Thursday, March 29, 2012

Q&A: Agave nectar not so special for health

Q.              Is there any health benefit when using agave nectar or syrup versus honey? The agave my husband bought has 16 grams of sugar per tablespoon; I think that is awfully high.  J.J. Stover MO

A.            Agave is a trendy sweetener that is being promoted as healthier than other sweeteners. It is called “natural”, but that term is meaningless when used on food labels (there is no legal definition). Natural means whatever the seller and the buyer wants it to mean.
            It turns out that agave syrup is derived from an agave plant, but the plant liquid goes through a heat and enzyme treatment to turn it into syrup. Agave syrup or nectar has a varying amount of fructose (from 55 to 90 percent) depending on the process used, which makes it similar to corn syrup.
            (If you’d like to read more about the pros and cons of agave syrup, check out this WebMD article.) 
             There are claims that agave syrup is better for your blood sugar, but you are taking a risk if you believe this claim without testing how the syrup affect your own blood sugar.  Typically, checking your blood glucose two hours after starting to eat a meal or a particular food will show you how high that food has made your blood sugar climb compared to the starting value.
            Bottom line: If you look at the calories and carbohydrate content of agave syrup compared to other syrups, honey, white or brown sugar, it’s a toss-up which one is better or worse for you. Calories are calories and sugars are sugars.
Remember, you never can go wrong by being moderate with whichever sweetener you choose to use.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's for dinner? Seven-Can Soup

This soup is easy and surprisingly tasty, with very little prep.

I started making Seven Can Soup after I begged the recipe from my co-worker Michelle, who often brought it in for her lunch.  She got the recipe a few years ago from a Weight Watcher’s meeting, but the recipe is not unique to them; variations of this recipe are all over the internet.

This is my take on the recipe.  If  you can remember these 7 ingredients while shopping at the store, or you planned ahead and have the ingredients in your pantry, you have a dinner meal in 15 just minutes once you start opening cans.  

There is quite a bit of wiggle room in the recipe. If your canned item isn’t exactly 15 ounces, that’s OK.  If you forget to bring home the refried beans (like I often do), take a can of pinto beans or another canned bean and mash them instead.

Seven-Can Soup
1  15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1  15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1  15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1  15-ounce can fat-free refried beans
1  12.5-ounce can white meat chicken breast, drained (break up the chunks)
1  15-ounce can chicken broth (lower sodium if desired)
1.5 to 2 cups salsa, any level of hotness

Add all ingredients to a Dutch oven-sized pan (you’re making over 3 quarts of soup) and gently heat.  (Because the refried beans are a “hidden” thickener, I pour the refried beans into the pan with the broth first, wisk them together, then add the other ingredients.)

Serve soup with tortilla chips and a green salad.  Tastes great warmed up.

Makes about 12-13 cups. Nutrition information per one cup: 112 calories, 11 grams protein, 1 gram fat, 13 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 17 milligrams cholesterol, 332 milligrams sodium.

Yes, my photo looks redder than it normally would; that’s because I pureed a can of chili hot beans and used those instead of the refried beans this time.  The soup tasted great.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tidbit: Fun Fruit and Vegetable Quiz

In honor of National Nutrition Month, take this IQ quiz from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see how much you know about fruits and vegetables.  Page 2 of the quiz includes healthy recipes to try.  Check it out!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Q&A: Tips to lower cholesterol

Q.            I recently had blood work done for my cholesterol (first time).  My research tells me my results are in the high category, but my Dr. doesn't seem to acknowledge this.
My LDL was 141, total cholesterol was 219, HDL was 55 and triglycerides were 117.  The voicemail from my Dr.’s office was  "continue your healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise and be tested again in a year." She doesn't even know what my diet and exercise consist of.  Yes, I'm looking for a new doctor.
I am 5'4" and weigh 155 lbs.  I know I am overweight some and am currently on the Weight Watchers program (loving it).  I do have my ups and downs as all people do when trying to lose weight, but I'm trying to concentrate more on eating healthy foods and increasing my exercise.   I am 59, and up until last year was an avid exerciser.  I always did lots of walking and took daily exercise classes including weight lifting and cardio.
After giving you some background on myself my questions are: What do you think of my lab numbers, and what resources are available for me to learn more about lowering my cholesterol.  D.S. Grand Rapids

