Author Archives: Kris Johnson

Pumpkins: More Than Just a Pretty Face

PumpkinPumpkins are delicious and very nutritious! Pie pumpkins are any one of several varieties of pumpkin grown for eating rather than decorative purposes. Generally, pie pumpkins are smaller and more dense than decorative pumpkins. Recipes calling for pumpkin may use canned or fresh pie pumpkins, but should never have decorative pumpkins used as a substitute.

Pie pumpkins are small and dense and usually have a medium or dark orange color. They usually appear in markets and grocery stores in September, and continue to be sold through November. The most common variety of pie pumpkin is the deliciously flavorful sugar pie, but other eating pumpkins may include winter luxury, deep red, and golden cushaw.

Nutrition Info: Pumpkins are a good source of Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niasin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a VERY good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

The low glycemic load of pumpkin, combined with its low calorie content, makes pumpkin a good choice for maintaining a stable blood sugar level and controlling your weight.

In North America, decorative pumpkins are carved into jack-o’-lanterns in honor of Halloween. Pumpkins bred for this purpose are usually meant to be very large, mostly hollow and flat-bottomed for stability. The side effect of the large growth is that the flesh of the pumpkin is usually watery and bland. Although the seeds inside decorative pumpkins are excellent for toasting, the flesh should not be eaten, as it is usually tasteless.

One Potato, Two Potato

potatoes3So many wonderful varieties of potatoes from which to choose!  Sweet potato, Yam, Russet, Yukon, and Red are some of the most common when making your selection in the grocery store (actually 100’s of varieties are available). Then for added complexity we add to that decision process, organic or commercially grown? Selecting potatoes just became a bigger decision than we first thought!

First off, quality first…organic vegetables are recommended whenever possible. The most critical consideration is the health or purity of the skin, which is the part with the largest amount of nutritional content.  If you are using conventional potatoes either peel them or if baking them whole, do not consume the skin.

Potatoes can be very nutritious. However variety and preparation method plays a big role in the nutrition content of what actually makes it to your plate.  Potatoes are known for their starch and fiber content.  They are also a good source of vitamins and minerals specifically, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and manganese.

Russet potatoes have a significantly higher content of starch which when cooked breaks down and provides the fluffy texture for baked or mashed potatoes. They trade off is that they have less dietary fiber and less nutrients (about half) compared to sweet or Yukon potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are a very good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene (antioxidants), fiber and a good source of potassium and calcium. Yams have the highest amount of fiber than them all and have a lower sugar content than sweet potatoes. Red potatoes have the least amount of starch and would be a good choice if trying to avoid spikes in blood sugar, while still including potatoes as part of your holiday cooking.

Pick and chose based on your health or culinary needs!

Antioxidants: The Bright and the Powerful

blackberriesWhat are antioxidants and why are they important?

Antioxidants are little powerhouses of immune boosting power for your body. These are essential as we head into flu season! You can see them in your whole food diet, as they are the molecules that provide fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. The role of antioxidants is to neutralize the effect of free radicals, which are unstable electrons that alter the chemical structure of molecules. During normal metabolism and in times of infection, the body produces compounds that can be very destructive. This harmful damage is considered the major cause of aging and degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system weakness and cataract.

Antioxidants include many vitamins, minerals and plant-nutrients
(phytonutrients). An example is carotenoids, i.e., beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A).
Antioxidants help nourish the cells to sufficiently avoid degenerative diseases.

Frequent colds, flus, and infections may be some of the initial indications of
inadequate antioxidants. A wide variety of antioxidant containing foods (all plant
based foods in vibrant colors) should be consumed with every meal and chew all
food well since chewing food can help improve the absorption of antioxidants and
other nutrients.

A variety of foods contain antioxidants, including: red beans, blueberries, kidney beans, pinto beans, cranberries, artichoke hearts, blackberries, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, apples, persimmons, pomegranates, butternut squash, etc. Different colors represent a different variety of nutrients. Just look for the bright colors!!

