What You Eat Doesn’t Matter

Ok, so it matters a little. Mainly, I just wanted an intriguing title. BUT, I 100% believe that what you eat does not matter as much as HOW you eat. For example, it is better to sit down at a table and have peanut butter with crackers than to eat organic almond butter straight from the jar while watching your favorite show.
Have you ever heard of mindless eating? Mindless eating is eating while spacing out in front of the TV, at your desk, or even while driving in the car. When you eat mindlessly you do not appreciate your food, and more importantly, you do not even remember your food. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a client “so what have you eaten today?” and at least half of the time the answer is 1) nothing, or 2) I don’t know.  More than likely these people have eaten something, they just don’t remember; probably because they were eating mindlessly.

mindless eating
Image source: Pacificsource.files.wordpress.com

Several studies have demonstrated that mindful eating can be more effective than following a structured diet. Mindful eating can also help reduce episodes of binge eating and anxiety associated with eating. Even the Google Campus has adopted a mindful eating lunch hour to help its employees practice the art of mindful eating. If Google is doing it, you know it must be a good idea…

Here are a few tips to help you practice mindful eating and appreciate your food.
1.Turn off or remove all distractions while eating (TV, computer, annoying coworkers)
2. Sit at the table to eat, even if you are just eating a snack
3. Take your time while eating. Savor your food. Put your fork down in between bites.
4. Think about the food you’re eating, the flavor, texture, and the nutrients
5. Tune into your hunger and fullness cues. Do you feel ravenous, satisfied, stuffed to the brim?

Try rating your hunger on a scale from 1 to 10, both before and after your meal. The goal would be to try to stay in the middle range, somewhere between 3 and 7. Don’t allow yourself to get to the point of “I’m so hungry I can eat a cow” but also try to avoid breaking out the post-meal stretchy pants. To learn more about mindful eating check out this site.

The Perfect Peach Crisp


What makes it perfect you may ask? It’s the perfect combination of juicy peaches with a light buttery crumb topping. As an added bonus it’s 100 calories fewer than a traditional recipe but still just as flavorful. Peaches are typically a summer fruit, but in California certain varieties of peaches are harvested as late as November. So go get yourself some peaches from the farmer’s market and make this wonderful dessert!

This is an original recipe from my chef friend Teresa Osorio. Teresa and I met back in undergrad nutrition class at U.C. Davis (Go Aggies)! It was easy to make friends with Teresa as she would always bring tasty treats to class (and she is a nice person also). The recipe uses strained non-fat Greek yogurt to replace some of the butter that would be in a typical dish. It calls for cheesecloth as a strainer, but if you can’t find cheesecloth, just use a coffee filter. I went on a wild goose chase to find cheesecloth at Target, not worth the effort.  Maltitol is used instead of sugar. Maltitol is a great low calorie sweetener with a mild flavor and no yucky after taste like Splenda or Aspartame. Walmart does carry it or you can buy it online. If you want to avoid artificial sweeteners, you can use Truvia Baking Blend, which is a mixture of stevia and sugar. Or, omit a sweetener all together if your peaches are really sweet. I personally do not enjoy the taste of stevia, so I do not recommend Truvia, but if you like the flavor of stevia, go for it.

bowl of peaches
Step One: Slice some peaches
peaches and baby
Step Two: Give them to the cutest baby around to taste test
Step Three: Mix peaches with spices and place in a baking dish
peach crisp
Step Four: Add crumble topping, bake, and enjoy!

Reduced Calorie Peach Crisp

Yield: 1 – 8” x 8” dish
Peaches, peeled, sliced                              6-8 medium
Maltitol  or Truvia                                        3/4 Cup maltitol or 1/4 Cup Truvia
Cinnamon                                                   1 tsp.

Crumble Topping
All purpose flour                                        3/4 Cup
Unsalted butter, cold                                 2 TBSP
Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, drained          3 oz. (half of 6 oz. container)
Brown sugar                                              1/2 Cup
Granulated sugar                                      2 TBSP

For the filling: Peel and slice the peaches, then combine with the maltitol and cinnamon. Let sit until the crumble topping is prepared.
For the crumble topping: Drain the Greek yogurt in damp cheesecloth (or damp coffee filter) set in a strainer overnight (cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the yogurt). Cut the butter into small cubes and combine with the drained Greek yogurt and sugars in the Kitchen Aid with a paddle. Blend until the butter has broken up into small pieces with the sugars, then add the flour and blend on a medium to high speed until the flour has distributed evenly and the mixture resembles a crumble. Instead of using a Kitchen Aid, you can also use a pastry cutter or a fork to mix the topping.