A.            Don’t give up on your doctor yet! The only number that is a little up is the LDL “bad” cholesterol. You cannot just look at the numbers, because factors such as family history of heart disease are important.  You weren’t even trying to work on your cholesterol, so chances are if you pay a little more attention to your food choices, you can reduce the LDL cholesterol.
            Here are the food factors that can help cholesterol.
  •             Eat less saturated fat (found readily in cheese, fattier cuts of meat, hot dogs and bologna, etc.)  With your dieting, I bet you are not eating excessive amounts of these because of the calories.
  •             Add more soluble fiber. This is found in fruit, vegetables, oats, barley, beans, peas and lentils, soybeans, among other things. If you are following Weight Watcher’s plan you are getting at least three servings of both fruit and vegetables daily. Maybe you need to include bean or pea soup more often as a meal.
  •             Add good fats daily. These include a small handful of nuts, ground flaxseed (sprinkled on your oatmeal), olive and canola oil, avocadoes, etc. Of course, you would want to use these moderately to keep your calories in line.
  •             You also want to get back to physical activity, as that is going to help you maintain or increase your HDL cholesterol level (a good thing).

            If you want healthy recipe ideas besides what you are getting from Weight Watcher’s, I would recommend any recent cookbook from the American Heart Association as a start; their recipes will give you nutrition info so you can figure your Weight Watcher points, too.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tidbit: Green banana strategies


Did  you ever buy a bunch of bananas that were as green as a shamrock? I’ve had a few bunches that never, ever ripened, even after 2 weeks of watchful waiting. The poor things just started to dehydrate.

This week, the store had very green bananas and very ripe bananas. Since I wasn’t in the mood for making banana bread, I choose the green ones.

When bananas and other fruits ripen, they give off ethylene gas. The grocers give the bananas a dose of gas in a controlled setting before the bananas hit the produce aisle, to help them gradually ripen.

So what can you do when the bananas are way too green and you want them edible? The Chiquita banana people have banana ripening and storage tips on their web site (they also have interesting recipes for bananas in any stage of ripeness).

Tip: If your bananas are too green, put them in a brown paper bag with an apple or tomato overnight to speed ripeness. I have also draped a bunch of bananas over a bowl of apples and that worked pretty well, too.

Tip: Slow down the ripening process by storing bananas in the refrigerator. The skin will turn dark but the banana will maintain their stage of ripeness for several days.

Tip: Don’t put green bananas in the refrigerator or they may not resume ripening, even when returned to room temperature.

Tip: Bananas that are too ripe for eating can be peeled and frozen to use later in banana bread or muffins.

Do you have any tried and true banana tips to share?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's for Dinner: Chicken salad with grapes and cashews

Yes, I know, it's still winter and I'm in Michigan. But these on-and-off warmish days (in between the snow storms) have gotten me thinking spring!  And friends who are leaving Michigan temporarily for warm vacations (the Caribbean or Florida, anyone?) are not helping my mood. So to get into the spirit, I need some lighter fare. This chicken salad fits the bill. 

The recipe was originally from Tommy;  her recipe was a list of ingredients, so I added my amounts. The recipe is very forgiving, so once you try it my way, tweak it if desired.

Chicken salad with grapes and cashews

2  12.5-ounce cans chicken breast packed in water, drained
3/4  to 1 cup light mayo (I use Kraft)
2 ribs celery, chopped (about 1.5 to 2 cups)
2 green onions, chopped
3/4  to 1 cup cashews
1 to 1.5 cups red grapes, halved
2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash original seasoning
salt and pepper (optional, I don’t use)

Mix all ingredients and chill. Serve on lettuce, or on croissants, or in half a cantaloupe.

Makes 4 dinner-sized servings.  Nutrition information per serving:  460 calories, 32 grams fat, 26 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 536 milligrams sodium.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Q & A: Baby carrots need TLC

Q.     I buy baby carrots and like the freedom they give me...I pick one up and munch without having to stop and peel.  Anyway, I notice after a while they get dry and have a white coating on them.  I'm assuming this is not good and I should not eat them.  Thought you might be able to give me guidance and tell me how to store carrots so they don't go bad.  I have put them in a "green" bag and that does seem to help a little.  Any suggestions? How do you keep carrots moist?  If I put them in a bowl of water...well sometimes I forget and they get slimy.  So what do you recommend is the best way to keep carrots? C.D. Grand Rapids

A.       The “white stuff” on the carrots shows up when they dry out (like dry skin), but they are safe to eat, just not very appealing.
If, despite your best efforts,  you end up with dry carrots, put them in water a few minutes to rehydrate them, then drain and re-bag them, and eat within a few days.
       Use the “enjoy by” date as a guide. Remember, carrots aren’t going to last forever! If they need using, grate them for a salad or for a muffin add-in, or slice them and add to soup.