Category Archives: Wednesday Wonders

Wednesday Wonders: Mercury in Fish

Q: I try to keep a high protein diet, but don’t like to eat very much poultry or red meat. I am not a vegetarian and rely heavily on fish as a main source of protein. I am concerned that I ingest too much mercury. What kinds of fish do you suggest I buy that is low in mercury and easy to find at my local Whole Foods? — Martha, NYC

A: Hi Martha!

This is an excellent question. Fish is a great option for a high quality protein source that is low in saturated fat and can give you the added bonus of omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit your heart and can help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

The USDA recognizes that fish is part of a healthy diet; therefore, in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines they recommend at least 8 ounces of fish per week, which is two standard size servings. The fact that you already love fish puts you ahead of the game! It is important to  be cautious about the mercury content in fish, but it really is only a significant health concern for young children and women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. If you do not fall into these categories, then the nutritional benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks.

It is important, however, to understand the mercury content and other environmental contaminants in the fish you eat. In general, larger, predatory fish that have lived longer have higher mercury contents because they have had more time to accumulate the toxin. Some examples of predatory fish with high mercury content are swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark, so if you are concerned about mercury, avoid these fish. We always hear about tuna’s high mercury content, but canned chunk light tuna is actually low in mercury, so choose that instead of the higher mercury albacore tuna. Also, bottom feeders are much lower in mercury than the larger fish, so think of them when you are choosing your cuts of fish at Whole Foods.

Here are some common low mercury choices you will be able to find during your grocery shopping: anchovies, calamari, catfish, crab, haddock, flounder, cod, sole, salmon, tilapia, oysters, sardines, and freshwater trout.

If you have a Wednesday Wonder you’d like answered, email me at!

Wednesday Wonders: Using and Storing Fresh Ginger

Wednesday Wonders are back! Your burning nutrition, food, and cooking questions are answered here every Wednesday. Ask your questions in the comments section of any blog post, post your question on the Nutritioulicious facebook page, tweet it to me, or email me directly!

Q: Hi Nutritioulicious!
I’m trying a new recipe tonight for a lower-fat sweet & sour stirfry chicken. The recipe calls for fresh ginger and I bought way more than what I needed. How can I store the ginger that I don’t use and how long will it keep for? Do you have any ideas of what to do with the leftovers? Thanks for your help! — Caren in Atlanta

A: Hi Caren!

Thanks for this great question. Good for you for trying something new! (And the low-fat sweet and sour chicken sounds great too!) Many people don’t know what to do with fresh ginger, so they use ginger powder or they skip the ingredient altogether. Ginger is an excellent spice that has great medicinal properties, such as helping relieve nausea and reduce inflammation, especially in people who have arthritis, so it would be a shame not to cook with it.

cooking with and storing fresh ginger

Fresh Ginger Root

I often use ginger in marinades, sauces, and vinaigrette dressings, but it can also be added directly to a dish to add flavor. For example, you can add julienned ginger to roasted or sautéed vegetables (I really like it on broccoli), make ginger cookies, or steep ginger in water for a nice homemade ginger tea. Ginger is also great paired with fish, like in these Black-Sesame Salmon Balls.

One thing to note is that fresh ginger and ground ginger have very different flavors, and cannot always be used interchangeably. However, if a recipe calls for ground ginger, you can use fresh ginger in its place, but remember that the amounts of fresh and dried herbs and spices are not equal. Generally, 1 teaspoon ground ginger = 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (remember 1 tablespoon=3 teaspoons), but be sure to taste often as you cook to see if you need more of the spice!  Here are some recipes that use ground ginger, but can be made with fresh minced ginger: Tomato Jam, Sweet Potato and Tofu Thai Curry, and Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup.

