Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall Muesli

Okay, so I'm a little obsessed with muesli lately. And since I've now had the opportunity to gather my preferred ingredients for the final recipe I was hoping for, I've created a second version. See my first muesli recipe, Wild Blueberry Muesli, here.

Fall Muesli contains Medjool dates, apricots and pecans--ultimately a combination that feels more like Fall to me. It's a little heartier. I also had the good fortune of running across some "seven grain rolled flakes" when my best friend took me to a local store in her town last weekend. I was so excited! The mixture contains two types of wheat, spelt, oats, rye, barley and triticale. It just makes things a little more interesting, but it's perfectly fine to use rolled oats instead.

As soon as I got home Sunday night, I put together my muesli. Which by the way, only took about 10 minutes. That's one of the reasons I love it! It's very quick to prepare. Plus you can make it ahead of time and store it for a super quick breakfast or snack. I keep it in a sealed plastic container with the measuring cup so that in the morning all I have to do is grab a scoop.

What's the big deal about the dates? I ate my first dates in Lara Bars and was completely enamored. They tasted like chocolate! It was unbelievable. They're a very unique fruit--much sweeter than other dried fruits and with 110 calories in only two. But that's all you need; they're also very rich. Like Mother Nature's dessert! You'll find dates in the refrigerated section of the grocery. Dates you don't plan on using for a while can be stored in the fridge, but they're okay unrefrigerated too. I recommend making a batch of Fall Muesli that you'll go through in a couple of weeks, since the dates are cut and unrefrigerated. I've heard they freeze well too, but I haven't given that a whirl yet.

Muesli is full of good nutrition and perfect for any meal plan. With loads of fiber and healthy fats, it's a satisfying breakfast that can help you manage your weight, cholesterol or diabetes. Full of flavor, nutrients and only natural ingredients--that's good food.


Fall Muesli
Makes 4 servings.

  • 8 Medjool dates
  • 6 apricot halves, dried
  • 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves
  • 2 cups rolled oats (or seven grain blend)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons honey

  1. Cut dates in half and remove the pit. Slice each piece into about 5 slices.
  2. Cut apricots in half lengthwise and slice each half into about 5 pieces.
  3. Gently roll dates in flour to coat. This helps prevent them from sticking to the other ingredients.
  4. Add all ingredients, except honey, to sealable container and stir gently to mix.
  5. Serve in a bowl topped with a drizzle of honey and milk.

Nutrition Facts (per heaping 1/2 cup): Calories 416 | Total fat 9g | Saturated fat 1g | Cholesterol 0mg | Sodium 13mg | Carb 80g | Fiber 6g | Protein 8g.

Download the recipe here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are Fruit Snacks Good Snacks?

Fruit snacks are handy—they come in individual packages and seem ideal for the family on the run. Of course, kids like them. "Fruit" appears in the name, making these snacks appear to be a good option, but are they any more than just candy?

Single serving packages of fruit snacks are low in calories and typically contain no fat, no cholesterol and low amounts of sodium. Many do contain vitamin C. But fruit snacks are also primarily SUGAR. Each pouch contains an average of 5 teaspoons of sugar (20 grams)! That nearly surpasses all the added sugar and empty calories a child should have in an entire day. And 100 calories that are empty calories aren't worth it!

As I like to tell my clients, “It’s not about what you shouldn’t be eating; it’s about what you should be eating.” In that convenient little pouch, where’s the stuff we should be eating? Fruit snacks don’t have fiber nor a mix of vitamins and antioxidants—things we should find in our fruit “snacks.” They also don’t have healthy fat or protein, other important components of nutritious and sustaining snacks.

If you break it down, fruit snacks are just fruit wannabes. They don’t make the grade! Why not go for the real thing? There are a variety of fruits that come in single-serving packages too, so they’re just as easy to grab when you need something quick. Fruit contains carbohydrates too, but it's the naturally-occurring type of sugar; that's not the same as the sugars found in fruit snacks. Some dried fruits do contain added sugars, so keep an eye out and purchase the unsweetened options as often as you can.

