Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Yes, Beverages Can Add Calories!

This final posting during National Nutrition Month is focused on beverages. Often times, we don’t think of beverages, when thinking about calories and diet. However, beverages are a part of the diet and we need to think about what beverages we consume and how they impact overall health.

It seems that the world of beverages has expanded exponentially. In addition to Coke and Pepsi, there are beverages made with tea, fruits, yogurt, and vitamin enhanced water, to name a few. Looks like every time I turn around, there is a new beverage. Americans rank at the top in the amount of sweetened beverages consumed. While the consumption of sweetened beverages has increased, the consumption of milk has decreased.
Amount of Sugar Per Container (from left to right) 77g; 51g; 33g

Before you think I am on my usual soapbox, I have no problems with the occasional consumption of sweetened beverages. As a matter of fact, I am a fan of Coke. But with an expanding waistline, I am reducing my consumption of soda. A colleague once referred to soft drinks as liquid candy. Somehow or another, that thought stuck with me. Now, when I do consume a beverage, I try and think of it as a treat and not as a regular part of my diet.

If you want to try and make some beverages, here are a couple of recipes to try.

Green Tea Tropical Smoothie

Serves 3.

4 green tea bags
Ice cubes (about ½ cup)
1 cup mango chunks, about 1 mango
1 cup (8 ounces) crushed pineapple
½ cup sliced banana
1 cup orange juice, chilled
½ cup low fat milk
2 teaspoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon honey

1. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Pour ½ cup of water over tea bags. Steep for 4 minutes. Remove bags and squeeze.

2. Cool down by adding ice to bring up to 1 cup.

3. Pour green tea into a blender. Add mango, pineapple, banana, orange juice, milk, lime juice and honey. Blend until smooth. Serve cold.

Note: This recipe contains 28 grams of carbohydrates per serving.

Green Tea and Mango Splash

Serves 3.

2 green tea bags
2 cups mango nectar, chilled
Ice cubes
Mint sprigs for garnish, optional
Mango slices for garnish, optional

1. Heat 1 cup of water to boiling. Add green tea and let steep for about 3 minutes.

2. Add mango nectar. Serve over ice. Add mango slices and mint sprigs if desired.

Note: This recipe contains 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taco Bell . . . What’s the Beef?

Recently there has been ‘noise’ in the food world regarding the components of the beef in tacos from Taco Bell. The company has responded by saying their meat is 88% premium USDA inspected ground beef. The remaining 12% is seasonings, spices, and water to provide taste, texture, moisture and quality. Okay, that’s fair enough.

I have a few problems with this whole issue. First of all, is the food at Taco Bell so great that we need to spend time worrying about how much beef is in the beef? I mean, do Americans really know what a ‘real taco’ is? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we would be better off if we would just cook. And finally, have you looked at the nutritional value of Taco Bell food? A crunchy taco contains 150 calories and 350 grams of sodium. But do you eat just one? A DOUBLE DECKER® Taco Supreme® contains 360 calories and 780 mg of sodium. Need I say more?

This issue got me to thinking about what tacos were originally. Tacos started as Mexican street food. They are eaten out of hand. From what I can determine, tacos are to Mexican culture what sandwiches are to American culture. In Mexico, tortillas are primarily made from corn. The most interesting information I have gathered from this project is that tacos can be filled with anything, beef, pork, seafood, mutton. Vegetables and salsa and a variety of toppings, such as avocadoes and onion are often added. Basically, anything that can be put into a tortilla can be made into a taco. My student, Rachel told me that her grandmother (better known as Nana) just uses whatever meat she has on hand. She often uses leftover roast. According to Rachel, in Mexico, there are hundreds of different tacos.

Rachel and I are off to the kitchen to make tacos, the right way. We are doing beef and fish tacos. I am including the recipes as Rachel taught them to me. Please feel free to add your own creative touches.  See also the video below about our taco making experience.

Shredded Beef Tacos


2 pounds chuck roast, (you can also use top or bottom round)
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 can (7 ounces) el pato sauce, not the jalapeno one

16-20 corn tortillas (6 inches)
2-3 cups vegetable oil


1. Add meat, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and el pato sauce to a Dutch oven. Add water to cover, about ½ inch over the top of the meat and simmer covered for about 2 hours stirring occasionally. (Note: El pato is a type of Mexican tomato sauce. It can be purchased in the Mexican food section of most grocery stores. You may want to consider reducing the salt to no more than ½ tablespoon.)

