Category Archives: Nutrition Education

A Round of Applause for Basil

By Megan Kian

On the fourth of July as I was ready to dig into the feast before me, my nose picked up on the scent of an earthy mint that was being emitted from the leaves of basil resting on top of freshly cut mozzarella. Not only is basil one highly aromatic herb and packed with flavor, but it also provides several nutritional benefits. Basil carries a number of B vitamins, which play a role in the body’s cell metabolism and energy production. Basil also contains important minerals, including magnesium, iron, and calcium. Last and definitely not least, basil contains volatile oils that aid in fighting against bacteria and inflammation.

basil nutritional benefits

Basil isn’t just that smooth green leaf that you sometimes find as a garnish. It comes in several varieties, including some that are characterized by a purple color rather than green. If you’re looking to become a basil connoisseur or are just curious what to use the next time you cook, here is a list of the most common types of basil that are used in the kitchen:

Sweet basil – Sweet basil is by far the most commonly used and most popular type of basil. It is very prominent in Italian dishes such as on pizzas, used in salads, or prepared to create different sauces, including pesto.

Thai basil – As the name indicates Thai basil is mostly found in Thai or Vietnamese dishes. This type of basil is characterized by a licorice and mint flavor.

Lemon basil – It releases a very lemony scent and is found in dishes native to Thailand, Indonesia, and Laos.

Cinnamon basil – Due to the chemical cinnamate found in this particular type of basil, a strong cinnamon odor and taste can be expected from this basil. It is used mostly in hot drinks and added to fruits for a sweeter flavor. Cinnamon basil is recognizable by its purple flowers.

Basil is a versatile herb; if you’re looking for a way to incorporate basil into one of your meals try a mozzarella salad topped with basil or a homemade pesto sauce!

Do you like basil? How do you use basil in your kitchen?

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Cherries Are In Season!

You all know I love eating based on what’s in season, so when it comes to the summer months I’m basically in foodie heaven. There is so much produce available in these warmer months and I start getting my CSA deliveries, which I’m always excited about!

Some of my favorite fruits of the season are stone fruits, including cherries. As you could see from my Recipe ReDux post yesterday, I have already been busy using cherries to make cherry chutney and I love having a handful with breakfast and for an after dinner snack too.

cherries nutrition

There are different varieties of cherries, some of which are sweet and some sour. All cherries are a good source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, although sour cherries have higher amounts of these nutrients and are a little lower in calories. Cherries have been shown to help improve arthritis and gout thanks to their level of anthocyanins, antioxidants found in red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables. Half a cup of sweet cherries provides 45 calories, 11 g carbohydrate, and 2 g fiber.

Do you like cherries? How do you enjoy eating them? 

Make Way for the Dinner Plate

Most of you are probably familiar with the food guide pyramid created in 1992 (below left) by the USDA to help consumers make healthy food choices. That pyramid, however, had some fundamental problems that over the years were heightened as research showed more about what makes up a healthy diet. In 2005 the food pyramid got a big facelift and was changed to MyPyramid (below right)— a colorful depiction of how your diet should be balanced with the inclusion of physical activity. Unfortunately, consumers were still lost on the message since the pyramid had no words and you needed online access and the help of a professional to understand what any of it meant.

food guide pyramid      mypyramid food pyramid

With the introduction of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines this past January, the Obama administration campaigned for a better (and clearer) picture of what our diets should look like. Today the food pyramid is a thing of the past with the launch of the newest food icon: MyPlate!

myplate food icon

MyPlate is a more fitting icon to help people balance their diets — after all, we eat off of plates, not pyramids! It’s also a tool that dietitians have been using for years. The MyPlate image is divided into four sections: vegetables (red), fruit (green), grains (orange), and protein (purple). There is also a small cup-like image next to the plate that represents dairy. Like MyPyramid, there isn’t much information on the plate about portions, but visually you can see that the vegetable and fruit sections together make up half the plate (with vegetables slightly larger than fruit), and the grain section is slightly larger than the protein section on the other half.

Another item missing from MyPlate is healthy fat, like oils and nuts. If you look at the information online, you will find that nuts fall into the protein portion of the plate, but the oils are missing representation. This doesn’t mean you don’t need them – you do! It’s just one of the flaws that already stands out with the new food icon, proving that MyPlate won’t be able to solve all your dietary conundrums (and why you still need a registered dietitian to help you understand it all!).

All in all, although MyPlate could use some tweaking, its message is clear: pack your plate full of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and keep your portion sizes under control.

What do you think of MyPlate? How does it compare to the food pyramid?

Farmers Market Finds: Asparagus

By Jo Bartell

Asparagus is one of my all-time favorite vegetables, so you can imagine how excited I am to have it fresh from the farmers market this time of year. I picked up two bunches of large asparagus for $8.00 this week and I can’t wait to eat them!

asparagus season

Asparagus is low in calories and high in fiber, with 30 calories and 3 grams of fiber per cup. It’s also a great source of folate, which is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system, and extremely important for pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant. Just one cup provides over 65 percent of the recommended intake for folate! I also love eating asparagus at this time of year because it serves as a natural diuretic. This means that it helps get rid of swelling, bloating, and water retention, which is important in the summer heat — especially when we’re out in our bathing suits!

By the way, it’s no myth that asparagus can make your pee stink! The jury is out on what exactly causes the odor, but it’s one of many substances in asparagus. Not to worry though — there are no health risks associated with asparagus consumption and urine odor.