Next time you're looking for a fruity snack on-the-go, try these real fruit “snacks” instead. They'll give your kids (or you) the sweet taste they like with the nutrition they need.
  • Packaged apple slices
  • Grapes
  • Box of raisins
  • Single serving trail mix
  • Dried cranberries, cherries, apricots or banana slices
  • Dried strawberries (I have found them at Trader Joes. Mr. Patton says, "They taste like fruit roll-ups.")
  • Medjool dates--they're as sweet as candy! Higher in natural sugars, you only need two at a time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Fall Project: Damage Control

I have to admit failure when it happens--and my first attempt at growing vegetable seedlings was a complete failure! It was either the fungus that killed them or lack of light; I'm not sure which. But I'm not giving up. Since I'm quickly running out of time (and it may in fact be too late already), this time I sowed the seeds directly into my garden. I cleaned it up about a week ago, removing the dead squash and cucumber plants to make space for the fall plants. My cherry tomatoes are still growing like wild and my Better Boys have more tomatoes on them now than they have all summer! [Darned heat.] So I let them be for now.

I planted seeds for kale, lettuce, spinach and radishes in the garden. Since all of these seeds should be planted at a depth of about one inch, I simply created one-inch deep rows in my garden, dropped the seeds in and covered them lightly with soil. Since these are all cool weather crops, they shouldn't be planted until high temperatures are less than 90 degrees. Again, I over-did the seeds a little out of fear they wouldn't grow and it looks like I'll be thinning them quite a bit if they continue to grow. But look!

Just one week later, here are my radishes in the haze of last night's sunset. The kale, spinach and lettuce are popping up too. So cross your fingers that this trial will be more successful. I'll have to try the seedling adventure again next spring.

I love gardening and feel both great pride and pleasure in growing my own food. I have learned, though, that with gardening you must be patient and learn a little more each time. Maybe in ten years I'll have it mastered :)

Did you plant seedlings this year? Do you have a fall garden? Any masterful advice for us beginners?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Becoming a "Lessmeatatarian"

Lessmeatatarian? Huh? I guess I would call myself one, in fact, although I've never heard it named before. What is it? Simply a person who eats less meat than is traditional here in the U.S.--a nation made up primarily of carnivores.

Why eat less meat? Here are my top three reasons:

1. Health
Consuming too much meat and too many animal products can have a negative impact on health. Animal products, unless they have been reduced in fat (think skim milk) are natural sources of saturated fat. Over-consumption of saturated fat increases the risk of high cholesterol, which in turn increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The higher fat content of meats, when compared to vegetables and grains, also equates to more calories. So why were our meat-eating ancestors--think farmers and other manual laborers in the early 1900s--able to survive and stay thin on high fat diets including bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, gravy and lard? One HUGE difference: activity. Since we're not as active a population as we once were, what we're eating has a bigger impact on our health. Some of the healthiest, longest-living populations in the world eat primarily vegetarian diets.

2. Cost
No doubt about it--one of the costliest items you can add to your grocery cart is meat. Reducing the amount of meat you eat will certainly save you some dough. That's money you can turn around and spend on whole grains (one of the least costly items you can buy) and produce. Did you know a bag of brown rice costs less than $2.00 and serves 10? Boxes of whole grain pasta go for $1.00 at my grocery store almost all the time.

3. Feel better!
Watch this news video from ABC. Chef Angelo Sosa (major meat lover) tried the less meat approach for three days. What does he say after that? That he felt better. "Like I'm running on high-octane fuel." Could it be because he was taking in less fat? More vitamins and nutrients? Possibly both. Either way, who doesn't want to feel better?

Is full-on vegetarianism better? Not necessarily. Consuming some meat, in my book, is harmless--so you don't have to feel like you have to go all the way to reap some major benefits. Meat is a great source of complete protein, B12 and iron; and fish is a good source of omega-3s. Those nutrients are important! Needs can be met on a vegetarian diet too, or course, with some attention. To each their own. I do believe in a more plant-based diet and consume many a vegetarian meal. But I love, I mean LOVE, a great steak, a salmon fillet, my Dijon-Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin and a variety of cheeses (I'm sure you've noticed I'm just about obsessed with goat cheese). I'm not about to give up meat completely and don't think you have to either! The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) also emphasize a diet rich in plant-based foods for optimal health.

