Friday, April 27, 2012

May is National Salad Month

Rediscover a Side with Style
Caprese - 16 by L. Marie, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  L. Marie 

Of all the outrageous food holidays (National Catfish Month? National Root Beer Float Day?), a month devoted to salads may seem on the surface to be the most unnecessary. We are more than versed in the cafeteria or grocery store salad bar, after all. Salads are a ubiquitous side dish, and they are even a popular fast food option. But if you are doing your level best to get your fruit and veggie servings every day, putting the spotlight on the salad may be just what you need to raise your servings quotient and rediscover what salad has to offer.

The Salad Advantage

Besides incorporating large amounts of veggies and fruit, salads arrive on the scene with their own built-in advantages. They are filling and fibrous, they are interesting to eat, and they provide variety that makes it almost impossible not to eat from the rainbow. Salads also come with their own deep history that makes them a surprisingly good fit as comfort food – fix a Cobb salad, a Waldorf salad or a little lime Jell-O and you’re instantly transported to the early 20th century. What’s more, salads deliver on a budget: salad-making is the stone soup of the American kitchen due to their uncanny ability to incorporate a fridge's odds and ends and stretch a single chicken thigh or a sole carrot into a eight-serving dish.

So why not a month that pays homage to the ultimate vegetable delivery system? This May, get creative and make salad the meal, or decide that a salad dish will accompany every dinner plate. You might even take the opportunity to plan a salad-centric garden by experimenting with interesting greens that will inspire your salad days in the months to come.

In May, It’s Easy Being Green

Whether your penchant is to toss or to spin, here are three basic principles to live by as you embark on a month devoted to a pastiche of produce.

Know your greens. If you are still rocking the iceberg, it’s time to dump the colorless crunch and embrace dark leafies. Romaine or spinach provide the deep colors that indicate they are a food full of powerful antioxidants, for instance. You can also opt for no greens at all. Europeans are notorious for salads that use tomatoes or bell peppers as the under layer – tomato and mozzarella caprese salad is a beloved meal accompaniment, no greens necessary.

Make your own dressing. It’s a well-known salad trap: you start with a dish of healthy, and then ruin a good thing with fattening salad dressing. The solution? Forgo the supermarket bottles and take matters into your own hands so you have full control over your ingredients. Opt for basic vinaigrette, or make your own Russian by using low-fat yogurt. HuffPost’s Kitchen Daily covers the spread of DIY dressing, and Real Simple’s has 6 Ridiculously Easy Homemade Salad Dressings including Creamy Tarragon and Avocado and a simple Thousand Island that kids will love.

Eat what you love. Silly for avocados? Think wild blueberries are the bomb? Can’t resist pasta? They are all ingredients that make salad sensational. If your salad seems a little dull, include a favorite topping that makes it delectable, whether it’s homemade croutons like these corn bread croutons that add killer crunch, or a sprinkle of parmesan. And don’t stint on the protein. Chicken, eggs or tofu can make a side into an instant meal. A part of using high-calorie foods moderately, decide to opt for the exciting flavor or olives instead of bacon, for example, and if you are cutting calories, a dash of Kosher salt might be enough to make dull different.

Salad Sensational

Cooking Light has 5-Ingredient Salads that run the gamut from Chicken and Spring Greens with Açai Dressing to Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing.

Wild blueberries shine in salad! Blues add glorious, nutritious color that instantly upgrades a salad’s flavor profile. Case in point, this Duck, Spinach and Goat Cheese Salad with Savory Wild Blueberry Sauce. Quinoa Salad with Wild Blueberries is a delicious dish that uses zucchini and Havarti cheese to create a superior flavor mix with wild blues.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Food for Your Whole Life Returns to NYC in June

A major health symposium that we told you about back in 2010 is back by popular demand, and it’s continuing the important mission it started two years ago. It's the Food for Your Whole Life Health Symposium, and it's bringing some of the best minds in health and nutrition together to educate the public and professionals in the field about food and lifestyle choices that are essential for better health. This year, Food for Your Whole Life will convene at the Hilton in New York City on June 3rd and 4th, promising attendees the tools they need to “improve our nation’s health and be empowered knowing that nutritious food is tasty and delicious and an exciting and flavorful way to improve your health.”

The crowd-drawing presenters that wowed in 2010 return as well, including Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show”, Dr. Michael F. Roizen, author of the best-selling YOU series, which he co-authored with Dr. Oz, and regular on-air personality Dr. David L. Katz. They will be joined by other internationally-recognized researchers, clinicians, educators and health experts who will present nutrition tips for achieving optimal health as well as their own new research and theories on nutrition. (If you are thinking of attending, you can get a taste of the 2010 event by browsing the live blog from 2010 courtesy of Don’t (White) Sugar Coat It.)

