Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tidbit: Is Chocolate Really a Healthy Food?

Some of the good stuff. But 70% cocoa is all you need for benefits.

Once in awhile I hear someone say they don’t like chocolate. I’m not one of those people. (Hint: Buy dark if you’re getting me a present.)

If you listen to or read the news, often the reporters talk about how chocolate is good for your heart because of the great antioxidants, great type of fat, etc. But is that really true?

The answer is Yes and No.

Chocolate definitely has it’s good points:
  • It contains antioxidants (flavanols), which are thought to be the substances responsible for many health-related benefits.
  • It can help reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
  • It can boost your mood.
  • It comes from a plant (so it fits with a plant-based diet, right?)
  • It makes most everything taste better

 And of course, chocolate has a down side:
  • It has calories- you have to count them in.
  • It is hard to stop eating!
  • Milk chocolate and white chocolate doesn’t count; the dark chocolate has the most benefit. (And white chocolate is not even a contender; it does not contain cocoa solids, the beneficial part of chocolate.  White chocolate is made from cocoa fat, other types of fat, milk and sugar.)

Some of the science behind chocolate’s benefits is found in research studies, such as this one in the Archives of Internal Medicine, published March 26, 2012.

More of the good stuff.

So what can you do to include this great food in your diet?
My suggestion is to plan it into your day. I know, it sounds boring, but paying attention to calories has it’s rewards (like, you’ll fit into your clothes next week and next month).

Some of the studies had participants eat an ounce of dark chocolate a day to see benefits.  What is the equivalent of an ounce of dark chocolate?
  • About 150 calories
  • 3 tablespoons of dark chocolate chips
  • 3 squares Lindt dark chocolate (one-quarter 3.5 ounce bar)  
  • 4 squares Dove dark 

So there you have it. A fun food with benefits.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Q & A: Homemade low-sugar jam for diabetes

Photo courtesy of USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation

Q:   Is there a way to make homemade jam for family members with diabetes? M.P. Grandville, MI

A:   Summer is a great time to take advantage of the fresh local fruit, and preserving them for winter eating.  Yes, there are a number of options for making low-sugar jam from fresh seasonal fruit.   According to Michigan State University Extension, making low-sugar types of jams and jellies is a different process and requires specific recipes. It usually does not work to “wing it” and use regular pectin with less sugar, because the jam will not turn out. Food science (chemistry) is a balance between ingredients.  Bet you never thought of your kitchen as a food laboratory, did you?
Here are the options for making low-sugar jams:

Option 1:  Buy the “low sugar” or “light” pectin at the grocery store, and follow the directions on the package insert for best results. This is a different type of pectin (low methoxyl) that thickens jam with a lot less sugar.  In our area, I have seen a light version of Sure Jel and Mrs. Wage’s pectin.  In my opinion, this method has the best flavor.

Option 2: Use regular pectin and add an artificial sweetener.  Use the recipe in the regular pectin for this and follow directions. Some artificial sweeteners such as aspartame do not retain their sweetness in a mixture like this for more than three to four months; don’t plan on it for long-term storage.

Option 3: Use unflavored gelatin as a thickener, by following specific recipes (a couple of recipes using this method are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation website). This jam must be kept refrigerated.

Option 4:  Boiling or simmering fruit pulp until it thickens and resembles jam. This is similar to the traditional way apple butter is made.

These types of jams have about 5 grams carbohydrate per tablespoon.  Even though you may still be using sugar in the low-sugar jams, it is significantly less sugar, and the carbohydrate content is similar to the light jams available at the grocery store.

Remember, there is also carbohydrate (natural sugar) in the fruit itself, so even if you opted to make a jam with no added sugar, you cannot call it carbohydrate-free or sugar-free.

For those of you who have no time or desire to make your own low-sugar jam, there are some nice options available at the grocery store. I have seen store brand “all fruit” spreads, Smucker’s low-sugar jam, and others. We like the E.D. Smith brand of “More Fruit” preserves (half the calories of regular preserves) found at Costco. There are 6 grams of carbohydrate in one tablespoon (compared to 13 in standard jam).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What's for Dinner: Asparagus Red Pepper Frittata

Sauteing the vegetables in a little olive oil.
Did you ever wonder what the word "frittata" meant? I assumed it was something like "flat omelet" but it turns out it is just an Italian omelet. It's a good way to use up bits of vegetables.

I had never made a frittata with asparagus, but with a few stalks left from my farmer's market haul this week, I gave it a try. 
Beaten eggs added to vegetables, and sprinkled with a little salt and fresh ground black pepper.

After the frittata was flipped and done. Yum.
Recipe: Asparagus and Red Pepper Frittata
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/3 to 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 green onions, sliced
4-5 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste

In large non-stick pan, sauté asparagus, red pepper and green onion in olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add beaten egg. Turn heat to medium to slowly cook the eggs (I covered mine for about 2 minutes to speed up the process). Once the eggs are nearly set, it's time to flip the eggs. You can either flip the whole thing into another heated pan, or do like I do: Cut the fritatta in quarters and flip each quarter into the same pan to finish the cooking (maybe one minute more).