Eating less meat is quite a change for many Americans. And the key to creating change is going about it slowly. Here are some ways you can start easing towards "lessmeatatarianism" if you're accustomed to the carnivorous lifestyle:

1. Try having a "Meatless Monday" meal. This has been a trend for about the last year promoting a more plant-based diet. If you can't go a whole day without meat, try at least one meal. You could build an entire Meatless Monday menu by selecting three of these recipes:

2. Double your veggies. If you reduce the amount of meat on your plate, you have to fill that space with something else, or else our brains tend to tell us that we're not satisfied. Fill it with veggies! Prepare two vegetables at dinner instead of just one. Use the Plate Method: fill 1/4 of your plate with meat, 1/4 with starch and 1/2 with vegetables.

3. Use "meaty" vegetables to replace half the meat in a dish. Mushrooms and beans are terrific replacements for meat because of there "meaty" texture. You'll cut half the fat and a lot of calories.

  • Chop mushrooms to replace half the meat in meat sauce
  • Use beans  to replace meat in chili and soups.
  • Grill Portobello mushrooms for meat and veggie skewers or to top off a smaller hamburger.
  • Layer eggplant and/or zucchini in between layers of lasagna.

4. Swap breakfast meats for filling, healthy fats. We all want a breakfast that will stick with us longer than an hour. But you don't have to have meat to do the trick! Instead of eggs, bacon or sausage try avocado, nuts, peanut butter or almond butter.

5. Switch to leaner meats and start cutting down. Still a little leery of the "less meat" way of life? Even if you switch to leaner meats and reduce your portion size to the recommended 3-ounce portion size per meal, you'll be doing yourself some favors. For many Americans, this is still an adjustment. If you can reduce your meat intake some, you'll still be your own version of a "lessmeatatarian" and healthier to boot.

Could you become a lessmeatatarian?

See the ABC news story here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stuffed Shells with Kale

Did you have any Meat Marinara Sauce leftover from a couple weeks ago? I hope so! Thaw it out because here's one of my newest faves: Stuffed Shells. It's great with leftover or frozen sauce and is very quickly prepared. For some extra oomph, I like to stir some fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese into the sauce before stuffing the shells (it's a ricotta stand-in). I didn't in this case because we've been flying by the seats of our pants for the last few weeks (actually aalllll summer long) so we just didn't have it. And no way was I making an extra trip to the store. This is a meal that can be created strictly from what's on hand in your pantry and freezer.

After you get the shells in the oven, prepare the Sauteed Kale. If you aren't big on kale, you could saute spinach in its place, steam broccoli (that should be in your freezer too) or have a salad. Just don't forget your vegetable!

Stuffed Shells
Serves 2.

  • 4 oz (10 pieces) jumbo pasta shells (like Barilla)
  • 2 cups frozen Meat Marinara Sauce, thawed
  • 1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese (optional)
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded (such as Kraft made with 2% milk or full-flavored Sargento light)
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Add shells and gently boil until al dente (just starting to soften). Don't cook them too long--they'll fall apart when you fill them.
  3. Gently drain shells and allow to cool until you're able to handle them. Place the shells in your baking dish.
  4. Scoop meat sauce/cottage cheese mixture into each shell, filling shells evenly.
  5. Sprinkle with mozzarella.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce is hot.
  7. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Believe it or not, this is another healthy dish--even though it looks indulgent and might sound like something that's a treat. I especially love the "broth" that results from thawing the sauce and baking the shells in the oven. Talk about comfort food (made healthy)! Bon appetit.

Nutrition Facts (per 1/2 recipe shells, not including kale): Calories 284 | Total fat 7g | Saturated fat 4g | Cholesterol 39mg | Sodium 433mg | Carb 30g | Fiber 3g | Protein 24g.

Download the recipe here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New York Imposes Soda Ban...What?!

Last Thursday, the New York Board of Health voted in favor of imposing a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages sized over 16 ounces. The ban, proposed by Mayor Bloomberg last May, will outlaw the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces everywhere they are sold except grocery and convenient stores. The law is set to take effect next March, providing it isn't overturned by opponents in court first.

