Sunday, September 22, 2013

{Recipe} hearty banana bread

Yeah, yeah, I know everybody has a banana bread recipe. But not everybody can say their banana bread is both delicious AND boasts several healthy perks. Just don't try to count this towards your daily fruit servings--it IS still a treat, so enjoy as such.  ;)


Yield: 1 loaf; 12 slices

1 cup 100% whole-wheat flour
1 cup white bread flour
1 1/2 cups unprocessed wheat bran, divided
2 T ground flaxseeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt
4 T organic butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 large organic eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. 

Mix 1 cup of wheat bran into the yogurt and let sit at least 15 minutes.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine the flours, remaining 1/2 cup wheat bran, flaxseed, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl; stir well. 

Mix together butter, sugar, mashed bananas, and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir in yogurt and wheat bran mixture.   

Add banana mixture to flour mixture, mixing until completely blended.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 65 minutes. Cover top of bread with aluminum foil and bake for additional 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of bread comes out clean. 

Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan and let cool completely. 

This banana bread is nutritionally superior to standard recipes because it contains a blend of 100% whole wheat and white flours (versus all white flour), and it has added wheat bran which provides a ton of insoluble fiber and "bulks up" the bread (helping to make it much more filling/satisfying than standard slices--a must-have feature as I was developing this recipe!). 

Additionally, the Greek yogurt, which I added for extra moisture, provides a nice boost of protein to the bread, which is definitely missing in standard loaves. The ground flaxseeds provide some nice plant omega-3s, lignans, and both soluble and insoluble fiber, along with a little more texture.    

Each slice contains ~245 calories.

Pro Tips
You can easily freeze the loaf or partial loaf (after you've enjoyed a couple slices) to bring out again in a week or so if you wish. Just wrap the remaining loaf tightly with aluminum foil, place in a large sealable plastic bag, and pop in the freezer. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Happens When the “Experts” Get Confused about Calories (and Why This is Bad News for You)

Nutrition “experts” who shun calories are all the rage these days, and understandably so: the message they propagate is favorable to many ears. Within their anti-calorie message is a utopia where calories don’t matter for health or weight control and thus there is no need to pay attention to them.

Gosh, who wouldn’t want to get that memo? Can’t you hear the collective sigh of relief among those trying to live healthier, eat better, or lose weight—whew, one less thing to worry about!

In reality though?

Calories do matter.

It’s truly remarkable how the word calorie is such a dirty word for some. After all, we all need calories to live. We all benefit from the energy they provide us. Additionally, when done correctly, “counting calories” (a highly simplistic term for being aware of your caloric needs and monitoring your caloric intake), certainly can be very advantageous both for making healthier food choices and for weight management. Calories aren’t something to fear or hate—just the opposite—they are a tool to help us eat better, more wisely, and regain control of our health.

Realizing how beneficial calories actually are and how best to put them to work for us makes it all the more puzzling as to why one nutrition “expert” recently pronounced her hatred for calories. That’s right, hatred. Ok, I get it (kind of)—we all fear things we don’t understand, but “hating calories” and disparaging their value doesn’t make one a nutrition martyr who helps people live healthier lives, it just exposes an unfortunate lack of understanding.

And even if you don’t like them, guess what?

Calories still matter.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the points the anti-calorie club attempts to make, along with why those points are severely flawed:

Anti-calorie crusaders would have you believe:
“People who count calories think that weight control is simply a matter of balancing calories in and out.”

Qualified nutrition professionals, along with most people who have ever attempted weight loss, know it's not that easy and don’t promote this simplistic view. Nutrition experts are keenly aware that weight management is not simply a result of calories in and out—weight control is a highly complex beast influenced by BOTH the quality and quantity of calories, among MANY other factors.

Here are just a couple well-known examples of the other factors (besides just calories in and out) affecting our success or lack thereof with lifelong weight control:

-Figuring out how to eat less in our culture of cheap and abundant calories: how do we cope with our biological drive to eat more when there is such an overabundance of enticing, ready-to-eat food present? (One solution here is to be more accountable for what we ingest. Conveniently, “counting calories,” or monitoring caloric intake, is a very effective means to create accountability.)