Nutritional analysis per one-quarter frittata: 122 calories, 9 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 264 milligrams cholesterol, 153 milligrams sodium.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tidbit: Bell Peppers in Color; What's the Difference?

Did you ever wonder why bell peppers come in different colors? Or if there is any nutritional difference between the various colored peppers?
All fruits and vegetables derive their color from a variety of phytochemicals (plant chemicals). According to Robert L. Wolke in his book, “What Einstein Told His Cook 2”, plant colors can be classified into three main groups; the chlorophylls, carotenoids, and flavonoids (including anthocyanins and anthooxanthins).
Chlorophylls are green compounds containing magnesium. When a green vegetable is overcooked, that pretty green goes away, turning into olive green.
Carotenoids range in color from yellow to orange to red. Beta carotene is the substance used by the body to make vitamin A.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that are responsible for the blue, purple and dark red colors in plant tissue.

So what does that have to do with colored bell peppers? For one thing, you can find almost any color of bell peppers, such as red, orange, yellow, purple and brown, and of course, green.  The nice variety of colors can make a dish attractive (such as using many colors of pepper, sautéed for fajitas, or adding chopped colored peppers to potatoes, omelets or salads). 

Trivia: Did you know a red bell pepper is actually a green pepper that has been ripened longer on the plant?  Compared to a green pepper, a red pepper is a lot sweeter with very little bitterness. 

Nutrition-wise, green peppers contain about 60 milligrams of vitamin C per pepper, while the red have 94 milligrams and yellow have 112 milligrams vitamin C. As you may suspect from the color, the red peppers are the beta carotene winner, giving it about 116  r.e. of vitamin A, while the green and yellow pepper have 10 or less.

All the bell peppers run about 15 to 20 calories per pepper, and are considered a “free food” on many weight loss plans and for the diabetes meal plan.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tidbit: Phone app for Food Safety and Storage

 I just learned of a phone app designed for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the University of Iowa Cooperative Extension Services.  It is called 4Day Throw Away, “Protecting You from Bad Leftovers”.  It is based on food storage and food safety information from the USDA.

It has lots of functions, including:
  • Tracking your leftovers and take-out food (and setting a throw-away reminder alarm)
  • Learning how long to store any food, whether in the refrigerator, freezer or cupboard
  • Special information about a food (such as, freezing cheese changes the texture)
  • What bacteria are most likely to cause problems with a particular food (and details about symptoms of food poisoning from that bacteria). 

It costs 99 cents from the iTunes App store, which seems quite reasonable for all the good info contained in the app.

Food categories covered include Baby Food, Bakery Goods and Mixes, Beef, Pork and Meat Dishes, Beverages, Cereal and Pasta, Dairy (including Breast Milk), Eggs and Egg Dishes, Fruits, Leftovers and Take-Out, Other Foods, Poultry and Poultry Dishes, Spices, Herbs, Condiments and Extracts, Vegetables, and Wild Game.

Just for fun, I looked up a few foods. I always wondered how long to keep dry coffee creamer. You see, I have had the same bottle in my cupboard for at least 5 years.  I didn’t think much about it, because to me, it’s a non-food, and should never spoil, right?  Only one person uses it (my brother Matt); everyone else drinks black coffee.  I probably shouldn’t have gotten such a big jar, but it was on sale!

Anyway, the 4 Day Throw Away app told me that powdered coffee creamer or whitener (under Beverages) is good for about 8 months, and to keep it cool and dry. Well, it’s time I got some fresh stuff, wouldn’t you say? Matt will be pleased.

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's for Dinner: Tuna Pasta Vegetable Salad

A lot of people have a version of tuna pasta salad; here's mine. I like to add lots of vegetables, so it's almost half vegetables, half pasta. We like this for hot summer days.

Tuna Pasta Vegetable salad

3 cups (12 ounces) dry elbow or corkscrew pasta, cooked and drained
4 cans (5-6 ounce) chunk or solid pack tuna, drained
3-4 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 to 1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 to 1 red pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen green peas
Tomatoes for garnish
Blue corn chips for garnish

1 cup Miracle Whip light
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 tablespoons American Spoon Great Lakes Seafood Sauce*

In a large bowl, add pasta, tuna and vegetables; toss or stir to distribute ingredients evenly.  Blend the Miracle Whip, mustard and Seafood sauce together, then add to salad and stir, coating everything evenly. Chill.

Makes about 12 cups pasta salad. Nutritional information per one cup: 206 calories, 11 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 28 grams carb, 2 grams fiber, 11 milligrams cholesterol, 383 milligrams sodium.

*The American Spoon Great Lakes Seafood Sauce is my secret ingredient for anything seafood. It contains capers, onion, dill, lemon juice, garlic and other flavors. It's great mixed with light mayo for a quick tartar sauce. It is made in Petosky, Michigan, so I can pick it up locally in their shop in Saugatuck. It can also be ordered directly from the company here.