Spaghetti Squash

 

Spaghetti squash is the trendiest new squash (sorry, butternut- we still love you) and is definitely worth adding to your fall dish repertoire. The first time I tried spaghetti squash was actually at my work cafeteria, and I absolutely loved the consistency and subtle flavor but didn’t quite understand how it came to be (Did the squash just have little strings inside? Did you have to press it through a grater?). If you’ve never tried it, imagine a truly spaghetti-shaped zucchini noodle that holds its bite a bit better but has the taste of a mild butternut squash.

img_20180923_1844294391312110323.jpgI bought one myself and cut it open only to see that it looked like a yellow cantaloupe, and my first instinct was that I bought the wrong squash. Trusty Google showed me that I had in fact bought a spaghetti squash and that it would be just as stringy as I hoped once I was through – and it did not disappoint!

I love anything that can increase the volume of a meal without adding too many calories, and this is where spaghetti squash shines; you can have a whole cup with only about 40 calories but good fiber and micronutrients including potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins.

Making spaghetti squash is incredibly easy (almost unbelievably so):

  1. img_20180923_183103_0061099019059.jpg
    Squash immediately post-baking but before spaghetti-ing.

    Cut squash in half vertically (like you’re splitting the stem).

  2. Remove the seeds and the pulp attached to them.
  3. Brush with 1-2 T olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt for a savory dish. Alternatively, brush with 1-2 T butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp syrup for a sweeter version.
  4. Place face-up on a baking sheet and cook at 380F for 60 minutes. It should be incredibly tender.
  5. Take a fork and use it to rake the flesh of the squash. The strings will naturally separate and pull away (I took a video below for you to visualize). Continue until you have pulled out all of the strings and you’ll have your ‘spaghetti’!

I’ve seen savory versions topped with parmesan and herbs, but I love the sweet version for a fall side dish. Either way, you’ll get a lot of volume and flavor without a ton of calories!

 

 

Does your plate look like MyPlate?

  
The Food Pyramid (1992-2005)

I remember learning about the Food Pyramid in elementary school, and for myself and most of my generation, that was the only formal nutrition education I received. Eat healthy, follow the food pyramid.  I had no idea, however, how I was supposed to apply a pyramid to my actual food choices. I recall celebrating the recommendation that carbohydrates like bread should be the foundation of my diet and thinking that the little dots throughout the pyramid (meant to represent fats and added sugars) were just decorative polka dots, but that was the extent of my understanding. There were some lesser-known older recommendations from the USDA (you can find a full history of nutrition guidelines on the USDA website), but the Food Pyramid imagery took hold as the most recognizable symbol of ‘healthy eating’ for Americans.

MyPyramid (2005-2011)

By 2005, however, the USDA decided to give the beloved pyramid a makeover and created MyPyramid, which added the element of exercise, and peoples were less than receptive to the rebranding. While the overall message was good (fruits and vegetables should each be about as important as grains; exercise is a key component of ‘a healthier you’), the graphic came across as confusing and somewhat sloppy with its half-cartoon/half-photograph images of food heaped at the bottom like they had fallen onto the floor. Most people I know never even saw this image or perhaps simply blocked it from memory.

MyPlate (2010 to present)

In 2010, with the release of the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA launched an entirely new image with a non-pyramid campaign: MyPlate. This shift brought the dietary recommendations directly to Americans’ dinner plates and made the concept of ‘healthy eating’ more relatable.  For the first time, there was an image people could apply at each meal; where the pyramid was an abstract structure representing overall diet, the public could easily look at their plates and ask themselves: how does this compare to MyPlate?

The dietary breakdown of MyPlate matches MyPyramid but portrays the information as a clean visual: about 25% of your plate should be a protein, 25% should be grains (or a starchy vegetable), and the other 50% should be a combination of fruits and vegetables. Dairy is also shown as an add-on for meals (stuck on the side as a presumed glass of milk). Though every given meal obviously can’t fit this template, MyPlate’s greatest attribute is that it is simple to understand, making it particularly great for teaching children from a young age.

The resources that accompany MyPlate are phenomenal though perhaps not as well known. On www.choosemyplate.gov, you’ll find a hub of information like a MyPlate in-depth breakdown, printable handouts, meal plans, tip sheets, online quizzes, infographics, a BMI calculator, and more for a huge range of audiences including children, students, adults, families, professionals, and non-English speaking readers.

As a Registered Dietitian, my number one concern is always how I can best share healthy eating guidelines in a way that makes sense for patients and clients. I need to explain things in a way people can apply throughout their day without overcomplicating things and risking burnout. MyPlate does just that. While the guidelines are generalized and may need tweaking for individual needs, it’s overall a good mental image to keep yourself in check throughout the day. I highly recommend looking through the MyPlate site – and I challenge you to take the MyPlate quizzes and see how your knowledge stacks up.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Cauliflower is one of the few foods that I believe earns the term ‘super’: it’s high in vitamin C, incredibly low in calories and carbohydrates, and is part of the cancer-fighting veggie group Cassica (along with broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts — better known by the term ‘cruciferous’)

img_20180820_203508_6281132994166.jpg There’s no denying that plain riced cauliflower is visibly quite plain, and cauliflower on its own tends to taste bland — but this veg is a perfect blank canvas for bulking up recipes in a low cal, low carb way!