Here are some of the ways I will be preparing my farmer’s market asparagus:

  • Roasted asparagus.
    • Drizzle a little olive oil over the spears, sprinkle on a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and toss.
    • Roast on a baking sheet at 400o F for 25 minutes.
    • For a cute addition if serving these to guests, try taking a bundle of about six spears and tie them together with a scallion!
  • Grilled Asparagus. A great recipe for your summer BBQs.
    • Take asparagus and place side by side, then pierce asparagus with 2 wooden skewers, forming a raft to place on the grill.
    • Combine a little olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, some lemon zest, paprika, and pepper in a bowl and then brush over the asparagus.
    • Grill these up and you have a simple, nutritious and delicious addition to your meal.
  • Added to omelets and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
  • Blanched and eaten cold as part of a crudités platter or on top of a green salad.

How do you enjoy asparagus?

Are functional foods really healthy?

By Megan Kian

A recent NY Times article, “Food With Health Benefits, or So They Say” (May 14, 2011), questioned the role of functional foods in our increasingly health conscious society. What exactly are functional foods? They are foods that claim to have a health-promoting or disease-preventing property beyond the basic function of supplying nutrients. For example, yogurts that claim to help regulate your digestive system or cereals that claim to help support your child’s immunity are functional foods.

The issue with functional foods is the accuracy of the health claims. Although companies are legally allowed to make these health claims (as long as they are supported by some sort of scientific evidence), you still have to wonder how truthful they are. It seems that many of the declarations companies make are just advertising ploys to increase sales of these foods. The best way to shop for healthy food in the supermarket is to take these claims with a grain of salt, read the fine print on labels, and stick to what you know is good for you.

What do you think of functional foods?

Best Diet? The One You Can Stick With

This week’s health news has been buzzing with the Consumer Reports diet rankings. The results were quite surprising to many of us in the nutrition field – the top five diets are:

  1. Jenny Craig
  2. Slim Fast
  3. Weight Watchers
  4. The Zone
  5. Ornish Diet
  6. Atkins

Interestingly, Jenny Craig came out on top based on a Journal of the American Medical Association study from last October that showed 92 percent of Jenny Craig clients stayed on the program for 2 years. What Consumer Reports didn’t seem to take into account, is that the participants in the study didn’t pay a penny for the program – the researchers paid for all the expenses, which are quite hefty. The program, which includes an annual fee and the cost of all the food, can cost a couple thousand dollars per year. I highly doubt that 92 percent of the participants would have stayed on the diet for as long as they did if they were paying for it themselves.

The fact that Slim Fast, which involves drinking a shake for breakfast and lunch and having a 500 calorie dinner, came in second is also mind-boggling to me. In fact, of all the programs listed I would have thought Weight Watchers would have come out on top.

consumer reports diet rankingsThe truth is, I don’t advocate for any of these diets. I encourage people to eat balanced meals filled with vegetables, fruit, lean protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. And the food they eat should be nutritious and delicious. An occasional treat is also ok as long as it’s in moderation. This is the foundation of a healthy diet; restriction, packaged foods (especially for all meals everyday), shakes, and meal replacement bars are not.

One component of some of these diets that I do recommend is support. Whether it’s visiting a registered dietitian once a week, calling a friend for encouragement, or going to a support group, if you’re looking to lose or maintain your weight, having the support of others will help you reach your goal.

What do you think about the Consumer Reports diet rankings? Do you believe in diets? 

Baked Falafel

In celebration of National Mediterranean Diet Month, here is the first of two Mediterranean-inspired recipes from Nutritioulicious intern Jo Bartell.

I have always loved falafel. Lucky for me there is no shortage of delicious, crispy falafel at the various Middle Eastern restaurants and falafel stands scattered throughout New York City. For those of you who are not familiar with this delicious food, Falafel is a ball or patty made of ground chickpeas. Falafel can be eaten alone as a snack, but it is often served in a pita pocket topped with vegetables and different sauces such as hummus or a yogurt sauce called tzatziki. The main ingredient of falafel is chickpeas, which makes the falafel high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. This combination of nutrients creates a healthy, satisfying meal component.

The problem with falafel from a nutritional standpoint is that it is usually deep-fried in oil. This cooking method turns a healthy dish into a less healthy version filled with saturated fat and cholesterol. Luckily, I found a great recipe for baked falafel I want to share. It is easy to make and definitely nutritioulicious!

Baked Falafel Balls (adapted from www.food.com)
Serves: 8; Serving Size: 4 falafel balls

Ingredients: baked falafel recipe
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup bulgar wheat
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed for brushing
  • 1 red onion, finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons whole-wheat breadcrumbs*
  • ¼ cup minced cilantro
  • ¼ cup minced parsley

*Note: You can substitute Panko Breadcrumbs for the whole-wheat breadcrumbs.

Directions: 
  1. Bring water to a boil and remove from the heat. Mix in the bulgur. Cover and allow the wheat to sit until all the water is absorbed — about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion is just transparent.
  3. Add chickpeas, red chili flakes, salt, cumin, and coriander to the pan and sauté for 1 minute more. Combine the chickpea mixture and bulgur in a food processor.
  4. Add the lemon juice, breadcrumbs, cilantro, and parsley and process until just mixed and the mixture has a grainy texture. Set mixture aside for 15 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  6. Form falafel mixture into 1-inch balls and place on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Brush the balls with olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden, turning the pan once during baking.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): 110 calories, 3.5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 4 g protein, 173 mg sodium

Do you like falafel? Have you ever made it at home?