Place the filling into an 8”x8” glass baking dish and then top with the crumble topping.
Bake the peach crisp on a sheet pan at 375°F for 25-30 minutes (the filling tends to bubble out of the dish, so a sheet pan will help with clean up).

Cooked or Raw: What is Best?

Do vegetables lose nutrients when they are cooked? This is a question I get all the time. My initial answer is no, but it really depends. It depends on several factors: including how they are cooked, how long they are cooked for, and what vegetable it is. For example, some vegetables which have water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and B-complex vitamins) can be destroyed or decreased during the cooking process. Other vegetables which contain fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) are retained during the cooking process. Some foods which contain carotenoids or lycopene (orange vegetables and tomatoes) actually become healthier during the cooking process because the heat breaks down the cell wall and allows the nutrients in the plant to become more bioavailable and easier to absorb by our bodies.veg

So which foods should you be cooking and which foods are best raw? Carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers supply more antioxidants to the body when they are cooked rather than raw. Cooking in the form of steaming, roasting or boiling is recommended. Frying is a source of free radicals which are not good for your health. Lycopene is another nutrient that is better absorbed from food after it is cooked. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and other rosy colored fruits and vegetables. High intake of lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of some cancers and heart disease.

Asparagus is most nutritious cooked!
Asparagus is most nutritious cooked!

As for foods which are best eaten raw, those would be the foods high in Vitamin C. Many of these foods are citrus fruits, so one would naturally consume fruit without cooking it. Certain veggies that are better raw include broccoli, beets (which are a great source of folate which is in the B-complex family), and onions (although they taste so much better grilled). Tomatoes do lose some of their vitamin C when cooked, so I recommend enjoying them both raw and cooked.

Vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and broccoli is reduced during cooking
Vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and broccoli is reduced during cooking

Fruits and vegetables should be enjoyed daily in both the raw and cooked forms. Now you have the knowledge to optimize your nutrient intake. The bottom line when it comes to eating vegetables is not exactly how they are prepared but that they are consumed on a regular basis. The recommendations for most adults are approximately 3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day. By choosing cooked asparagus and raw broccoli you can make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.

What fruits and veggies do you plan on eating this weekend? Do you prefer cooked or raw?

GMOs: What Are They and Should I Be Concerned?

gmoGMO, do you know what it means? If you don’t, you are not alone. Research from Rutger’s University shows that over half of Americans know very little or nothing about genetically modified foods, despite wide media coverage on the topic.

Let’s start with a basic definition; a genetically modified organism (GMO) is one that has been genetically engineered. The process of genetic engineering involves removing a gene from one organism and transferring that gene to a different organism. The new gene becomes integrated into every cell of that organism and produces a desirable trait, such as resistance to pests or enhanced flavor. Scientists have been crossbreeding plants to produce desirable traits for hundreds of years. For example, did you know that carrots were originally white or purple? It was not until the 17th century that Dutch scientists started cross breeding them to become orange. Genetic engineering does go a step further than traditional breeding because any gene can be transferred to any organism, as opposed to traditional breeding where only closely related species can mate.

In the United States there are four main crops which are genetically engineered (GE). The three C’s: cotton, corn, canola, and soy. Roughly 90% of the corn grown in the U.S. is GE. However, that does not mean that the ear of corn you are eating at your BBQ is GE. Whole corn sold at American markets is not GE. Corn used to feed cattle and corn used in processed foods in the form of high fructose syrup is almost always GE. GE corn and soy are prevalent in processed foods (basically anything in a bag or box at the supermarket). The fresh fruits and vegetables on the displays are not genetically engineered. If you want to be 100% sure that something is not GE, you can always buy organic. In order for something to be certified organic, it has to undergo rigorous testing to prove it is free of GMOs.

Are you still with me? Good! On to the controversy, the anti-GMO activists list several reasons that GMOs are harmful. Reasons include no long term testing for safety, possible allergic reactions to new proteins that may be created, and antibiotic resistance. These are legitimate concerns. It is a relatively new technology (we have been eating GMO foods since 1996), and scientists have made mistakes in the past with believing new technology was safe when it really wasn’t. For example dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, more commonly known as DDT. Big mistake. As for the allergies, there have been no reported new allergies that are specifically from GMO foods, but allergies are a tricky subject. Who is to say that there are not allergies that go unreported or misdiagnosed?