-Our need to feel more satisfied on fewer calories: we know that whole, fiber-rich, protein-adequate, and healthy fat-containing calories fill us up, while highly-processed food products, refined carbohydrates, and low-fat foods do less for satiation.

There are many more factors affecting weight management (other than just calories in and out) of which nutrition experts are well-aware, so don’t let the calorie-hating crowd trick you into believing otherwise.

And still, it remains as true as ever that if you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. That’s right. You can gain weight eating a lot of healthy calories or a lot of crap calories or any combination of the two. Indeed, even if you are eating the healthiest foods on the planet—if your body only needs 2,200 calories per day to maintain its weight and you’re eating 3,800 calories per day, you will gain!

Bottom line: We know that weight management is highly complex and influenced by innumerable factors. Nevertheless, the quantitatively consistent makeup of calories does contribute to weight gain or loss.

Anti-calorie crusaders would have you believe:
“Calorie counting = restricting calories.”

Monitoring caloric intake has much less to do with restricting and much more to do with making the most out of each and every calorie you ingest while staying within the caloric needs for whatever your goals are (loss, maintenance, or gain). This means planning to get your calories from the most nutrient-dense and filling foods to both improve your overall health and help keep you feeling full. Monitoring caloric intake is also extremely helpful to make sure you are eating ENOUGH calories, moderating your portions, and maintaining stable blood sugar levels.

Bottom line: Monitoring your caloric intake is a healthy behavior with many advantages and is not synonymous with starvation, "dieting," or restrictions.  

Anti-calorie crusaders would have you believe:
“If you count calories, you must be eating a low-fat diet.”

No. You can and should eat a good deal of healthy fat for optimal health and weight management, and by monitoring your food and caloric intake, you learn to create a better balance of the three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. People that I have worked with consistently enjoy eating more healthy fats when they monitor their caloric intake (while still losing weight) than they ever thought possible. 

Bottom line: If you truly understand how calories affect weight, you know that you can eat quite a bit of fat and not “get fat” so long as you stay within your caloric intake needs. 

Anti-calorie crusaders would have you believe:
“If you are someone who counts calories, you believe all calories are created equal.”

Let’s repeat. Any educated and reputable nutrition professional knows that the nutritional QUALITY of all calorie sources is not equal. Can we stop with the feigned revelations from notoriety-seeking nutrition “experts” telling us that 300 calories from a donut isn’t the same as 300 calories from broccoli? This is so obvious it's absurd, yet the so-called nutrition experts keep tossing it up as a revelation.  

Additionally, the physical composition and properties of the foods we eat (the "packages" within which calories are delivered) can be very different: some foods encourage overeating while some protect against it (think of how easily a processed fast-food hamburger goes down your hatch compared to a plate full of whole, raw carrots).
We also know that how the body processes calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat isn’t “equal.” Does anyone with an ounce of common sense believe that the body metabolizes a sugary soda the same way it does a handful of peanuts?  

Bottom line: Um, duh? All calories aren’t equal qualitatively—we’ve known that all along.

Anti-calorie crusaders would have you believe:
“Counting calories is not sustainable, leaves you feeling deprived, dissatisfied, and hungry.”

Knowing how many calories your body needs daily to run efficiently, keep your weight stable, and fill you up does exactly the opposite—it helps create awareness about which foods are the most satisfying and nutrient-dense, and thus, the best choices for satiety and happiness with food. 

As for not being sustainable? Keeping track of your caloric intake is one well-recognized characteristic of people who have been the most successful at maintaining their weight loss long-term, according to the National Weight Control Registry. I have seen the same sustainable results in people I work with and even in myself (I have been monitoring my caloric intake for more than 12 years, maintaining my weight within a range of about 3 pounds—obviously so not sustainable!).