Understanding the Effect of Food on Health

Those in the healthcare field, including physicians, dieticians, nurses, and educators will attend the Food for Your Whole Life Health Symposium to share information that will support the clients and patients they see in their practice and learn about philosophies that are relevant for today’s attitudes about nutrition and health. This year's event specifically focuses on the aged-based diet, including food-based dietary patterns for the general population and specific groups.

While the first half of the Symposium is targeted to health professionals, Sunday, June 3 events are open to the public. They will include presentations by Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen, exhibits, cooking demos, exercise sessions and BMI testing. It's a perfect opportunity for anyone, whether you serve others or just serve yourself and your family, to learn more about improving health through nutrition.

Read more or register for this Food for Your Whole Life event.

Live blogging the event? Let us know and we’ll keep our readers updated.

Defend Your Body! 
Get involved in good health by telling others how you "defend your body." Join forces with Food for Your Whole Life by sharing your own personal principle that helps you achieve optimum health as part of the 100 Great Ways to Defend Your Body Challenge. Whether it’s a hot bath, eating fruit with every meal, or doing yoga, you could win a health club membership or a 5-pound bag of California Walnuts just for sharing your healthy tidbit!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Will Inflammation Testing Save Lives?

This Year's TEDMED Takes On Important Health Questions

This month in Washington D.C., the greatest minds in health and medicine came together to address some of the biggest challenges facing our world. It was none other than the annual TEDMED conference that brought them to the Kennedy Center on April 10-13. If this gathering of visionaries sounds familiar, it’s because it was inspired by the original TED, the popular gathering of forward-thinkers in the world of technology, entertainment, and design. True to its legacy, this med-leaning evolution of TED broke new ground in the field of medical research and innovation.

At this year’s event, the world’s big thinkers shared cutting edge ideas that may affect all of us in the coming years. For three absorbing days, attendees tried on aging suits, saw artificial hearts, had discussions about the role of nutrition in cancer treatment, and saw presentations about everything from stress to sleep. But what’s most exciting about this gathering of minds is that some of the information presented at TEDMED may some day solve problems for the average person, and in many cases, save lives. One such idea is helping to identify the risk of heart disease, the leading killer in the U.S., by looking closely at inflammation.

Testing the Risk for Heart Disease

One unavoidable takeaway at TEDMED, according to some attendees, was the difficulties faced by the American medical system. But at the same time, innovations that can have a positive impact on the future of medicine were present in abundance. One example was the presentation by the Cleveland HeartLab (CHL) which addressed a major health challenge head-on by showing how they could track the risk of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease continues to confound our population – often, those who are at risk know only when a major heart event takes them by surprise. In fact, approximately 50% of patients who have a heart attack or stroke have normal levels of cholesterol, according to CHL, and cholesterol levels have been one of the most reliable indicators for such events. However, CHL maintains that it is the degree of inflammation in one’s arteries that is the better predictor, which is why they took their inflammation testing, or “it” on the road at TEDMED. They offered inflammatory testing to any TEDMED delegate who wanted it, and many took advantage of the screening.

The participants who took part in this voluntary inflammation testing were educated about how  “it” can improve assessment of their cardiovascular health. “It” goes beyond traditional blood tests and provides an inflammation panel (the “it” test screened not only for C-reactive protein but for myeloperoxidase and lipid levels) that determines the degree that someone is at risk of a cardiovascular event, according to CHL. The results? Approximately 40% of the 335 TEDMED delegates had elevated cardiovascular disease risk with 10% having a risk for vascular thrombosis.

The Inflammation Problem 

Inflammation has repercussions that extend to many diseases, and heart disease is one. For many of us, the idea of inflammation brings to mind redness, swelling or infection as a result of injury to the skin or the surface of the body. But the lower grade, chronic inflammation that occurs inside the body is both dangerous and silent, and is linked to diseases of aging like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and arthritis.

According to WBA Nutrition Advisor and Spokesperson, Susan Davis, MS, RD, inflammation damages nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims and contributes to the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitates their transformation into cancer without showing any symptoms at all. “Protection from inflammation by compounds in the diet is very complex and not well understood,” said Davis. “Some of the mechanisms that have been identified include interfering with the development of inflammatory compounds at the genetic level.” Diet has shown exciting potential as well. Studies into blueberries for example, have shown that the compounds may have an effect on deterring inflammation in the body. They contain flavonoids such as anthocyanins, flavonols, and proanthocyanidins that have been shown to contribute to protective, anti-inflammatory effects.

