Tag Archives: antioxidants

What To Do With Fennel?

I have never liked black licorice. Years ago when I tasted fennel, I was immediately turned off because all I tasted was black licorice (the same reason why I never liked anise). Over the years I found that my preference for fennel was based on how it was prepared. My two favorite preparations for fennel are raw in a salad with oranges and red wine vinaigrette (a great combination) and roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Although I will now eat fennel when I am out at a restaurant, it is not a vegetable I ever buy. Until now. As part of my CSA share I have received full stalks of fennel.

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They weren’t really big enough to use to make a salad, especially once I cut away the fronds and stalks, making a fennel soup (which was recommended by the farmers) just didn’t appeal to me, and while the fennel dip I made a few weeks ago was good, I wanted to do something a little simpler.  So the easiest thing for me to do was roast the bulbs. Since roasting is one of my favorite go-to cooking methods for pretty much anything, I figured this was the easiest solution. I just tossed the cleaned bulbs with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted for about 20 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees F. It made for a great side dish with other roasted vegetables, including red onions and beets.

roasted fennel

Nutrition Note: Fennel has some radical-fighting antioxidant benefits thanks to vitamin C and phytonutrients like quercetin. It is also a good source of fiber, folate, and potassium, which among other things help promote heart health.

Do you like fennel? How do you use it in the kitchen?

Frozen Pomegranate Seeds

Today’s post is a link to a guest post I wrote for the fabulous dietitian Robyn Webb. She was recently visiting New Zealand and Australia (so jealous!) and asked many of her fellow dietitians to guest post on her Fabulous Food Finds blog. I was thrilled and honored when she added me to the list! And just in time for the end of National Nutrition Month with the theme “Eat Right with Color,” I had a fabulous food find: Frozen Pomegranate Seeds from Trader Joe’s.  These seeds are full of nutrients and antioxidants thanks to their deep red color.

Check out the post and tell me: Do you like pomegranate seeds? If so, how do you like to eat them?

Chocolate Valentine

This Sunday, February 14th, is Valentine’s Day — a day for people to express their love for one another, which is done most often on this “Hallmark holiday” by sending cards, flowers, and chocolates. The thought of chocolates is enticing, but it can also wreak havoc on your waistline. A typical chocolate truffle contains over 70 calories and 6 grams of fat (4 of which are saturated), and who stops at just one when you have a whole box in front of you? Those calories and fat add up fast!

But, there is a bright side to the chocolate debacle. Chocolate can be nutritious while also being delicious — that is if you choose wisely. Surely you’ve heard that chocolate can be good for you, and what makes it healthy are the flavonoids found in cocoa.

Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol antioxidant found in plant-based foods, such as onions, grapes, red wine, tea, and cocoa. They are the cause of the pungent taste of raw cocoa, and they are removed during processing to make sweeter chocolate. Therefore, the more bitter the chocolate, the higher the percent cocoa (also called cacao) and the more flavonoids it has, which is why dark chocolate is a healthier option than milk chocolate.

Chocolate is also high in fat, 2/3 of which is saturated fat from stearic and palmitic acid, and 1/3 of which is monunsaturated fat (like that found in olive oil) from oleic acid. Here again the higher the percentage of cocoa, the better off you are because it means less butter and milk have been added to the chocolate, which means less saturated fat.

The Bottom Line: This Valentine’s Day stick to dark chocolate with 60-70% cocoa, and watch out for those cream, caramel, and fruit filled chocolates.

Darling Clementine

As I’m sure most of you know, I love fresh fruit, and I rarely go a day without getting in a full three servings of it. During the winter though, it’s slim pickings when it comes to available fresh fruit. Unlike during the spring and summer when there’s a plethora of fruit available, winter fruit is limited mainly to apples and citrus fruit. As much as I love my apples (Gala and Braeburn are my faves), clementines are my favorite winter fruit.

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Unlike oranges, which can be difficult to peel, and tangerines, which often have seeds, clementines are easy to peel, seedless, and just plain easy to eat. They are also sweet and juicy, and full of health benefits.

Clementines are full of the antioxidants vitamins A and C, folate, fiber, and potassium. Clementines have been shown to help with vision and maintaining healthy, beautiful skin (due to the antioxidants). Researchers have also found that the scent of clementines triggers the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood.