Bottom line: What else can I say? The idea that monitoring calories isn’t sustainable and leaves you dissatisfied and hungry is just bogus, plain and simple.

Finally, why do I care so much?
Because disseminating the “calories don’t matter” message is extremely misleading and dangerous to an already epidemically-overweight population. Calories DO matter—quantity and quality—and the more that people understand and utilize them to their advantage, the healthier they will be.

For another take on this very topic, I encourage you to check out "Blatant Misunderstandings and Oversimplifications: Calorie Edition" by Jake Johnson--an outstanding read with thorough breakdown. 

*Because calories matter so much, stay tuned for more on this topic!

Recommended reading:

Why Calories Count by Armi Legge

Is a Calorie a Calorie by Malden Nesheim and Marion Nestle

Calories, Points, and Dots by Dr. David Katz

Study of diets shows what truly counts: calories by Shari Roan

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Challenges of Change: 3 Reasons Why We Struggle to Create Health

Have you recently decided to eat better, exercise more, and (with any luck) lose weight, but find yourself slipping into old, comfortable ruts as the puppet strings of life once again start tugging? If you are already struggling to get to the gym once a week (let alone your intended six days), you might consider: Did I bite off more than I can chew here? Was my goal of swapping out all candy for kale a bit too ambitious? Was attempting to lose weight even though I’m barely keeping afloat in other areas of my life just setting myself up for failure? If your boat of health is losing steam more quickly than you had hoped, you are not alone—research shows some 36% of us don’t maintain healthy changes beyond the first month. 
So now what? Why is it so difficult to change our eating and exercise habits? And how can we ever be successful with lifestyle change? Let me share with you three common circumstances I often encounter as a dietitian that may shed some light on the difficulty of change and help you finally make changes that will last. 

1. Enthusiasm or a sense of obligation is masquerading as readiness. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and possibility of a new way of eating or exercise program, but we need to be honest with ourselves—are we truly ready to begin altering our daily routines or are we just caught up in the newness of it all? Weight loss takes time, focus, and hard work. Another crucial component that will dictate our ultimate success or failure with change is lesser known: it is an often imperceptible and complex decision we make—an inherent resolve that switches on like a light in a dark room. It is that moment in which we decide: “I can’t live this way any longer, and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to change.” Have you reached this point? If so, you'll know it. Haven’t got there just yet? Then identifying motivators for wanting to live a happier, longer life can help nudge you closer to the threshold. Did your doctor recently tell you have high cholesterol and does that knowledge and all it corresponds with gnaw at you? Having a compromised health status can be a huge motivator for lifelong change. Or maybe you can't stand how you feel anymore and just want to be comfortable in your own skin again. Whatever your motivation, tap it and remember this driving force when times get tough.

2. Success is at the mercy of the ever-elusive “willpower.” If you have been waiting for a bolt of lightning to strike you and jumpstart your willpower, you will likely be waiting a long time. “Willpower,” or lack thereof, is all too often the most convenient thing to blame when we fail to follow through on our health or weight loss goals. To make things happen, continual, conscious efforts, usually in the form of baby steps, must be made to eventually reach an improved state of health and well-being. This might mean devising an alternate route home from work so you aren’t lured into the fast-food drive-thru lane. Or, it might mean talking with a dietitian to learn which foods will help keep you feeling full and which foods aren't as helpful for satiety. Only by gaining knowledge, planning, goal-setting, and practicing will the necessary skills be cultivated. Once these strategies become second nature, long-term success will be yours. 

3. The bigger picture needs evaluating. If there are just too many seemingly impossible obstacles standing in the way of your good intentions to improve your diet and be more physically active, take pause. It is worth it to ask yourself “What is and isn’t working in my life right now?” Often, other large-scale changes need to be made before health and nutrition can be considered your top priority. Wanting to improve your eating habits and lose weight is terrific, but if the other two-thirds of your life is lacking or unfulfilling, you will fall short of your objectives again and again. What to do?  Start by assessing the current state of your being: you may need to quit an unsatisfying job, learn how to say no to the demands of family and friends, seek help for depression or low self-esteem, or try to fix a relationship that has been strained for too long. Whatever may be necessary, don’t compromise—this is your one and only life, after all! Start removing these roadblocks first. After making progress and regaining confidence in other areas of your life, you might find that fitting in a workout most days of the week is remarkably simple and even enjoyable. 