Dietary Keys to Anti-Inflammation

Today, we know that the typical western diet, high in refined carbohydrates, fats, sugars and calories contributes to inflammation. But a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega 3 fatty acids is anti-inflammatory, and vitamins, minerals, as well as plant compounds have both antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Simple steps to create an “anti-inflammatory” diet can help make major gains in health and longevity. Here’s how:

Through Variety. Eat a wide variety of foods, and eat across the color spectrum. When you include deeply colored fruits and vegetables, you are getting the benefits of antioxidants that combat inflammation – they are present in the skins of blueberries, leafy greens, and other colorful foods.

By Eating Fresh and Fresh-Frozen. Eat plenty of real, fresh food or foods frozen at their peak. The key to avoiding processed foods is to turn to the produce aisle, or equally as nutritious, the freezer section of the grocery store where fruits and vegetables have all the advantages of those at the farmer’s market.

By Filling Your Plate with Fruits and Vegetables. Eat them with every meal, and get the recommended servings. They are your best defense against disease and the effects of aging.

Learn more by watching the video from Susan Davis about the Anti-Inflammation Diet.

What are the 20 Greatest Challenges Facing Health and Medicine Today? 

According to TEDMED, the mission of the Great Challenges Program is not to “solve” America’s most confounding health and wellness problems but to provide “a comprehensive view, incorporating thoughtful perspectives from every discipline and from all sectors of society.” They have identified the most pressing issues facing today's medical community, and they include Causes of Sleep Deprivation, Preparing for Dementia, and Eliminating Medical Errors, just to name a few. Want to know what the others are? Find out at TEDMED Challenges.

Interested in testing for inflammation? Learn more about “it”.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Do We Avoid Eating Real Fruit? Top Reasons Revealed

Médecine douce… by alpha du centaure, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  alpha du centaure 

Getting the recommended daily servings of fruit has real advantages. It can reduce disease, control weight, and provide health benefits as we age. Buying and eating real fruit can also support communities and growers and make a positive contribution to a national health crisis.

Reports from the CDC concerning how many Americans get the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables consistently reveal that most of us fall short. Yet, most Americans say they like fruit, and research providing evidence of the importance of real food nutrition is at an all time high. Are we avoiding eating fruit servings? Or do we have good intentions, but for one reason or another we don’t achieve our goals?

The answer is likely a little of both. We’ve uncovered four reasons behind our inability to get enough good, real fruit into our diet, and some real ways to avoid these traps in our own diets.

1. Deceptive Fruit Snacks

One of the biggest reasons we are missing our servings of real fruit is that we are eating foods that promise fruit servings instead. As a result, we feel like we are getting the benefit of them. The primary reason for this dietary misstep? The sheer proliferation of fruit snacks. There are hundreds of fruit snacks that look healthy and are marketed as providing fruit servings, but in fact, the first ingredient is often sugar, not fruit.

There is a growing market for packaged fruit –  it is a burgeoning sector that is taking advantage of our desire to eat nutritiously. What’s more, the pitch is working. Kids love fruit snacks, because they have billions of dollars in marketing telling them so, and snacks are ingeniously designed to wake up our taste buds and addict our brains. Moms like them too, because they appear to be guaranteeing a nutritious snack, and they assuage any guilt we may have about poor nutrition. It’s true that kids need to up their fruit intake, and fruit snacks are filling that need. But more often than not, all these foods are doing are blurring the line between fruit and candy in a way that renders it undetectable.

Packaged fruit snacks get a free pass, and they deter our ability to get real servings in the process. For example, if a snack has at least 2% in the U.S. or Canada, it can be legitimately labeled as being made with real fruit. Fruit snacks labeled as all-natural can include sky-high amounts of sugar, and none of the beneficial fiber that real fruits provide, which helps us feel full and satisfied. The more fruit snacks we include in our diet, the less room we have for real fruit, and less incentive to get them, because we think we already have. But real fruit provides benefits that fruit snacks, no matter how good their claims are, do not. Fruit has synergistic nutrients that work in conjunction with one another, and work in conjunction with other foods in a way that is advantageous to health and disease prevention. And this is something that has thus far eluded manufacturers of foods and supplements in their effort to replicate it.

2. Fake Fruit

One reason we aren’t eating our servings of fruit is that we are actually getting burned by fake fruit. Over the last year or so, much has been made about the existence of fake fruit, including, notably, fake blueberries, and the offending brands have been called out for using these fruit-like impostors.