The pros of GMOs include greater crop yield, potential to help alleviate world hunger, reduced use of herbicides and pesticides, and adding beneficial nutrients to the food. For example, have you ever heard of golden rice? Golden rice is GE rice which has been altered to contain greater amounts of vitamin A. In developing countries, vitamin A deficiency is still the cause of thousands of cases of irreversible blindness and death in children and pregnant women. Rice is a staple crop in many of these countries and it could potentially help prevent many of these deaths and illnesses.

What do you think? Do the cons outweigh the pros? I will let you decide. My opinion is that we should proceed cautiously. I do think there is potential for genetic engineering to greatly benefit the world. You should definitely do your own research, but know that there are a lot of highly unreputable sources on GMOs out there. If anyone sends me an article from realfarmacy.com, I am not reading it. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a great source for health and nutrition information.




Kale and Brown Rice Salad

This post is inspired by the Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl from Starbucks. Have you had it? It’s amazing! It’s extremely nutritious, very tasty, and it leaves you feeling satisfied for less than 500 calories! It’s filled with dark green vegetables (something everyone could use more of), whole grains from the brown rice, and healthy fats in the dressing. If you have to grab a quick lunch I highly recommend this salad bowl! It is much healthier than fast food or a sugar and fat laden pastry. One salad has over 100% of your daily value of vitamin A and C. It is also a good source of iron at 25% of your daily needs. I really enjoy this salad because you can eat the whole thing (including the dressing) and know that you’re nourishing your body well and eating something delicious!

In an effort to not give all of my life savings to Starbucks I decided to create my own version. I modified it just a bit from the original based on the ingredients that I had available, but it is very similar and pretty darn tasty! This salad is a bit more labor intensive than your standard salad greens, but it is worth it. One of the many good things about kale is that it holds up well in storage, as opposed to lettuce which will turn brown and wilt very quickly. I suggest making this salad for company or storing in the fridge and packing it for lunch. Your coworkers will be amazed at your healthy lunch!

The dressing Starbucks uses is really good. I looked at the ingredients and I’m still not sure how it gets that bright orange color. I tried to recreate the dressing as best I could, it’s not exactly the same, but it is very tasty! If you are not into making your own dressing I suggest using Trader Joe’s Goddess dressing or just drizzling some olive oil and fresh lemon juice on your salad.
Please try out this recipe! Or, if you are feeling lazy, just go order one from Starbucks! You will not be disappointed!

P.S. Starbucks is not sponsoring me, I just happen to really love this salad! (However, if the Starbucks CEO is reading this I wouldn’t mind if you threw some money my way ☺)

Kale salad
It is very important to massage the kale! I find it helps relieve stress…

kale and butternut squash salad


mixed kale salad

Salad Ingredients
1 bag chopped kale
1 C cubed butternut or Kabocha squash
1 C broccoli florets
3/4 C brown rice
1/2 C sliced tomatoes
1/2 C sliced beets

Dressing Ingredients
4 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 tsp honey (or maple syrup for vegan)
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP tahini

1. Cook butternut squash in oven for 30 minutes at 350. Dice into cubes. If you bought a whole squash you need to find your sharpest chef’s knife and whack into that baby.
2. Cook brown rice according to package directions (or buy precooked for easy prep)
3. Chop kale into smaller pieces. Massage with a drizzling of olive oil and lemon juice. The kale should turn a darker color.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well
5. For the dressing combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a fork. (Note- tahini is very hard to find in a normal grocery store and can be omitted if you desire, TJ’s does carry it though)

If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie

“If you are good you can have a cookie.” These words seem harmless enough, right? Wrong! Rewarding children with food is a common practice which can have short and long term negative health consequences. For example, if you go grocery shopping before dinner and you reward your child with a candy bar for behaving well at the store, it may lead to your child not wanting to eat much of his dinner (short term consequence). More importantly than the one missed meal, is the connection that the child makes between the food and behavior. “If I’m good, I get to eat my favorite sweet foods.” This teaches your child to eat for emotional reasons rather than his physiological hunger. Children are actually very good at regulating their appetite by listening to their natural hunger and fullness cues. However, when children are taught to eat for emotional reasons, these natural cues are overridden and it may lead to a lifetime of overeating and emotional eating.

Similarly, food should NEVER be used as a punishment. Sending your child to bed without dinner is totally unacceptable and may create a cycle of overeating. Studies show that when children and adults are not sure when they will get their next meal they are likely to overeat. Children living in food insecure households are more likely to be obese than children who are food secure. Another example of using food as a punishment, is telling a child they can only have dessert if they eat their broccoli (or other vegetable). Research shows that this practice leads to the child becoming less interested in eating the healthy food (broccoli) and the sweet food becomes even more desirable to the child. This is the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. Asking a child to eat broccoli in order to get dessert, may work in the short term. However, the real goal is for the child to eat broccoli because he likes it, not because he has to in order to receive a “reward.”