Anyone even considering taking on the challenge of living healthier deserves commendation; changing ingrained lifestyle-related health habits is one of life’s most difficult tasks to undertake. So, assess your readiness, learn, plan, and practice, and make sure it really is the right time in the larger scheme of your life, then go for your goals! The end results truly justify the means.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

{Recipe} relishing summer salad

As summer winds to a close, this surprisingly flavorful (yet simple) salad makes use of some of summer's best offerings. It also serves as a reminder of how easy it is to turn a few whole veggies into a scrumptious masterpiece. Don't plan to have leftovers--my husband and I gobbled this up in one sitting.  


Yield: makes about 4 servings

1 yellow onion, sliced 4 times (keeping rings intact)
3 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or frozen, thawed)
1 ripe tomato, cut into segments
2 small hot chile peppers or 1 jalapeno, minced 
Abundant fresh thyme leaves
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T brown mustard
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper

Heat grill. Spray onion and zucchini slices with a light coating of cooking spray. Grill onion & zucchini slices for about 10-15 minutes, or just until starting to soften and develop grill marks, turning halfway through (if your grill is closed for the season, you can also just broil the sliced veggies).  

Cut grilled onion and zucchini into bite-size pieces and place in large mixing bowl. Add corn, tomato, hot peppers, and thyme.

In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Whisk together and pour over vegetable mixture. Gently toss to coat veggies. 

It is well-known that vegetables are one of the best sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This salad is full of mostly non-starchy vegetables (all except for the corn), which provide a lot of nutritional value for a small calorie price tag. Additionally, the herb thyme is also full of antioxidants and has even been shown to have anti-microbial properties. Coating the veggies with an extra-virgin olive oil-based dressing provides you with abundant monounsaturated fatty acids--one of the healthiest types of fats you can consume. 

Each serving contains ~165 calories.

Pro Tips
I love dishes with HEAT, which is why you will frequently see hot hot hot (!) peppers in my recipes. I wasn't really a fan of really hot and spicy foods until I started experimenting with and cooking different cultural cuisines and found out how much a little fire in food can add to the eating experience. So if you are on the fence about adding heat, I'd encourage you to try including more hotness in your recipes, a little at a time. And if you still can't stand the heat, don't get out of the kitchen--but feel free to omit the peppers. ;)

Monday, September 9, 2013

{Recipe} best turkey burger

You'll have to take my word for it until you try them. But I'm certain you'll agree, these are darn tasty turkey burgers. 


Yield: makes 8 large burgers

Approximately 38.4 oz 93/7 lean ground turkey
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced or chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp coarse ground pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
2 large organic eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup cooked wild or brown rice

Saute onion and jalapenos in 1 tsp olive oil just until onions are turning translucent and softening. (If you don't want to dirty up a saute pan, it also works very well to microwave onion & jalapenos for about a minute or just until they are getting soft!)

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Shape into 8 burgers. 

Spray grill or large skillet with cooking spray. Grill or cook on stove-top until cooked through. 

These burgers are packed with filling protein and full of flavor. Nutrient-rich brown or wild rice is a healthier substitute for the usual lackluster bread crumbs. 

Each burger contains ~260 calories.

Pro Tips
It should go without saying--the Best Turkey Burger doesn't need a bun. ;-) So skip those worthless processed carbohydrates! Enjoy with a green salad, steamed broccoli or asparagus. You can also serve over cooked farro or quinoa if you prefer. Conveniently, Best Turkey Burgers taste even better as leftovers. ;)

Having a great grill-master is also key to a good burger ;)