Fake fruit can look like fruit and be marketed as such, but those blue globs can actually be cubes of partially hydrogenated oil and dextrose, not blueberries. It’s cheaper for companies to use trans fats as fruit, and it works, because we think we’re augmenting a less-than-healthy food with a spark of healthy fruit.

Fake-fruit foods can be pancake mixes, muffins, cereal, and granola bars, for starters. While front-of-label packaging on these foods may tout fruit, reading the label will reveal “made with imitation blueberries”. Avoid this fake fruit trap by throwing in a handful of frozen blueberries yourself if you are making pancakes, rather than relying on fat globs to provide the color. Do the same for cereal and muffins, or take the time to make your own healthy granola bars with real ingredients. Try these Blueberry and Maple Granola Bars from the Daily Green or our own Wild Blueberry Bars. Also, when you do buy packaged products, buy those that are reliable in their use of real ingredients, like these popular no-faux foods from Stonewall Kitchen, for example.

3. Convenience & Price 

Often, we give up a fruit serving because it’s easier to throw packaged food in our bag. A Pop-Tart®  or a Go-GURT®  won’t spoil, and you can carry it anywhere. It’s easier to pop a fruit snack into our lunch bag than to slice an apple and wrap it up. And, we tend to balk at the prices of fresh fruit on display at the grocery store. Its expense, not to mention the risk of it spoiling and the cost of that waste, doesn’t seem worth it.

But real health comes from real food, not from boxes. By limiting processed foods, it leaves more room for real. First, taking the extra time to buy and prepare fruits to have as snacks and to accompany meals is an essential habit to hone. suggests making fresh fruit bowl part of your décor, and making a point to dress up every plate with a fruit or veggie. But the best advice to combat inconvenience, especially when price is an issue, is to opt for frozen. Frozen is as nutritious as fresh and available year-round. It provides attractive price points, especially purchased in large amounts, and it doesn’t spoil, eliminating costly waste.

You can also learn how to stretch your fruit and veggie budget by downloading 30 ways in 30 days to Stretch Your Fruit & Vegetable Budget at Fruits and Veggies More Matters.

Got a convenient way to get your fruit servings? Tell us.

4. Our Brain  

Sometimes it’s the inscrutable grey matter in our skulls that’s the culprit when it comes to eschewing fruit servings. The desire for food that satisfies cravings goes way beyond just having a sweet tooth. That’s because the addictive quality of foods – especially foods that combine sugar, salt, and fat in optimum proportion – create pathways in our brains that simulate addiction and make us go back for more. It’s why we can eat an apple or a bowl or blueberries and feel satisfied, but comparable calories consumed from a snack cake only makes us want more.

This chemical reaction is no match for self-discipline. In fact, Dr. Oz considers sugar as addictive as drugs. Studies in rats show that stopping this food from entering the body can actually result in symptoms of withdrawal. Is there a solution to the strong pull of sugary foods that are edging out the fruits in our diets? There is.

- First, detox. Dr. Oz says a 28-day sugar rehab (right in your own home) will reset your body’s craving for foods and start you on a path to enjoying and being satisfied by real food again.

- Second, get healthy. Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious, protein-rich foods, and keeping your blood sugar stable by eating regularly (not starving or skipping) will improve your chance of succumbing to cravings.

- Then, choose. Don’t let Big Food dictate your behavior. It can be easier said than done, but understanding the hold food chemistry has on us is the first step to freeing ourselves from its grip.

- Finally, change: your kitchen, your shopping cart, and your kids’ lunch. After that, move into changing your kids’ lunch room, joining community efforts to support policy about food labeling and food growers, and taking a stand against the billions of dollars brilliantly spent on junk food marketing, especially to kids.

Get Your Real Fruit Servings 

Find out how many servings you need at Fruits and Veggies More Matters.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dig In: Purple Potatoes Have Vibrant Health Benefits

Purple Potatoes by razvan.orendovici, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  razvan.orendovici 

Ever wish your favorite comfort food had a bit more pizzazz? It may be high time to diversify from your average meat and potatoes dinner, and this brightly colored vegetable is just the thing. The skin of the purple potato provides a shock of color that can snap us out of our yellow- and red-skinned comas, and boost our health at the same time.

The flesh of these colorful nightshades, praised recently in Mark Bittman’s New York Times column On Growing (And Eating Potatoes), come in many blue and purple varieties, though the Purple Viking and Purple Majesty are two of the most popular for their intense color. They have deep violet, ink-colored skin, and the flesh inside ranges from solid blue to speckled. Perhaps best of all, they taste just like the good old potato that we like so much.