You can store ginger unpeeled in the crisper in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to 3 weeks or you can freeze it, unpeeled, for up to 3 months (put a date on it so you remember). If you freeze it, when you go to use it you can cut off what you need to use and then put the rest back in the freezer. Another thing you can do is peel it, grate it onto plastic wrap, roll up the plastic wrap into a log, and then when you want some, cut off the amount you want and wrap up the rest. You can then either let the frozen grated log defrost or grate it again.

Readers, please share with Caren how you use fresh ginger in your cooking! And if you have a Wednesday Wonder you’d like answered, email me at!

Wednesday Wonders: What’s Matzo?

passover matzoThis week is Passover, one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays. If you’re not familiar, the Passover holiday celebrates the escape of the Jewish people from enslavement in Egypt. Matzo is a mainstay of the Passover holiday, and it is eaten in place of chametz, the collective name for leavened products containing wheat, barley, oats, rye, or spelt.

What is matzo and why do we eat it?

Matzo is unleavened bread, and looks like a cracker. It is made by combining flour and water and baking it before it has time to rise, which is why it turns into a flat, crunchy cracker. Matzo is eaten over the course of Passover (which lasts 8 days) because it is what the Jews ate when they escaped from Egypt. In the rush to leave, the Jews did not have time to bake bread; instead, they mixed together flour and water and quickly baked it, without waiting for it to rise. It was the only food they took on their journey to freedom.

Where does matzo stack up nutritionally?

Most people think matzo is low calorie because it’s just made with flour and water and is so light. However, a whole piece of matzo (1 whole square) contains 125 calories, 28 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein, 0 g fat. Nutritionally it doesn’t provide too many benefits, and I can’t say it’s the most delicious food, but it can become nutritioulicious™ when you use it as a base for sandwiches or use it to make matzo pizza (my favorite)!

These days there are other varieties of matzo:

  • Egg matzo is made with flour, fruit juice, and eggs and contains 130 calories, 28 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 4 g protein, 0.5 g fat per serving (1 piece)
  • Whole wheat matzo is made with whole wheat flour (nutritious!) and water, and contains 100 calories, 23 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 4 g protein, 0 g fat per serving (1 piece)

Matzo is known to be a bit difficult to digest and can lead to constipation, so it’s very important to eat enough fruit and vegetables over the holiday to prevent digestive problems.

Do you eat matzo? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it?

Wednesday Wonder: Cheese Please!

Q: Dear nutritioulicious™,

I love cheese, but it’s so high in fat and calories and fat-free and lower-fat versions have so much less flavor that they don’t satisfy my cheese cravings. Is it okay to eat regular cheese? It’s so delicious, I can’t go without it! — NY Cheese Lover

A: Dear NY Cheese Lover,

I love cheese too, so I hear you about the fat-free and low-fat varieties not always giving you the same flavor you get from full-fat cheese. However, not all low-fat cheeses are alike — some have more flavor than others. I recently tried BeemsterLite, a gourmet Dutch Gouda cheese that is full of flavor and has 33% less fat than classic Gouda cheese (not to mention less sodium too!). Even Andy loved it — he didn’t even know it was a low-fat cheese until I told him! Here’s a nutritional comparison of Beemster Classic and BeemsterLite (per ounce):

BeemsterLite Gouda Cheese

Beemster Classic: 138 calories, 11 g fat, 8 g sat fat, 8 g protein, 35 mg cholesterol, 313 mg sodium, 280 mg calcium
BeemsterLite: 90 calories, 6 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 9 g protein, 15 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 300 mg calcium

Generally speaking, cheese is a nutritious and delicious source of protein and calcium, but it is also high in saturated fat, which can increase risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, not to mention lead to weight gain. I recommend that my clients stick to small portions of cheese, but enjoy the kind they like — otherwise it’s a waste of calories.

If you can’t find a low-fat cheese you like, then keep enjoying the full-fat ones, but be more mindful when eating them and limit yourself to 1-1 1/2 ounces at a time (that’s at most the size of 3 small playing dice). And when it comes to cooking, skip the fat-free stuff — it doesn’t melt well.