Clementines are also really low in calories. Each clementine has 35 calories, 9 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 0 g fat, 1 g protein. Because they are so small, a fruit serving is 2 clementines, so make sure you grab two (like I have on my plate in the photo above) for a filling snack. They are in season from November through March, so go get your bag or crate of clementines before it’s too late!!

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 jessica@nutritioulicious.com!

Holiday Party Dos and Don’ts

Yesterday I taped a segment on Baltimore’s WBALTV/NBC morning news about how to stay healthy while still enjoying all the holiday parties this season.

Here are my top 6 tips:

  1. DO NOT starve yourself before attending a holiday party. Many people try to bank their calories for a party or dinner, but research shows that people who fast all day consume even more calories when they finally eat at a party or holiday meal than they normally would during the day.
  2. DO eat regular meals on the day of a party or dinner, just don’t overdo it.  Be sure to eat a healthy snack before you head to the party. Have a piece of fruit with a handful of almonds or a string cheese. The carb and protein/healthy fat combo will keep your blood sugar levels steady and ensure that you don’t eat everything in sight the minute you walk through the door.
  3. DO NOT show up empty handed. Instead, offer to bring something so you know there are healthy choices that you want to eat. Plus, the host will be grateful for your contribution.
  4. DO bring a side or dessert that will be a healthier option everyone can enjoy. Here are some great ideas:
    • Healthier chip and dip options — You can have chips and dips, but make sure to read the label! For example, Frito-Lay snack chips, like Tostitos, Fritos, and Lays Potato Chips are made with 3 simple ingredients — corn, healthier oils, such as corn and sunflower oil, and less salt than a slice of bread per serving! When making dips, avoid the high-fat cheese and cream. Instead, opt for one of these healthier options:
      • Caviar Cups: Fill Tostitos Scoops with nonfat Greek yogurt, a dollop of caviar and a sprig of dill or minced chives.
      • Bean Salad-to-go: Fill Tostitos Scoops with a colorful bean salad. Try black beans with diced red and green peppers.
      • Vegetable or fruit salsa

      Not only are these chips healthier, but they serve as a vehicle to get more nutrients into your diet when you pair them with these healthier, fiber-filled dips.

    • Fruit salad — in addition to the slice of cake you may have, ending your meal with a refreshing side of fruit will help fill you up without nearly as many calories as a second helping of cake or cookies.
    • Dark chocolate — for those of you who are chocolate lovers, bring a cake made with dark chocolate or, in celebration of Hanukkah, bring some dark chocolate coins (also known as gelt). Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and, since it’s not as sweet as milk chocolate, a little bit goes a longer way.
  5. DO NOT drink your calories. Holiday drinking can pack on the pounds. Eggnog, which has about 350 calories per 8 ounce cup, and punch, which is full of sugar, might seem like tasty choices at the party or dinner, but you won’t be so happy the next time you step on the scale.
  6. DO enjoy a drink, but stick to clear alcohols, like vodka and gin, or wine. Also, drink a glass of water or club soda between alcoholic beverages — this will keep you hydrated and help you avoid consuming too many calories.

Follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays in a nutritious and delicious way without worrying about your weight!

Note: I am a media spokesperson for Frito Lay.

The Apple of My Eye

Many people complain about the lack of fruit options during the fall and winter. It’s true that there isn’t much variety compared to spring and summer, but one of my favorite fruits is best this time of year: Apples!

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Apples from my CSA

There are over a dozen types of apples to choose from, but my favorites are Gala, Braeburn, and Fuji. I find these crisp and slightly tart — perfect as part of an afternoon snack.

Surely you know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but is this really true? Given the following health benefits of apples, it appears there is truth in this adage:

  • Apples are full of antioxidants, which help protect the heart by preventing damage to blood vessel walls, keeping blood flowing freely to and from the heart.
  • Apples are full of fiber. The soluble fiber helps lower the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol; the insoluble fiber acts as a bulking agent and helps in the digestion process.
  • Apples may lower the risk of certain cancers. There is some evidence that eating apples daily reduces the risk of lung cancer in women.
  • Apples may lower asthma risk.

Nutritionally, a medium 5-ounce apple contains 74 calories, 20 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 0.5 g protein, 0 g fat.

Most of the health benefits of apples comes from their skin, which also provides the bulk of the fiber, so be sure not to remove it before eating. While I don’t think organic food is worth the extra cost for most food (see “Is Organic Food Worth It?“), since I recommend eating the skin, I also recommend splurging on organic apples.

What’s your favorite type of apple?