This is quite a controversial subject. Many (myself included) feel that it infringes on personal freedom. The single Board member who abstained from voting, a physician, said he was not convinced a ban would make a difference in fighting obesity. Supporters, including Bloomberg, note that it "will help save lives" by curbing obesity. Will a government-imposed nutritional restriction force people to make the right choice?

I guess it could. Restricting to 16 ounces versus 20 ounces of a sugary beverage would cut calorie intake by about 60. It might cause some restaurant-goers to choose a diet soft drink instead of regular so they can get a larger one. Or maybe they'll just go to the supermarket and get what they want. In some states, mandated laws forced restaurants to cut trans fat; that's not necessarily a bad thing. This was a step that forced restaurants to improve the quality of their products. Government is now forcing restaurants to post nutritional information on menus, which gives consumers the power to make a choice--a much better strategy in my book. The bottom line is, we should be promoting wellness with positive, not negative reinforcement, and providing access to education so that consumers are knowledgeable when it comes time to make a choice. Sugar-sweetened beverages can certainly be included in a healthy, balanced diet, as can other occasional indulgences.

With an epidemic of obesity contributing significantly to many of the health issues that plague our nation, there is no doubt that we need to do something. Healthcare costs are rising; and sometimes individual decisions affect the masses. But does that mean that nutritional restrictions should be government-imposed? Will that really cure what ails us? I'm not convinced.

Are you? What's your take on the mandate?


Friday, September 14, 2012

Calorie Info Coming to McDonald's Menus!

According to the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 12), McDonald's is "yielding to consumer demand" and will act ahead of the federal timeline by swapping out their menu boards and replacing them with ones that include calorie information next to each item. Way to go consumers! And way to go Mcee-Dees.

Nearly two years ago, legislation was passed requiring that restaurants operating 20 or more locations under the same name post calorie information next to each standard menu item. Some states, such as California, have already mandated the law; but it has not been equally mandated across the U.S. yet. Some restaurants have voluntarily pushed forward. Next week, we can expect to see McDonald's, operating over 14,000 U.S. locations, to do the same.

I'm so happy about this! Most of us eat out sometimes (some more often than others) and I feel it's only fair we know what we're getting. It sure is easier to make a health-conscious choice when you have those nutrition facts right in front of you. I can't tell you how many times it's changed my mind. As a dietitian, one of the most frequent questions I receive is, "How do I stick to my meal plan when I go out?" It's very hard to do. Foods can be prepared a number of different ways and portion sizes can be difficult to estimate. Not to mention the temptation of the restaurant environment, smell of the food and taste of the food--all factors that can lead us to overeating. Even with an extensive knowledge of nutrition, I am often fooled. Would you ever think that a dish of pasta packs in 1,500 calories? It's more common than you think. If you're serious about staying healthy, losing weight or controlling diabetes, having nutrition information is essential. And P.S.--the second part of this legislation will mandate that the remaining nutrition facts (fat, carbs, etc.) be available as well.

It's not like we don't have some resources now--there are books, apps and even many restaurants' websites that divulge restaurant nutrition information. But that adds one extra step to our already busy day...planning ahead. If we can see the nutrition facts while we're placing our order, I believe we're more likely to alter our choice. What you don't know can't hurt you, right? Wrong.

So thanks, McDonald's. I hope that other restaurants will follow suit soon. And I also hope that with consumer realization of what they're eating, it will bring about more healthy options too.

How do you feel about calories being posted on the menu? Would you rather know or not know?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Should You Go Organic?

With the increasing availability of organic foods in the supermarket, the choice to buy organic is an ever-confusing decision. This discussion is however, very relevant today. And it was all over the media last week, after the release of a new study evaluating whether organics were healthier. Should you buy organic foods all the time? Are there some foods you should buy organic and others in which it doesn't matter so much? Are organic foods really healthier? Overall--is organic worth the higher price tag?

Like for many nutrition-related questions, there is not a simple answer. There are nutritional, economic, health and environmental factors to consider when you make the decision to purchase, or not purchase, organic.

1. Are organic foods and food products really nutritionally superior?
Overall, they are not. So if your reasons for buying organic are to reap a nutritional reward, it's not worth the added cost. According to the newest study on organically-produced foods, a literature review of over 200 studies, there are not significantly more nutrients in organic fruits, vegetables and animal products. You get the same nutritional "bang" from conventionally-produced foods.

