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Monday, September 25, 2017

Pumpkin Spice: The Science Behind The Crave

This flavor combination is reaching pop-culture status, but is there any benefit to this craze? Definitely.  The components of the spice component of pumpkin spice include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom and cloves.  These spices contain all sorts of varying amounts of vitamins, minerals essential oils and other compounds that help control blood sugar, reduce inflammation, improve digestion as well as other health benefits.  As for the pumpkin part of the equation, you get loads of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and potassium.  It is beneficial in reducing blood pressure, lowering risk of certain cancers risk, and eye health. 

So science behind the spice is solid, but we run into problems when those pumpkin spice treats come in high fat and high sugar foods.  When navigating the world of pumpkin spice use common sense.  Don’t fall prey to the halo-effect of pumpkin spice labels.  A donut is a donut and you’re talking lots of fat and sugar regardless of a pinch of cinnamon and just enough pumpkin to turn it slightly orange.  Some of the highest calorie pumpkin spice foods include: lattes, donuts, cookies, ice creams, muffins and cookie butters. 

So how can you healthfully indulge that pumpkin spice crave that starts creeping up on you as temperatures drop and you can’t wait to pull out your fall wardrobe?
1.    Read your labels.  There are snacks out there that maintain a balance between nutrition and flavor.  Anytime you can keep your fiber up (3g or more), sugars down (10g or less), and a healthy balance of fats (10g or less) you’ve most likely found a healthy way to savor the season.
2.    Watch portion sizes.  You may find that some foods are just seasonally very important to you that don’t fit in the healthy nutrition profile just mentioned.  If that is the case, make them occasional foods and consider cutting down the serving size.  Sometimes a few bites or sips of a richer pumpkin spice food is all it takes to satisfy the craving.

3.    Make your own.  Cookies, bars, muffins and ice creams are often so much healthier when you make them yourself.  This way you can be generous with the spices and the pumpkin and moderate the excess sugars and fats.  But still, be portion aware.  If that plate of pumpkin cookies just calls to loudly to you tempting you to polish it off at one sitting, then keep some out, and put the rest in airtight containers in the freezer to enjoy on another stormy afternoon. 

Want a pumpkin spice fix? Try this nut mix recipe packed with healthy fats, protein and delicious crunch.

Pumpkin Spice Nut Mix

Preheat oven to 250℉.  In medium mixing bowl, whisk together:

  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Mix in:
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 cup cashews (roasted without salt)
  • 1 cup dry roasted peanuts (without salt)
(You can substitute any nut or seed you like, just shoot for 3 cups total)
Stir well to coat.  Spread on baking sheet covered with a baking mat or parchment paper.  Bake 1 hour.  Let cool, break apart and store in an airtight container.  

1 1/2 oz. serving (2.5 Tbsp) contains:
135 calories
5 g protein
3 g sugar
11 g fat
36 mg sodium
2 g fiber

The point is that the same rules apply whether its pumpkin spice season or not.  Keep a good balance, keep treats occasional and be portion-aware.  That way you can stay healthy regardless of the weather report and the cravings that follow.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Baby Step Your Way Back into the Kitchen

With restaurant spending exceeding grocery store spending for the first time ever, we should all sit up and take notice of our food preparation habits. Cooking and convenience don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms.  If you want eat out less, but lack confidence in cooking, here are a few simple ways to get you started-up not stressed out in the kitchen.

Plan.  Mapping out a simple list of family favorites, simple meals or even recipes you’d like to try may sound overly simple, but if you don’t write (or type) it down, it will remain simply wishful thinking instead of delicious dining.  Starting with a food-map or menu is the foundation for the next steps in the process – finding recipes, making a grocery list, and even planning any make-ahead preparations to allow time for dinner prep on a busy weeknight.

Choose convenience foods carefully.  Quick-cooking grains, frozen, canned, or even prepped produce may be just the ticket to simplifying your cooking experience.  If the thought of washing, peeling, and julienne-ing carrots makes your eyes glaze over, it’s probably best that you purchase match-stick carrots.  If rinsing, soaking and slow cooking beans or legumes makes you dread that batch of chili, go with low-sodium canned beans. 

Start with what you know. If making bread from scratch to accompany your chicken noodle soup makes you hyperventilate, start with frozen dough.  Home-cooked family dinners need to happen, and if that means a bag of salad, store-bought dressing, a loaf of French bread and a simple homemade soup – then great!  Start where you are, and get used to the routine of cooking on a regular basis.  Once that becomes more of a habit, then start to tackle one recipe or cooking skill at a time.  The slower the change the more permanent it will be, so be patient!

Incorporate produce.  Whether it’s a microwaved or crock-pot baked potato or washed and sliced fresh fruit at dinner, enjoy the convenience of produce.  Most fruits and veggies require little to no cooking, and give you more bang for you buck when it comes to flavor and nutrition than most other foods.  So even if you do pick up some Chinese takeout, steam up some broccoli, or slice up some oranges to balance out your meal. 

Remember that comparison is the enemy of contentment so don’t compare your cooking abilities to the deluge of cooking competition shows and amazing pins out there.  Start where you are and gradually build up your cooking confidence and your health at the same time. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Water: America's Love-Hate Relationship

“I hate water."  No, not really.  In fact, I love water, but as a dietitian I hear this comment all the time.  Some people seem to drink nothing but soda or other beverages.  Is water really a big deal, and if so, how can become water-drinkers if we haven’t learned to tolerate, if not like, water?

How much is enough?
8-10 cups has been drilled into us for years, but that doesn’t really account for the major variability in hydration needs from one person to another.  For adults, one way to guesstimate how much water you need is to take you weight in pounds, then halve that number for the approximate ounces of water you need as a starting point.  Exercise and physical activity will increase your water requirement.  Remember that while fluid needs are met through all sorts of foods as well, nothing is as effective at hydrating as water.

Is drinking water as critical for youth?
In this country, one quarter of youth ages 6-19 don’t drink any water and approximately half of adolescents are mildly dehydrated.  Another downside to this issue is that those who drink less water, drink less milk, and eat less fruits and veggies, eat more fast food, drink more sweetened beverages and are more sedentary. 

So what can you do if you don’t like water?
The good news is that most tastes are changeable.  A taste for sweet, salty, or the lack thereof is largely acquired and so can the taste for water.  So more than anything, make an effort, and make an effort to teach your children to drink water.  But if you still struggle and would like to drink more water, then consider trying one of these options:
-       Add fruit.  A few slices of seasonal fruit or cucumber can alter the taste of plain water without adding unwanted sweeteners and calories.
-       Add herbs. A few crushed mint leaves, lemon grass, rosemary or basil can do the trick as well.
-       Ice it.  Whether plain ice cubes do the trick, or ice cubes with a few drops of lemon or other juice are needed, cold water is often more palatable than tepid water. 
-       Add bubbles.  A little sparkling water may be more to your liking, just avoid resorting to sweetened (caloric or non-caloric) sodas. 

And don’t underestimate the contribution of fruits and vegetables when it comes to staying hydrated.  With a combination of these tips, you’ll be able to stay healthfully hydrated regardless of whether you’re a water lover or not.