Grilling the Healthy Way

To be honest, there are healthier ways to cook than to grill…However, if you balance good grilling techniques, a variety of healthy vegetables to compliment the healthy meats already on the menu, the result is a wonderful evening outdoors with your family or friends enjoying perfectly flavored grilled whole food. If you are someone with a compromised immune system or struggling with a chronic or acute condition, especially diabetes, then I’d stay clear from grilling. For the rest of us…have a fantastic time grilling!Veg grilling

Suggestions for healthy grilling:

·       Marinating your food in something with an acidic base (lemon or vinegar base), rather than sugary sauces, which will increase the development of damaging sugar-based substances in the body.
·       Do not blacken your food. Get it golden brown, it will taste better anyway.
·       Leave a good layer of fat on red meats and leave the skin on poultry and fish. Cook fat or skin side down to start.
·       Grilling can include more than just meat! BBQs are often heavy meat meals, which are hard to digest and unbalanced. Throw some starchy, leafy and crunchy vegetables on the grill and even fruit for dessert. Grilled romaine, peaches, etc. you name it!
·       Increase the amount of vegetables and fruits on or off the grill on a variety of colors to load your body with antioxidants.
·       Grill to get some initial color and finish in the oven if possible, or away from the heat source, on the top shelf of the grill or on the colder side of the coals on the grill.
·       Use a grilling pan for veggies and avoid overcooking.
·       Use a water-soaked wood plank for grilling fish to increase moisture retention and decrease direct contact with the grill.

Have fun grilling with friends and family and be well!

Avocados…Fruit or Vegetable?

avocadoAvocados are often not thought of as a fruit, though instead as a high fat treat to add sparingly. Though one of benefits of avocados include their ability to help emulsify fats in the body.  Let’s change our thoughts about these wonderfully healthy fruits!

Avocado’s are packed with good healthy fats and micronutrients and are considered good brain food, a must on the food list for many health conditions.  Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, potassium, antioxidants, dietary fiber, Vitamin E and B Vitamins. Oleic and linoleic acids are healthy monounsaturated fats, which are important for heart health, eyes, skin, and overall strengthening of the immune system. They are also linked to reducing cancer risk, diabetes, ulcers and lowering overall cholesterol (lowering LDL and increasing HDL). Yes, they do contain some saturated fats, though this is nothing to shy away from as the fat is from whole foods and not commercial meats. One avocado has the potassium of two to three bananas and next to zero impact on blood sugar!  The antioxidant levels are substantial, notably one of the best sources of lutein, with a long list of attributes for the overall strengthening of your system.

Avocados are a healthy addition to any meal and are a great snack! Instead of a processed snack bar, next time reach for an avocado with its nutrients, fiber, protein and protective fats! Just cut open an avocado and scoop it out with a spoon.  Be sure to scoop all the fruit to get all those dark green phytonutrients just under the skin!  Also, take advantage of avocado’s creamy texture, healthy fats and low sugar and try them as the base for creamy healthy desserts!

Eating Vegetarian: Food For Thought

lentilsAs a certified nutrition consultant one of my goals is to provide a nutritionally balanced menu to meet anyone’s needs or preferences. The same diet does not work for all people. For some, eating a variety of everything is best (the omnivore), though some find that their body performs best with a different balance or with some exclusions, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. Being a vegetarian is not as simple as it might seem. It is easy to slip on the amount of protein consumed by skipping the offered protein component of a meal or increasing other staples in the diet, which may be primarily fats or carbohydrates. Protein provides the body the building blocks (amino acids) to manufacture, maintain and repair body tissues. Eating a healthy vegetarian diet, or cooking for a vegetarian in your family, takes awareness of nutritional values and potentially an adjustment to meal planning.

Vegetable based proteins are found in grains, legumes, nuts, greens, and the whole rainbow of colorful vegetables as well. However, it takes eating up to twice as much quinoa (6 oz.), for example, to get the equivalent serving size of protein as found in a piece of fish (3 oz.). We can show you how to balance your macronutrients to ensure you are getting what your body needs.  Additionally, vegetarians have to be careful to avoid becoming deficient in B12, D and riboflavin. The vitamins listed are more challenging to get from vegetable sources. There are many benefits to be found in learning more about vegetarian diets. During a consultation with me, we can discuss your specific dietary needs.

Cinnamon: Spicing It Up

cinnamon-spiceCinnamon has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Cinnamon is strongly anti-inflammatory, as well as antimicrobial and antioxidant. It increases your metabolism and helps improve circulation (reducing the occurrence of cold hands and feet). Study after study has shown that cinnamon can play a role in the everyday management of blood sugar (glucose) levels and other cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. Diabetes, a disease of chronically high blood sugar, attacks arteries and veins, increasing the risk of heart disease. The good news is that preventing type II diabetes and reversing pre-diabetes is possible with lifestyle changes. The variety of cinnamon used for the tests is Cassia. The measurement of the change in blood sugar and the amount of cinnamon in the tests varies (1-6 grams). Most agree that a daily dose of about half a teaspoon (a little over 1 gram) is beneficial.