2.  Do organic foods contain fewer pesticides?
According to the Stanford review, yes. Organic produce contained about 30% lower incidence of pesticide residue (80% lower in the conclusion of a peer-reviewer of the study). That certainly sounds significant, but keep in mind that conventionally-grown produce was still within the EPA-set allowable safe limit for pesticide residue. If your goal is to minimize your intake of pesticides (since there have been some studies linking even low levels to harm), organics may be a better choice. However, there are other ways to minimize pesticide intake and not always buy organic.
  • Use a produce wash that helps to remove waxes and pesticides.
  • Choose certain organically-grown produce. Most simply, if the produce you're buying has a skin, peel or rind that you are not going to eat, you don't need to buy organic (like an orange). You've probably heard of the "Dirty Dozen," or the fruits and vegetables that tend to have the highest levels of pesticide residue (again, still within the allowable limit, but nonetheless...). You may choose to buy these items organic. For other produce, you're likely not ingesting much pesticide residue. The Dirty Dozen app (created by the Environmental Working Group) provides an easily-referenced list of produce that may carrier higher levels of pesticides.
3. Do organic foods carry less risk of bacterial contamination?
The Stanford study concluded that organic meats were not less likely to be contaminated by E. coli bacteria. But when meats were contaminated, organic meats were less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Overuse of antibiotics in the medical field and in agriculture is contributing to the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which makes bacteria-related illness more difficult to treat. Look for antibiotic-free meat and dairy products; they don't necessarily have to be organic.

4. Hormones in meat and dairy products.
There is an increasing body of research examining the effect of hormones used in the growth or production of the foods we eat. Puberty is occurring earlier in some individuals than it did decades ago. It could be related to obesity (70% of our population is overweight, and that includes children) or it could be related to hormones used in the production of our food. Is the verdict out yet? No. But to be on the safer side, here too, look for hormone-free meat and dairy products; they don't necessarily have to be organic. Many "conventional" food producers offer antibiotic- and hormone-free products.

5. Taste
This is a personal conclusion. Many people who buy organic say they do so because the taste of organic products just can't be matched in their conventionally-produced counterparts. If you have the extra money to spend on groceries, and this is important to you, buy organic.

6. Price
If you've compared organic versus non-organic foods at the supermarket, you have probably realized that organic foods cost more, as much as twice the cost of conventionally-produced foods. That's because organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, without hormones and it isn't industrialized. It may take more fertilizer and a longer growth time to yield a mature product. If you are buying some things organic, make sure it's worth it (read this entire article). Also make sure that you're limiting your portion sizes of higher-priced foods, like meat. Most adults need no more than 6 ounces of meat per day. Making sure you're not eating more than the recommended amount can certainly help reduce your grocery bill.

7. Supporting small businesses and smaller, local farms.
If you're a small business advocate, don't forget about small farms. Support local farms and farmers by buying local produce at the grocery, a produce stand, from a local co-op, your farmers market and restaurants that use local produce. Locally grown produce has far fewer miles to travel until it hits your doorstep, so it's often picked at the peak of freshness, making it taste better too.

8. Environmental protection, farming practices and farm-worker health.
This is a much deeper reason to buy organic, based more on core values than health and nutrition. Overall, organic foods are not more nutritious nor are they healthier. But--organically-grown foods may have a lesser environmental impact and reduce the risk of pesticide exposure in farm workers. Animals raised on organic farms may be treated more humanely. These things are important too. That said, larger agricultural companies argue the opposite--that by using synthetic fertilizers, they can use less and are therefore reducing environmental impact. Foods that are imported from other countries, having traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, certainly have a large carbon footprint. Buy locally-grown foods whenever you can to reduce the travel time of your food. Buy seasonal produce so that you're not relying on imported food that is simply out of season (like strawberries in the middle of winter).