I am not against rewarding children for good behavior, going to the potty, good grades, etc. I am against rewarding children (and adults) with food. For little children there are endless substitutions that are just as easy and almost as cheap as candy-stickers, crayons, temporary tattoos, bubbles, all make great non-food rewards. This is a simple substitution that you can start right now if your child is usually rewarded with food. Sometimes, an even better reward is just giving your child verbal praise or doing an activity with them. Activities such as going to the park, playing a game, or reading a book together take a bit more effort but they are worth it in the end.
What types of rewards work for your family? Do you remember being rewarded with a lollipop after getting a shot at the doctor?

Maple Spice Granola

Granola. Just the name alone sounds healthy. The main ingredients are oatmeal, dried fruit, and nuts. All of these foods are nutrient dense, healthy foods. So why not just buy some $3.99 granola from the store and chow down? The first reason is obviously for the taste, this granola has a warm maple flavor with a little kick of spice. Second, it will make your house smell amazing, people will think you are baking up a storm, but really you are just making 15 minute granola. Third, it’s healthier for you and you don’t have to worry about consuming artificial flavors and preservatives. This recipe is also lower in sugar than most store bought granola and it is very cost effective as well.

Have you ever made granola from scratch before? Try it tonight!

7 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts or favorite nut
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup canola or olive oil
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup honey (omit if prefer lower sugar)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 TBSP vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
2. Combine oats, raisins and nuts in large bowl
3. In microwaveable bowl stir sugar, oil, maple syrup, honey, and spices. Microwave for 30 seconds to 60 seconds
4. Pour over oat mixture and mix well
5. Thinly spread on baking sheet (you will need 2-3 large baking sheets)
6. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, and return to oven for 15 minutes
7. Cool thoroughly and store in air tight container

To make a parfait layer with favorite sliced fruit and vanilla Greek yogurt.

In Defense of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The pumpkin spice latte, or PSL, as it’s fondly known by Starbucks lovers made its debut on September 1st, marking the official beginning of the Fall season (according to the Starbucks calendar). Normally the PSL is embraced with open arms by eager fans trying to get their pumpkin spice fix before Christmas comes and then the drink vanishes into thin air. But this year, there has been a backlash on the beloved drink. Everything from “it contains no real pumpkin” to having a “toxic dose of sugar” has been buzzing through the interwebs. Are these claims legit? Let’s investigate…PSL

No real pumpkin? Gasp! Certainly that authentic pumpkin flavor must be coming from real pumpkin? Nope! Personally, I am not concerned about this (and you shouldn’t be either). How many other coffee drinks have vegetables in them? Zero. The truth is that actual pumpkin is quite mild and does not have much flavor without being spiced up a bit. In cooking, pumpkin is almost always paired with fragrant fall spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; this aroma is what our brain associates with pumpkin flavor. Perhaps a renaming of this drink to a “fall spice latte” would be more accurate.

Let us move on to sugar. Sugar is basically the devil and we all know it (hehe). I’m not going to defend the amount of sugar that goes into the PSL, but I will say it can be modified to a more reasonable amount. By adding only 2 pumps of pumpkin spice syrup instead of 4 you can decrease the sugar by 10 grams. Each pump (of syrup) has 5 grams of sugar- the less pumps, the better.  In comparison to the other specialty lattes the amount of sugar in the PSL is about the same, so I see no reason to hate on the PSL specifically for the sugar content.

Lastly, the PSL has come under fire for containing caramel coloring, which is considered a possible carcinogen in the state of California. Since I’m not a chemist, I’m not an expert on caramel coloring and the exact amounts that might be carcinogenic in humans, though I do know that caramel coloring is prevalent in our food supply in small amounts. All dark sodas contain caramel coloring. If you are interested in learning more I would check out this article by consumer reports.

In conclusion, I happily drink my PSL without too many concerns. I do not recommend drinking them on a daily basis nor do I recommend ordering a Venti because nothing that comes in a 24 ounce cup is good for you, except water. Next time you are craving for some “fall” spiced deliciousness I would try ordering a PSL like this: Tall nonfat (or soy) PSL, 2 pumps syrup, no whip. Just like that, you shave off over 100 calories from the original and decrease the sugar.

Are you a PSL lover or hater? What special requests do you make for your drink?