Please Pass the Potatoes

Sweet potatoes that is! Like winter squash, sweet potatoes are at their peak between November and December, even though you can find them in supermarkets all year round. Like white potatoes, sweet potatoes are root vegetables, but they can differ in size from short with round ends (like the white ones) or long and tubular with tapered ends.

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Sweet potatoes have a thin skin and come in various colors, including brown, orange, red, and purple. The inside flesh is hard when raw, soft when roasted or baked, and is most often yellow or orange. Nutritionally, sweet potatoes are very good sources of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene, which your body uses to make vitamin A, manganese, and dietary fiber. Sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables that, similar to winter squash, should be counted as a starch on your plate. A medium baked sweet potato or 1/2 cup has about 100 calories, 24 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 2 g protein, 0 g fat.

I love them roasted, baked, mashed, or even made into sweet potatoe fries! Just be sure not to confuse them with yams. In North America you will commonly see sweet potatoes marketed as yams, but don’t be fooled. Yams are native to Asia and Africa and have a firmer, whiter flesh than sweet potatoes.

How do you like your sweet potatoes?

The Benefits of Tofu

The star of yesterday’s recipe, Tofu Stir Fry, was none other than tofu. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, tofu is a versatile source of protein that takes on the flavors of whatever you cook it in, which makes it stand out in the protein world. But what is tofu and what are some of it’s benefits?

Tofu is made from the curds of soybean milk and is a great source of protein, which is wonderful for those who maintain a vegetarian diet. It is also a good source of iron, calcium (especially if it is enriched with calcium), and omega-3 fatty acids, which have cardiovascular benefits. Research has also shown that soy protein:

  • lowers total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It also may increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
  • helps alleviate symptoms associated with menopause.
  • helps reduce bone less and decrease risk of osteoporosis.
  • is a good source of antioxidants selenium and copper.

There are various types of tofu ranging from silken to extra-firm tofu.  The more firm the tofu, the more calories and protein it has. Here is a general breakdown of nutrition stats for different types of tofu (per 3 oz serving):

  • Silken: 45 calories, 2.5 grams total fat, 4 grams protein
  • Soft: 60 calories, 3 grams total fat, 6 grams protein
  • Firm: 70 calories, 3 grams total fat, 7 grams protein
  • Extra-Firm: 80 calories, 4 grams total fat, 8 grams protein

As you can see there isn’t a big nutritional difference between the different forms of tofu, so you should feel free to use any kind you want without worrying about calories and fat.

What’s your favorite tofu dish?

You Say Tomato, I Say Delicous!

IMG_0657Most of my recipes lately have included tomatoes, including yesterdays soup. It’s no surprise, given that the prime season for tomatoes is July through September. This is when tomatoes are at their prime and you can find all sorts of varieties, not just the traditional red ones. There are yellow, orange, purple, and green tomatoes too, and all of them are so full of flavor this time of year — as sweet as the fruit they are (yes, that’s right, tomatoes are actually fruit, not vegetables)!

Surely you’ve heard at some point or another that tomatoes are healthy, but what makes them so beneficial?

  • They are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, and K. Vitamins C and A have antioxidant properties, which means they help fight off disease. And vitamin K plays a big role in bone health.
  • They’re a good source of fiber and potassium. Fiber helps keep you full and lower high cholesterol, and potassium helps lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • They’re known for containing lycopene. Lycopene in tomatoes has been a hot topic for a while. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage. Therefore, it helps to prevent certain cancers, including prostate cancer, and heart disease. A couple of notes about lycopene:
    • To get the benefits of lycopene, it is best to eat cooked tomatoes. During cooking, especially with olive oil, the nutrients become more concentrated and more available to your body.
    • Lycopene supplements won’t have the same benefits of lycopene from tomatoes, because there are other compounds in tomatoes that combined with lycopene give them their health benefits.

When buying fresh tomatoes, look for a deep color, smooth skin, and no soft spots. It’s important to store tomatoes at room temperature — NOT in the refrigerator! Refrigerating tomatoes impedes their ripening and decreases their flavor. Not only does cooking tomatoes increase the benefits of lycopene, it also adds to the sweetness of the tomatoes (this is especially true when tomatoes are not in season).

When buying canned tomato products and sauces, look at the ingredients. Many canned and jarred products have added salt and sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup and sugar. Your best bet is to buy unsalted canned tomatoes or tomato paste and some fresh tomatoes to combine and make your own sauce at home with fresh herbs and spices.

What’s your favorite tomato dish?