have too much I usually feed it to the dogs, they consider it a great treat.

What to do with the thickened yogurt?  You can use it as a substitute for sour cream, you can add things to it to make a savory dip, mixed with a drop of stevia it makes a fabulous fresh fruit dip or you can eat it plain.  One of my favorite ways is to mix it with cottage cheese and a bunch of fresh vegetables, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, chunks of sweet peppers add a pinch of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper and you've got a tasty summer lunch.  Yogurt doesn't have to be used just for sweet things, it also makes a great savory dish.

Many cultures have a yogurt dish of some kind mixed with different spices or foods to make a condiment.  For example in India there is a shredded cucumber yogurt dish with scallions, garlic, cumin and pepper that helps to cut the spicy heat of the cuisine called Raita.  A similar dish can be found in Greek cultures and is called Tzatziki; it's made with yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint.  There's even a cold soup called Tarator from Bulgaria which has yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, walnuts, and oil, it makes a great starter for meal on a hot day.

The yogurt market appears to be growing by leaps and bounds.  A recent trip to the grocery store revealed coconut milk yogurt and soy milk yogurt (for those who can't have dairy), Bulgarian style, Australian style, and even Icelandic style.  As far as I can figure out the difference is primarily the type of bacteria used and perhaps how thick the yogurt is.

Also appearing more and more is kefir, a fermented yogurt that is drinkable.  The fermentation increases the probiotic activity of the yogurt and can be very healthy for you as long as the cultures are live.  Soon enough I expect that we'll start seeing bottled containers of lassi which is a similar fermented yogurt drink from India.

Whatever style or type of yogurt you are eating (or drinking) it is important to remember that you want the real stuff.  Live cultures, no added artificial ingredients, just good, healthy, probiotic, digestive supporting yogurt.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I'm so thrilled to be able to share the following video.  I studied about Nutrition Education at Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts.  A couple of months ago I was invited to do an interview and this is the edited product that Chris, the very talented Videographer for the college, put together.  It's live and online.

Because of how it's been put up online I'm not able to embedd it but you can click on the link to take a peek.

Bauman Interview