Healthy Greens To Eat Now: 5 Not-So-Basic Leafy Greens

When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and I have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health). 

If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting.  Here are some of my favorites healthy greens along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:

Arugula

Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This  leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad).

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects. Try tossing some arugula in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle on top of baked flatbread and pizza – great way to amp up the nutritional value and add a refreshing flavor!

Arugula

Lacinato Kale

You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture.

Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse. If you don’t want to turn on the stove, try massaging the chopped kale with a little salt and olive oil to soften the leaves for a more digestible salad.

Lacinato Kale

Chard

This leafy green comes in many varietals. The stem color ranges from white to purple and bestows its varietal name, such as red chard. Swiss chard is most commonly known and typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem.

Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables or stuff with your favorite filling. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish. For an easy plant-focused meal, simply add in some chickpeas.

Red Chard

Watercress

Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation.

The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of my favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!

Watercress

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. Baby Bok Choy has a green stem and tends to be a little more tender.

It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. You can also cook Bok Choy on a sheet pan very easily –  simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil.  Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges. Baby Boy Choy is also delicious grilled – place the quartered Baby Bok Choy on an oiled grill and brush with your favorite Asian-inspired marinate and cook for approximately 4 minutes or until tender.

Baby Bok Choy

Take Action

Leafy greens are available year-round in the supermarket. Make it a habit to add greens to your grocery basket very time you shop. Produce should be eaten as fresh as possible for maximum quality and nutritional value – greens are no exception. With such vast varieties, it’s time to try a couple new ones!


Food Allergies and Sensitivities: How to Shop

Food allergies and sensitivities are soaring to an epidemic proportion! Over 32 million Americans have a serious and potentially life-threatening food allergy. That number explodes to nearly 85 million people impacted when you include those with food sensitivities and intolerances.

May is Allergy Awareness Month and there is no better time to learn more about food allergies to help yourself and those you love.

My 2 children both have serious allergies to egg and peanuts since day one. It required lifelong learning for our family to manage their diet. I accepted the challenge of reading every food label in the grocery store, making all our meals from scratch, and baking every birthday cake . As a result, our kids grew up on minimal amount of processed food and mostly healthy home-made meals. There is a silver lining if you can look beyond the often cloudy picture of an allergen-free diet.

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities have a range of severity and mechanism. Food allergy is an immunologic response that shows immediate symptoms within minutes to several hours after consuming the allergen. In many cases, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. On the other hand, food sensitivity is a non-immunologic response to food and the symptoms may appear over a period of days. The range of manifestations may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, headache, skin rash, muscle/join pain, fatigue and insomnia. For those of us who are affected, it can be very frustrating to pinpoint the foods that are causing the problem. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner to help you with diagnosis and treatment.

How to manage your diet

Whether you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, it is necessary to avoid the problem foods to feel well. The first step is to determine what food ingredients you need to eliminate from your diet. This may be done by food allergy (IgE) or food sensitivity (IgG) testing by your doctor or the use of an elimination diet with the help of a Registered Dietitian. The next step is to learn to recognize what food is safe to eat by deciphering food labels and sourcing trusted food companies that make allergy-friendly food.

These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:

Peanuts
Tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Milk
Egg
Wheat
Soy
Fish (halibut, salmon, etc.)
Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish). Not including mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid)

Avoiding these food allergens is not easy because they are often found in prepared dishes or hidden in processed and packaged foods in different forms. It is key to learn all you can about your problem food including its various names and derivatives, so you can detect them. Some examples of the not-so-common names are sodium caseinate (milk), semolina (wheat), albumin (egg), and lecithin (soy). You can learn more about these common allergens and how to avoid them at www. foodallergyawareness.org.

Sharpen your food shopping skills

According to FDA food labeling law, manufacturers must list all food ingredients in descending order of concentration. In addition, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) requires these 8 most common allergens be declared on the food label. Under the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, sesame is being added as the 9th major food allergen effective January 1, 2023. 

Although these labeling regulations are extremely helpful to consumers, they only cover a fraction of the 160+ foods identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals.

Best practices for buying allergen-free foods

  • Avoid highly processed foods. Less is more here – fewer the ingredients the better!
  • Never buy packaged food without an ingredient list.
  • Don’t buy any food with ingredients unknown to you.
  • Read food labels carefully, including foods you have purchased before. Food manufacturers may change their ingredients without warning.
  • Beware of general and non-specific ingredient terms, such as natural flavoring which may contain allergens unless you know the ingredient used in the flavoring.
  • Don’t just go with claims on the label. Phrases such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free” are not regulated by law. Be sure the allergen is not on the ingredient list.
  • Beware of cross-contamination. Allergen-free products could still be made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
  • Be careful with imported foods. They may not comply with domestic food labeling laws.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Plant-based Eating for a Healthier Planet

Happy Earth Day! What lifestyle changes are you making to help save our planet? You might be walking instead of driving to run errands or refashioning and recycling your house decors rather than trashing them. There is no change that is too small to make a difference in our environment!

The earth friendly changes I made consciously this past year include eating more plant-based food and reducing plastic bottles beyond disposable water bottles – think food containers and body care packaging. Eating more plant-based is not only better for the earth but it’s better for the body. Shifting to a plant-based diet contributes greatly to the reduction of greenhouse-gas emission. According to an Oxford University study, people who eat more than 0.1 kg (3.5 oz) of meat per day—about the size of a hamburger patty—generate 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day, while vegetarians and vegans generate 3.8 kg and 2.9 kg of CO2e, respectively. That means you can reduce your carbon foot print by more than 50% by eating a meatless meal. Just like any lifestyle change, it’s not easy to switch to a meatless diet overnight. You don’t have to go vegan if that’s not your thing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Think of it as a sliding scale – the more plants you eat instead of meat the less CO2e is produced – and make that shift gradually!