When purchasing spices it is best to use them in the most natural state; in this case, cinnamon sticks. Grate them as needed to use as a powder.  You do not have to wait to see the benefits of cinnamon as it will help prevent spikes in blood sugar after your meal when it’s added into a sugar dessert, like that fabulous apple crisp you make in the coming months when apples are in season. Perhaps this was your grandmother’s reasoning behind the cinnamon in fruit pies and rice pudding!

Cinnamon is a wonderfully warming spice and has a distinctive sweet, spicy, bitter and earthy flavor. It can be found in African, Brazilian, Cajun, Caribbean, French, Eastern European, Greek, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, North African, Scandinavian, Spanish and Thai cuisines to name a few. Cinnamon is often thought of for apple pie and sprinkling on a latte, though it can be so much more.

Cinnamon provides an enticing balance with other spices such as turmeric, chilies, cumin, etc. to bring together a complex flavor profile. It may be more in the background in savory dishes and more forward in the sweeter breakfast and dessert items. It can also be used as a great rub for meats with cardamom and pepper, tossed in with rice during cooking, sprinkled on chopped fruit, brewed as a tea, and much more.

Artichokes, Prickly Delicious

Artichokes look interesting, though… How does this thistle (edible flower) help my body?

artichokeArtichokes are helpful for digestion, nutrient absorption, toxin elimination, lowering cholesterol, managing blood sugar, cancer fighting, etc. Also, most people favor, or focus on, the heart of the artichoke, though the leaves are actually found to have the highest antioxidant properties.

Artichokes stimulate the liver to release bile, which helps carry away toxins. It increases the flow of bile from the liver because the liver uses bile as a transport medium for toxins that it has broken down that need to be removed from the body. Bile is also involved in the digestion and absorption of fat, therefore an increase in bile will aid in digestion when alongside a fatty meal. The cholesterol-lowering effect may also be due to artichoke’s ability to speed up the movement of fatty material (which is the material used to make cholesterol) out of the liver. Artichoke is also believed to be an ideal diabetic food. This is because it is high in a special kind of sugar known as inulin. Inulin is believed to play a beneficial role in blood sugar management, helping other sugars consumed alongside it to be released into the bloodstream at a far slower pace.

Celery Root: Don’t Judge a Root by Its Cover

celeriacCeleriac, sometimes called celery root…is it the root of a celery stock? No, it has a similar taste, though it’s a root vegetable.  It is very tasty in soups, salads and even as baked veggie fries! It looks like a lumpy turnip and smells like celery.

The aniseed notes of the celeriac give a punch to the iodized flavor of the mussels and other seafood. The vitamin C in celeriac helps the body absorb the iron found in large quantities, i.e., in seafood. Celeriac is also rich in sodium.

Celeriac contains a high water content and is low in calories. It is also rich in fiber, since it is composed essentially of cellulose and hemicellulose. These fibers not only ensure to regulate the absorption of nutrients, though also help regulate the bowels. They are particularly useful in dampening down hunger pangs.Celeriac is rich in potassium and contains water soluble vitamins, vitamin C and B vitamins. It is appetizing, diuretic, cleansing, anti-rheumatic and a real pick-me-up. The juice of celeriac is thought to help the healing process when applied directly on a compress.

They are available in winter and usually found with other roots like parsnips. Pick those with a hard bottom and smooth skin. To prepare celeriac, wash with water and cut off the top and bottom of the root and peel the rest with a knife. Slice and chop as needed. To keep white once cut, put in water with lemon juice or vinegar water. The root can be grated raw for salads. Slice or cube it for purees, soups, roasting and more!

Bell Peppers Love You Back

Red Bell Peppers for the Heart

colorful bell peppersThe bell pepper is a member of the nightshade family of vegetables, which includes potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. They are available in several colors: green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while red, orange, and yellow peppers are sweeter and almost fruity. Red bell peppers are actually green peppers that have been allowed to ripen on the vine. The spices pimento and paprika are both prepared from red bell peppers.

Bell peppers are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. It is a good source of a large number of nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Bell peppers are also a very good source of phytochemicals with exceptional antioxidant activity. Red bell peppers have significantly higher levels of nutrients than green. Red bell peppers also contain lycopene, a carotene that offers protection against cancer and heart disease.

Studies have shown that bell peppers exert a protective effect against cataracts, possibly due to their vitamin C and beta-carotene content. However, like other nutrient-dense vegetables, they contain many different powerful phytochemicals. Bell peppers also contain substances, including capsaicin, flavonoids, and vitamin C, which have been shown to prevent blood clot formation and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Bell pepper consumption should be promoted for individuals with elevated cholesterol levels.

Bell peppers should be smooth, firm, bright and feel heavy for their size! They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.  They are great raw, grilled, roasted and more! Throw them in your next stew, soup or salad. Enjoy!