2. Continue to boil uncovered until the liquid has evaporated and continue to shred the meat with the wooden spoon or spatula. The meat should be completely shredded after about 4 hours. Set aside and let cool to warm or room temperature.

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or frying pan. Never fill pan more than ½ full of oil, it may bubble over during cooking. Heat to 350°F. It is very important to reach 350°F or the tortillas will not cook properly. With a pair of tongs place 1 tortilla into the oil and fry for about 3-5 seconds, just long enough to make the tortillas pliable and easy to work with. Repeat process until all tortillas are cooked, stack them on a plate, flip the entire stack over and get ready for assembly.

Assembling Tacos:
Take about 2 to 3ounces of shredded beef and place on upper half of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and insert 2 toothpicks to keep the two halves together. Repeat until all of the tacos are done. You might want to turn the heat down on the oil while doing this.

Take 2 to 3 tacos at a time and place in oil heated to 350°F. Cook for about 1 to 3 minutes a side, or until crispy. Remove tacos and let stand for 1 minute. Remove toothpicks, open and add shredded lettuce, cheese and diced tomatoes. You can add whatever toppings you like, such as pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, and salsa.

Fish Tacos


1 pound white fish, such as flounder, cod, or tilapia
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt


1. Arrange fish in a baking dish; set aside. In a small bowl combine lime juice, olive oil, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Pour over fish. Turn fish to coat with marinade. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

2. Grill or broil fish until the fish flakes.

3. Transfer fish to a cutting board. Cut or flake fish into 1-inch piece. Serve in warmed tortillas with desired toppings.

Fish Sauce:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup plain yogurt

Stir to combine. Serve with fish tacos.

Salsa (Beef and Fish):
1 garlic clove, minced
6 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 Tablespoons cilantro, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped finely
1½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Serve with tacos.

Toppings (Beef):
Cheese, queso fresco
Tomatoes, diced
Avocados, diced
Romaine lettuce

Toppings (Fish):
Red and Green Cabbage, shredded
Onion, diced

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eat More Vegetables – Not Again?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are pleading with us to eat more vegetables. We Americans are a stubborn bunch. We have done a great job of avoiding vegetables. That is, unless you count potatoes. We are advised to eat 2½ cups of vegetables per day. On average we eat about 1½ cups per day and that includes potatoes.

I am not sure why we don’t consume much in the way of vegetables. Maybe we are in a hurry, we don’t like them, they take too long to prepare. Maybe we have become a little tired of broccoli. If so, it could be time to try a new vegetable. Often times, we get in a rut and just stay there. There are tons and tons of vegetables. They come in a rainbow of colors, a variety of shapes and flavors. Also try cooking an old favorite a new way.

The produce isle is loaded with lots of fun, new vegetables. Approach vegetable cooking as an adventure. Look for a vegetable that you have never tried. Farmers markets often have unusual vegetables. Ethnic markets are one of my favorite places to find new vegetables. Sometimes if you ask the vendor, they will tell you how to prepare it. After all, they want to sell products. When you are at the grocery store, check the displays. They will often times contain recipes and helpful hints for preparing produce.

To get you on the road to vegetable consumption, let’s start with bok choy, an Asian vegetable. Bok choy (brassica chinensis) is a type of cabbage but bears little resemblance to those found in American supermarkets. Whereas, brassica vegetables tend to have strong flavors, bok choy is quite mild. Bok choy has a white stem surrounded by green leaves. While most American supermarkets contain larger types of bok choy, Asian markets generally sell smaller varieties. Asians value smaller varieties for their tenderness. Smaller varieties generally cook in less time than larger ones sold in American supermarkets.

Bok Choy

Serves 4 to 6.


1½ pounds bok choy or baby bok choy
1½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons grated ginger
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1. Start by trimming the stem off, about ½ to ¾ -inch. Cutting the thick stem off will ensure that the bok choy cooks evenly. Separate out the leaves, keep the tender center intact. Clean under running water. Drain.

2. Combine garlic and ginger. Set aside.

3. Preheat a wok or skillet. Add vegetable oil and heat. Add garlic and ginger. Cook until you begin to smell the garlic and ginger; they become a light golden brown. Add bok choy. Toss to coat the leaves with the garlic and ginger oil. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce.  Serve.