Unearth Healthy Color 

We know that blueberries are uniquely advantageous to health because of the pigment in the skin – that deep blue-purple color is a sign of antioxidant richness. Is the same true for a potato hued with blue? Absolutely. While blueberries, particularly wild blueberries, have the high skin-to-pulp ratio and deep color that makes them an antioxidant leader, the antioxidant anthocyanin, responsible for this color, is also behind the skin color of the purple potato. It's found in other foods, too, like cabbage and eggplant.

While potatoes are challenged with a soiled reputation due to our over-love of the fried variety, potatoes are a vegetable that provides wonderful health benefits. They have moderate fat and calories, are full of vitamins C and B6, and provide a high dose of potassium, an essential nutrient we often get too little of.

Thanks to anthocyanins, the Purple Viking, a white-fleshed potato that Bittman describes as having “a purple skin with pink splashes, as pretty as it sounds” can be depended upon to deliver the anti-cancer, heart-healthy, anti-aging benefits that most deeply colored fruit and veggies do. In fact, they have been recently recognized for their potential to lower blood pressure. Bittman extols the virtues of this earthly purple gem for summer because, he says, they are a delightful food for the grill, and they shine in soups. They also cook and sauté quickly, maintain a perfectly crisp outside, and are full of flavor.

Purple potatoes are often available from local farmers and can be found in local grocery stores, but if you want to plant your very own and you live in Maine, you can obtain your seeds from the Maine Potato Lady in Guilford. Place your seed orders now to ship the last week of April, and you can be fixing up a blue-hued plate in a matter of months that your guests will really dig.

Color Your World! Try These Purple Potato Recipes

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Round Turned Upside Down! Wild Blueberry Pancakes Take a Savory Turn

pancakes by breahn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  breahn 

For some, food fun days like National Blueberry Pancake Day herald the wonderful ways to enjoy a breakfast favorite swathed in their favorite companion, the mouth-watering wild blueberry. But for others, such a celebration brings the breakfast blues. A day that celebrates a food with the word “cake” in it is one of restraint for many of us, not celebration.

Enter this month’s most heartening foodie find: Fabio Viviani’s Perfect Savory Pancakes – a true upset for the blueberry pancake traditionalist, and for those who have pledged to forgo the treat due to its carb and sugar excesses, a deliciously welcome one.

In this flapjack flip-flop, ricotta cheese lends the richness, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika provides an unexpected lift for such an early hour. Forget the syrup, says Viviani of this savory, not sweet treat: topping these pancakes with syrup would be nothing short of “a disaster!” He uses olive oil instead in a nod to the savory switcheroo, and an astonishing dusting of Parmesan cheese adds the final touch. What could be more out of the blue?

Viviani says the key to fluffy pancakes is to let the batter get thick but not too thick. He blends the blueberries into the batter early, in a complete hotcake turn-around from our favored blueberry pancake method, though he adheres to proper pancake protocol when applying the ricotta. The blueberries carry the sweet load in this dish, providing the perfect foil against the dominant savory taste.

Said one Wild About Health reader who gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up, “It’s really more like an omelet than a pancake.” He put frozen wild blueberries in with the ricotta to intensify the fruit flavor (perfectly acceptable!) and sprinkled it with feta instead of Parmesan.

What’s even better about this breakfast indulgence is that it cuts the flour of a traditional pancake in half. How? Credit the natural fiber called pectin, one of the wild blueberry's myriad nutritional advantages.

Pectin – A Hidden Benefit of the Wild Blueberry

Pectin is a naturally occurring substance found in berries and other fruits like apples that can cause thickening when heated.  (It’s what creates the consistency of jams and jellies.) The high fiber content in wild blueberries comes in the form of this natural thickening agent. One of the reasons this powerfully nutritious berry is also known to help stomach problems and improve digestive disturbances like IBS may be, in part, due to the pectin fiber content – half a cup of blues has as much fiber as a slice of whole wheat bread!

Thanks to the blueberry's pectin, says Viviani, cutting the flour content is easy in these griddle luminaries.  In addition to the wonderful gastrointestinal benefits, this unique take on the cake provides a great alternative if you are cutting carbs as well. What a delightful way to face the day!

Pour it and Ignore it! 

Watch Fabio Viviani’s griddle method as he walks through his Perfect Savory Pancakes. View the Chow Ciao video featuring Fabio.