Looking for more ways to enjoy cheese? Find recipes using Beemster Gouda cheese and two of my other favorites,  Coach Farm goat cheese (look for the reduced-fat log) and Jarlsberg Swiss cheese (look for the Lite).

*I was not paid to write about any of the products in the above post.

Wednesday Wonders: National Nutrition Month®

This week I have a Wednesday Wonder for you!

Q: Do you know what March is in the nutrition world?

A: It’s National Nutrition Month®! (Yes, I know, the answer was in the headline!) Every March the American Dietetic Association sponsors National Nutrition Month®(NNM), a nutrition education and information campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to educate the public about the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. It’s also about promoting and reminding the media and the public that  registered dietitians are the nutrition experts and the most credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information.

This year’s theme for NNM® is Nutrition From the Ground Up, the basic premise of which is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult. A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy and includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts. A healthy eating plan is also low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. (Sounds a little like my nutritioulicious™ beliefs!) The ADA has some great resources for NNM®, including recipes, handouts, and information about what an RD can do for you.

Happy Nutrition Month!!!

Do you have a Wednesday Wonder you’d like answered? If so, email me at!

Wednesday Wonders: Freezing Fruit

Q: Hi! I’m a berry lover and buy strawberries even during the pricey winter months because I enjoy having them each morning for breakfast.  I am getting ready to go away for a few days and have some left over.  Can I cut them up and freeze them for when I return? Thanks! — Berry Lover

A: Hi Berry Lover!

Great question. The answer is yes — you can definitely freeze them.  I’ve previously talked about frozen produce and what a great way it is to save money when fresh produce is out of season. However, if you have access to out of season produce or just really like to have the fresh stuff all year round, you definitely don’t want it to go to waste — especially if you’ve spent a lot on it. Here’s how you can freeze fresh berries for them to keep well:

  1. Wash the berries and let them drain very well. You want to be extra careful with strawberries to make sure there is no moisture left. Strawberries are like sponges, they soak up water, which can leave them mushy.
  2. Spread the berries on a cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze them for a few hours or overnight.
  3. Once frozen, place the berries in a resealable bag, remove all the air, and store in the freezer.

Your frozen berries should be good for a few months, and can easily be defrosted to top your morning bowl of cereal, add to yogurt, or make into a smoothie. Keep in mind that you can also buy berries during the summer when the prices are cheaper and freeze them for winter use.

Do you have a Wednesday Wonder? Keep on sending your nutritioulicious™ questions to me at!

Wednesday Wonders: Health Benefits of Herbal Teas

Q: I drink herbal tea every morning and in the evening before bed. Am I getting all of the antioxidant and heart health benefits that I’ve heard so much about? — Tea Lover

A: Hi Tea Lover! That’s an excellent question. Unfortunately, herbal tea does not contain the antioxidants and heart health benefits that you find in green, black, white, and oolong teas (you can read about those in my earlier post Warm up at Teatime). Herbal tea, also known as tisane, is not actually tea at all. It is an infusion made with herbs, flowers, roots, and seeds — basically any part of a plant other than real tea leaves.

To add to the confusion, flavored teas are real tea. They are prepared by adding other plants to black, green, oolong, or white tea. For example, the popular Earl Grey tea is black tea with bergamot (a citrus fruit) added for flavor.

Before you start thinking your tea drinking is a waste, let me tell you about the benefits of herbal tea. While it may not give you an antioxidant boost, herbal teas have been found to help in other areas, such as:

  • Digestion (peppermint tea)
  • Sleep (chamomile tea)
  • Nausea (ginger tea)
  • Headaches (rosemary tea)

Plus, don’t forget that unsweetened herbal tea (hot or cold) is a great calorie-free bevarage and is caffeine-free! So keep on drinking your tea, and if you want add in a cup or two of the real stuff once in a while!

Do you have a Wednesday Wonder you’d like answered? If so, email me at!