There are many reasons for and against buying organic foods. First and foremost, many Americans don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, don't eat high quality foods and don't have balanced diets. This is leading many of us to become unhealthy and overweight. Organic foods can still be junk. An organic cookie is still a cookie and an organic chip is still a chip. The first goal should be to pay attention to which foods you choose to eat everyday, organic or not. Pick mostly lean meats and low-fat dairy (possibly hormone and antibiotic-free), lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and more plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes and nuts. You'll get the same important nutrients from conventionally-grown options as you will the organic type. Use a pesticide wash to wash away extra pesticides and if your pocketbook allows, buy the "higher risk" produce organic; if you already eat a healthy, balanced diet, you may tip the scales to make your healthy diet even healthier. Buy locally-grown produce when you can to support your community.

If the reason you choose to buy organic is because of the environmental effects, that's a whole different story, and certainly a good reason. But if you're struggling to pay your bills or buy enough "good" foods to feed your family in the first place, don't pay extra for organic. Focus on the basics first to eat as nutritiously as possible.

Here's a good summary of the Stanford study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Read Charles Benbrook's rebuttal here.

What do you think? Why do you choose to or choose not to buy organic?


Monday, September 10, 2012


While on my recent California vacation, I was inspired by the most simple breakfast. On our last day in Anaheim, before driving down the coast, Mr. Patton was attending the last day of his conference and I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There were several enticing menu items including one of my absolute favorites, eggs benedict. I steered clear because I was so tempted by the muesli, described as:

"granola, dried apricots, california almonds, organic milk, golden raisins, temecula honey, seasonal berries"  

Boy am I glad that I was! It was one of the most enjoyable breakfasts I've ever had! I savored every bite. Seriously. So of course, I had to recreate it at home. And this one will be created in several different versions, I assure you. It's proof that the simplest dishes can be the best (Good Food Tastes Good, remember?). 

This week I had some dried wild blueberries on hand from Trader Joe's. Hence my very first muesli creation:

Wild Blueberry Muesli

Serves 4


  • 1 cup rolled oats (not the quick-cooking kind; I like Bob's Red Mill)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried blueberries
  • 1/4 cup almonds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (raw pepitas)
  • 2 cups fat-free milk (serve with)
  • 4 teaspoons honey (serve with)
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together oats and salt.
  2. Add each ingredient individually, stirring after each. This helps to prevent the sticky fruits from sticking to everything else.
  3. Serve with 1/2 cup milk and 1 teaspoon honey drizzled over top.
  4. Store remaining servings in an air-tight container.
Liz's Tips
  • Muesli can be made with nearly any mix of ingredients. Try different dried or fresh fruits, different nuts and flax seeds. 
  • Once you figure out your favorite version, make a big batch! That means it's ready to go when you need it or even on the run. I'm talking major convenience.
Nutrition Facts (per 1/4 recipe or nearly 1/2 cup plus milk and honey): Calories 357 | Total fat 9g | Saturated fat 1g | Cholesterol 2mg | Sodium 213mg | Carb 58g | Fiber 8g | Protein 13g.

Download a printable copy here.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mix Restaurant at the Hilton Anaheim.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Sixth Sense and How To Outsmart It

Growing up, we learned that our tongue could sense four different tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Did you know there could be many, many more? Molecular biologists have theorized that humans may have up to 20 receptors on their tongues for tastes such as calcium, carbonation, starch and even water. Most recently, one that stands out from the rest (with a growing body of evidence) is fat. That's the sixth. The fifth, by the way, is for savory foods.'s long been known that fat has a certain mouth-feel. That's why we enjoy it so much! Think about the difference between regular ice cream and fat-free or the difference between regular ground beef and the leanest. Which do you naturally prefer?

Researchers at [our local] Washington University have discovered that the receptor CD36 is related to a sensitivity to fats. Those who make more of this receptor are better able to detect the presence of fats in food; 8 times more sensitive to it, in fact, than those who make half the amount of CD36.

So some of us could be genetically predisposed to having an insensitivity to the taste of fats, which could cause increased consumption of fatty foods. This is what researchers plan to look at next. Does the ability to detect fat in food influence our fat intake? If so, a lack of this receptor could have an impact on obesity. Previous tests of the CD36 receptor in animals have shown that eating more fat leads to less production of the receptor. And as people eat more fat, it is possible they need more to satisfy their cravings.