More Resources for Preparing Vegetables

Better Homes and Gardens - http://www.bhg.com/
Allrecipes.com - http://allrecipes.com/
Everyday Foods - https://martha.zt01.net/EF/1/ef_google/landing/ef_google.php
UNL-Extension - http://food.unl.edu/web/localfoods/home
Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market - http://oldcheneyroadfarmersmarket.com/

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Consuming Seafood

The average intake of seafood in the US is about 3.5 ounces per week. That amounts to about 1 serving. One of the recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines is to increase consumption of fish and seafood. Increase consumption of something, now ain’t that good news! Before you get too excited, increasing consumption of seafood does not mean you get to increase total food consumption. Remember, most of us could stand to reduce total calorie intake.

In recent years, moderate evidence has emerged about the health benefits of consuming seafood. The guidelines recommend increasing consumption of seafood to 8 or more ounces per week (less for young children). Seafood contributes a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Moderate evidence shows that consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, which provide an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among individuals with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Two, EPA and DHA, are found mostly in coldwater fish. Fish that live in cold water have adapted to higher omega-3s allowing the fat in their tissues stays liquid. Salmon contains the highest amount of omega-3s, followed by trout, white tuna, king mackerel, sea bass, herring, oysters, and sardines. The third type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources, such as flaxseed, English walnuts, soy, wheat germ and canola oil. Most potential health benefits are attributed to EPA and DHA, which are readily absorbed and put to use. Your body converts ALA to EPA, and to a lesser extent, DHA. However, this process is relatively inefficient. Only about 5% is converted to EPA.

If you are looking for tasty ways to increase your consumption of seafood, give these recipes for salmon and catfish a try.

Mustard Crusted Salmon

Serves 4.


1 pound salmon fillets, cut into 4 portions
¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 Tablespoons coarse grained mustard
1 Tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh
Lemon wedges for garnish


1. Preheat broiler. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil, then coat with cooking spray.

2. Place salmon pieces, skin –side down, on the prepared pan. Season with salt and pepper. Combine sour cream, mustard and lemon juice in small bowl. Spread evenly over the salmon.

3. Broil the salmon 5 inches from the heat source until it is opaque in the center, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Source: The Essential Eating Well Cookbook, 2004

Lemon Pepper Catfish


1 Tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons finely crushed black peppercorns
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
4 catfish fillets, about 1 pound total
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice


1. In a small bowl combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and black pepper. Add vegetable oil and butter. Stir to combine.

2. Pat fish dry. Brush each side with coating mixture.

3. Preheat a nonstick skillet. Add fish and cook until brown. Turn and cook until second side is brown.

4. Add lemon juice.

Additional Recipes

Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad - http://bit.ly/bCK8IF
Tuna Melt - http://bit.ly/dNypLj

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cooking with Herbs and Spices

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans are out. It seems that the guidelines are focusing more on foods. The basic premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods.

There are also three selected messages for consumers.

• Balancing Calories
  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
 • Foods to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
 • Foods to Reduce
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
 The advice is to choose steps that work for you and start today. I am going to start with sodium. No special reason, I just am.

The sodium guidelines are as following.

• Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg

• Reduce intake to 1500 mg among persons 51 and older, if you are African American of any age or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The 1500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the US population, including children, and the majority of adults.

 Sodium Equivalents
• ¼ teaspoon salt is equal to 600 mg sodium
• ½ teaspoon salt is equal to 1200 mg sodium
• ¾ teaspoon salt is equal to 1800 mg sodium
• 1 teaspoon salt is equal to 2300 mg sodium

On average, Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day. The major culprits are processed foods such as luncheon meats, canned soups, and prepared mixes. Check this graphic to see breakdown of salt consumption http://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm. 

The best method that I know of to reduce sodium is to get in the kitchen and get cooking. I recommend use fresh ingredients. Instead of focusing on reducing sodium, I am focusing on using herbs. It just sounds better to tell me what I can eat.

Although I may not make the 1500 mg of sodium per day, my goal is to move in that direction. Here is a recipe to help you get started on that 1500 mg per day road.

Herb Spice Blend

Makes about ¼ cup.

1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 Tablespoon whole white peppercorns
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons celery seeds
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1½ teaspoons dill seeds
1½ teaspoons mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1. Combine both peppercorns in a small food processor or coffee grinder. Add remaining ingredients and process until desired size. Transfer to a small jar. Mixture can be stored in the freezer for several months.
2. To use, rub each side of meat with about ½ teaspoon of seasoning mixture. Grill or broil as desired.

Note: This mixture work nicely on lamb, pork and poultry. This recipe makes enough to season 8 to 10 servings of meat.

Adapted from Bon App├ętit, September 1995