As I push forward with my quest for a more plant-based diet, I want to share with you some flavorful and interesting ways to incorporate more grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables into every meal.

Have some fun making the shift to a plant-based diet

1. Explore some new plant-based foods

  • Try a new vegetable weekly. Don’t be intimidated just because you haven’t tasted or cooked it before. Check out your weekly farmer’s market for inspiration.
  • Buy fresh and seasonal to add interest and variety to your meals. Avoid processed plant-based food.
  • Experiment with high protein grains such as kamut, quinoa, spelt, teff, millet, and wild rice. They are easier to cook than you think. If you know how to cook rice, you can cook other grains.
Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.com

2. Discover new seasonings

  • Use chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and dill to flavor your grains
  • Add nuts and seeds to vegetables and grains for texture and taste.
  • Try spices from around the globe. You can learn a lot about cooking with spices from visiting a spice shop. If you don’t have one near you, try Oaktown Spice Shop (one of my fave) and they will ship your order to your door.
  • Sauce it up with tahini, hummus, sriracha, pesto, etc to heighten the flavor.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

3. Learn new cooking techniques

  • Checkout Instagram and YouTube for cooking demos to learn various cooking techniques.
  • Invest in a couple good cookbooks. One of my favorite cookbook by a fellow dietitian is Vegetable Cookbook for Vegetarians. It’s a perfect book for newcomers to the adventure land of vegetables. There are 200 recipes from artichokes to zucchini so you can be sure to find something new to try!
  • For plant-forward global recipes, I recommend Spicebox Kitchen, a new cookbook released in March, 2021 that throws a healthy twist to traditional recipes, such as whole wheat onion pancakes.

My Cooking Demo – an easy delicious plant-based meal


How Does a Virtual Cooking Class Work

I took my first virtual cooking class last Saturday night! It introduced me to the flavors of Ethiopia, a cuisine I don’t know much about but eager to discover. I learned a few lessons, beyond the cooking lesson that will help you have a better experience at your first or next virtual cooking class.

This cooking class, Cooking with Mekdes: An Ethiopian Experience, was a fundraiser to support Rare Trait Hope, a non-profit organization with a mission to develop a cure for Aspartylglucosaminuria (AGU), a fatal genetic neuro-degenerative disease. A friend in Canada adopted a little girl, Makeda from Ethiopia who was diagnosed with this rare disease at a very young age. Her mother hopes for a cure in Makeda’s lifetime! If you want to support this worthwhile cause , the recording of Cooking with Mekdes is still available.

Virtual cooking classes offer you the opportunity to learn new knowledge of various ethnic cuisines and develop new cooking techniques. When traveling is limited by the Pandemic, this is a fun and entertaining way to escape to all corners of the globe and taste local food without leaving your home.

Ethiopian dishes I made when Cooking with Mekdes

  • Ginger with Garlic Paste
  • Asa Tibs Wet
  • Green Lentil Salad
  • Gomen Wet

Steps to consider for a Zoom cooking class

  • Register for the class well in advance! Some cook-along classes limit the number of participants so the chef can interact with the participants online and provide some handholding throughout the class. Some classes are more instructor-centric and done in a demo style so there’s no cap for the number of attendees. You can still submit questions in the chat box but the instructor may not get to your questions. The class I attended was a hybrid where you can choose to cook-along live or just watch and cook later at your own speed.
  • Check if the class is recorded, just in case you can’t attend at the scheduled time. Most class organizer will email the recording to you if it’s available. Cooking along side a class recording may not have the same energy as cooking with a live class. But the upside with a recording is that you can pause, chop, eat and sip at your own pace. Cooking with a live class can be very fast-paced and even frantic at times, especially if you are not well prepared.
  • Get menu, recipes and grocery shopping list before your class. Be sure to allow adequate time to locate specialty ingredients if necessary. I registered for my class early which allow enough time for my friend to mail me the Ethiopian spices (ground rosemary, berbere, and koreima). Some online cooking classes may include pantry ingredients delivered to your door but be prepared to pay a higher price for that kind of service. Review the steps of the recipes to make sure you have cooking tools in you kitchen. This is especially true if you are cooking global cuisine where you may need tools like a paella pan, a clay pot or a steam basket.
  • Get a link for the zoom meeting. It should be sent to you at least a day or so before the class. Be sure you have great working wifi to avoid interruptions during your class. Log in at least 10 minutes before the scheduled class time to test the link and wifi to avoid any snafu. Set up your device in a place where you can see what the chef is doing as you cook. Test the volume to ensure you can hear well over cooking noises. Consider lighting and reflection on the screen of your device for image clarity. The set-up can be tricky depending on your kitchen space and configuration. I used a laptop so I was able to move it to various parts of the kitchen. Don’t forget to cover your keyboard to protect it from food and liquid spills.
  • Set up all the ingredients and tools needed for the recipes within your reach before the start of the class. You don’t want to be digging in the bottom cupboard for your lemon squeezer while the instructor is already onto the next step of the recipe . It’s ideal to pre-squeeze your lemons, prewash and slice or dice any meat and vegetables, and even precook some ingredients. I made the mistake of not reading through the recipe instruction for the lentil salad, calling for cooked lentils. Luckily, my cooking partner caught that step early in the class so I was able to cook the lentils in time for the salad. Having a friend as a sous chef was invaluable and loads of fun – highly recommend it!

Now that you are all set for your virtual cooking class, make yourself a cocktail or pour yourself a glass of wine. Relax and enjoy your culinary experience!


Egg-free Apple Muffins – Make them Nutritious and Impactful!

Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.

Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!

High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup applesauce

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Direction

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.

In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.

Fold in chopped apples.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.

Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan; serve warm.