Although I am a long-time cauliflower lover, this was my first time experimenting with cauliflower rice, and since pork fried rice was a staple take-out food when I was growing up, I wanted to use those same savory flavors — but in a much healthier way.

 

The recipe I used is a loose one, meaning you can increase / decrease / omit / or adjust anything based on your own preferences!

 

Ingredients (Makes 2 large servings of ~1.5 cups)

  • 1 – 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp rice vinegar (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp Low Sodium soy sauce (low sodium is important- it cuts about 40% of the sodium!)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cups of riced cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1/3 cup green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (I used Minute Rice Brown Rice with Quinoa mix)
  • Optional: 1 egg
  1. Saute the onions in ~1 tsp sesame oil; sweat until translucent. Add in rice vinegar.
  2. Add your cauliflower rice. Season with low sodium soy sauce. Allow to cook together in pan until cauliflower becomes fork-tender but before it gets mushy. You may find it helpful to steam the cauliflower a bit by adding ~2 Tbsp of liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water will all work) and covering with a lid.
  3. Add peas, sauteed mushrooms, and brown rice to saute pan.  That’s all there is to it!
  4. Optional: Scramble egg and serve atop rice bowl.

If you want to get fancy, here are some other fun add-ins:

  • Chopped scallions
  • Grated ginger
  • Water chestnuts
  • Shredded carrotts
  • Broccoli florettes
  • Snap Peas
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Sesame seeds or Black sesame seeds

 

Let them eat carbs! … in the right amounts.

A new study published in The Lancet addresses one of the most pressing questions in the history of human nutrition: Are carbs okay to eat, and if so, how much can I have?!

Carbohydrates get a bad name in popular nutrition media, partly because so many of our favorite junk foods are high in processed grains and refined sugars (ice cream, cookies, white bread, donuts, chocolate, chips…) along with the inherent nature of carbohydrates to be relatively fast-fuel for our bodies — though they’re often turned to fat because we simply don’t burn them as fast as we eat them.  On the other hand, whole grains, fresh fruit, corn, peas, milk, and yogurt are all wonderful foods that are also packed with carbs. This brings us back to our burning question: can I eat carbs or not?

The study published this month explored longevity for people following low-carb or high-carb diets in comparison to moderate-carb diets where about 50-55% of calories come from carbohydrate. For a frame of reference, the currently recommended carbohydrate intake range is 45-65%, so the moderate levels falls nicely in line with this. Those who did follow the moderate-carb diets had the lowest risk of mortality compared to those who ate <40% or >70% of their calories from carbs.

This study hit all of the golden points for quality research: there was a large pool of participants (over 15,000 adults) who were followed for a long period of time (median of 25 years). Most importantly, the researchers dove a bit deeper into why a low-carb diet may be just as dangerous as a high-carb one.  When people cut out carbohydrates, something else must take its place so protein and/or fat intake increases to make up the difference. These can either come from animal sources (meat, dairy) or plant sources (nuts, seeds, whole grains). The researchers explored these two options and found that those who eat more animal-sourced protein and fats have higher mortality risks than those who choose plant-based proteins and fats instead, indicating that a plant-based diet may have protective factors.

The original article has been published as Open Access, meaning that anyone can read it – so check it out here!

Food Label Health Claims Decoded

The FDA recently approved a qualified health claim linking macadamia nuts to heart health, allowing food packaging to state:

“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces per day of macadamia nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and not resulting in increased intake of saturated fat or calories may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. See nutrition information for fat [and calorie] content.”

My first reaction was, to be honest, excitement; I love macadamia nuts and am happy to hear that they may help protect my heart.

My second instinct, however, was to pause and wonder how other consumers may react to this. While I support nuts as a source of healthy fats and a major part of my diet, I do know that there is a lot of confusion surrounding food labels and the health claims asserted on packaging. Does this mean we should eat macadamia nuts every day? Will this treat heart disease? How much evidence is there behind this?

Luckily, labels are highly regulated, and a claim like this can be easily decoded with a bit of background.

The FDA allows the food industry to use health claims — statements which relate a certain ingredient to a health condition– when there is adequate scientific evidence supporting the relationship.  Different claims may highlight levels of nutrients (‘good source of vitamin A’) with approval, or they can tie a relationship between a nutrient and the functioning of the body (like ‘calcium builds strong bones’), though the FDA does not evaluate these claims and the label must reflect that. Companies cannot say that a nutrient is meant to diagnose, treat, or a cure a disease.

The gold-standard for claims are the Authorized ones, where there is such an abundance of evidence that the FDA supports the usage of these statements with confidence. There are only a handful of these claims (the list is found here), but some of the major ones include: Calcium/vitamin D and osteoporosis, saturated fat/cholesterol and heart disease, fruits/vegetables and cancer, and sodium and hypertension.

The list of ‘qualified’ claims is far longer– these are the statements that are supported by some body of research but not quite enough to be taken as undeniable fact. The FDA allows companies to use the statements but also requires a qualifying statement saying that, while there is evidence, it is not not enough to meet the rigorous standards of the FDA’s authorized claims.

For more on Qualified Health Claims, visit the FDA’s dedicated site: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm2006877.htm