Although more research is needed, my advise is to cut the fat now! If you are accustomed to a high-fat diet, it might take a transition period to allow your taste buds to "adapt" to the mouth-feel, texture and now, taste, of lower-fat alternatives. It can be done. Your taste buds can "learn" that lower fat foods are just as appealing. Here are some tips to make the transition:
  • Boost flavor in food by using herbs and spices
  • Prepare rice or cous cous with low-sodium chicken broth versus water and butter
  • Gradually transition from whole milk to 2% milk to 1% and then to skim
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat and cook them using moist heat, like in the crockpot. They stay super tender!
  • Use half ground beef and half ground turkey breast in meat dishes, like chili
  • Use ham or Canadian bacon at breakfast instead of bacon and sausage. For lunches, opt for chicken, turkey, ham or lean roast beef instead of bologna, salami and hot dogs.
  • Use plain, non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
  • Buy reduced-fat versions of cream, cream cheese and hard cheeses
  • Use strongly flavored cheese, like blue cheese, goat cheese and feta. You can use less and get the same flavor.
  • Cut down on dining out. Think of your favorite meals and try to make them at home. Love burgers and fries? Grill a burger at home made from lean beef (at least 90%) and make french fries in the oven by slicing a potato, mixing it with herbs and olive oil, and baking at 450 on a cookie sheet.

And not all fat is out. In fact some of it is very healthy. But some fats, those coming from animal sources in particular and that are prevalent in fast foods, can be harmful to your heart if eaten in excess. Use healthy fats to add flavor to food too, just go easy on the portion size:
  • Peanut or almond butter
  • Olive oil
  • Reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spreadable tub margarines

Source: Mail Online; Photo:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Basic Meat Marinara Sauce

Maybe it's the gloomy weather or just that I feel like Fall is on its way, but I have been craving some warm and comforting food for the last few days. So last night I made one of my all-time faves: spaghetti.

My mom taught me to make homemade meat sauce when I was young and over the years I've been perfecting my own adaptation. Since we're currently only feeding two, it makes a bunch of leftovers that we either eat throughout the week, use in other recipes (upcoming) or freeze for later. You know spaghetti sauce only gets better when it's left over!

Spaghetti is an easy, healthy meal. Just make sure you start with the right ingredients. I make mine with extra lean beef (96% lean ground beef from Trader Joe's) and use whole wheat noodles. You can cook it on the stove or brown the beef and let the crockpot do the rest of the work. Serve with some steamed broccoli or a salad and you've got a complete meal. Pasta is bad for you? What a myth!

So I'm sharing my secret recipe with you in hopes that you'll enjoy it as much as I do. The weather man says the heat will be sticking around until October. But at least last night, I was pretending it was Fall.  :)

Meat Marinara Sauce
Makes 8 servings.

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 8 large mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 pound 96% lean ground beef
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, low-sodium (Hunt's No Salt Added)
  • 1 can tomato sauce, low-sodium (Hunt's No Salt Added)
  • 1 can tomato paste, low-sodium
  • 1 can water
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder (that's the secret ingredient)
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot.
  2. Sautee onion and pepper until onion begins to turn translucent. 
  3. Add beef to pot, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir and "chop" with a spoon until the beef is in bite-sized pieces and brown.
  4. Add mushrooms and stir occasionally until they soften.
  5. Add all remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to gentle boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Liz's Tips:
  • Serve on top of whole wheat pasta.
  • If you prefer to cook your sauce in the crockpot, follow steps 1 through 4. Then add the beef mixture and all remaining ingredients to the crockpot. Heat on low for at least 4 hours.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for 5 days. Or freeze in 2 to 4 cup portions in freezer bags. I like to make leftovers on purpose (you can double the above recipe if needed) so I have sauce ready for my Penne Pasta Bake or Stuffed Shells with Kale...coming soon.
  • You can substitute all or half of the beef for ground turkey breast and it still tastes great!
  • Omit the meat all together and you've got a yummy vegetarian version, or just a nice marinara.

Nutrition Facts (per 1 1/2 cups): Calories 130 | Total Fat 3g | Saturated Fat 1.5g | Sodium 175mg | Carb 13g | Fiber 3g | Protein 14g.

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