Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

Pumpkin seeds have recently gained a little notoriety in the health food industry.  I used to eat them all the time when we lived in California.  Even local chain restaurants there used to have this on their salads on a regular basis.  When I moved back to NY, it seemed as though no one had ever heard of them (which I found very unfortunate), especially by the name "pepitas."  Truth is though, these fun little seeds pack a ton of nutrition, they are crunchy, portable and very versatile.

Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas) - this brand is sprouted

Pumpkin Seed (Pepita) Facts:
  • These little seeds were used back in the times of the Aztecs in Latin America.
  • They have been and are still used in making certain Mexican "mole" recipes.
  • The term "pepita" typically refers to roasted and salted seeds.  
  • Pepitas have their white outer shells removed (they are "hulled").
  • In one little ounce (about 2 Tablespoons) they have 7 GRAMS OF PROTEIN!!! That will help stabilize your blood sugar & give you energy!
  • High in Mononsaturated fatty acids and Omega 3's & Omega 6's - those are the fatty acids that are "good," raising your HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • They contain an incredible level of iron!
  • They have a high level of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, niacin and zinc (zinc specifically helps with bone density), among others.
  • They are high in a lot of the B-Vitamins, Vitamin E (lipid-soluble antioxidant) and Vitamin K.
  • They have beta-carotene, which can be converted to Vitamin A in the body.
  • They are high in leutein (which you have heard helps to protect the eyes).
  • They are high in fiber.
  • It is thought (although not scientifically proven yet) that these little seeds have anti-inflammatory properties - they are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • They are thought to aid in prostate health, help protect the liver and help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • They are relatively inexpensive and can be found in the health food section of most larger grocery stores, at health food stores and can even be found in the bulk food section at some stores.

Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds (this brand is LivingIntentions)
What Are Sprouted Seeds?
  • A lot of nuts and seeds contain a compound called phytate (an enzyme), which stops the seeds from sprouting too early.  This also makes them difficult to digest.
  • When seeds are soaked, they release this phytate enzyme that tells the seed it is ok to germinate.
  • This process helps release nutrients and flavor compounds.
  • When soaking, the seeds are also salted, which helps the enzyme process work correctly.
  • Once soaked for a few hours, they are then dried in a food dehydrator (under a certain temperature as to not damage the enzymes from heat).
  • Your body can now absorb the nutrients, vitamins and minerals more readily, it can digest them easier and they taste phenominal!!!

Want To Make Your Own Sprouted Seeds?
  • Purchase raw pumpkin seeds (shelled) - they should be green in color
  • They should be un-roasted.
  • Soak in salted water for about 6-8 hours.  *I tend to go conservative on the amount of salt when I make foods myself.
  • Drain thoroughly on paper towels.
  • Place in food dehydrator and let dry completely.
Applications for Pumpkin Seeds/Pepitas Sprouted or Non-Sprouted:
  • Can be added to salads for a nice & crunchy note.
  • Can be ground up and made into a "seed butter" much like sesame seed paste (tahini) - which is similar to nut butters such as peanut butter or almond butter.
  • Add it to trail mix for a boost of protein/nutrition.
  • Add it to your meatloaf or any mixed item for added texture and nutrition.
  • Add to turkey stuffing.
  • Wonderful addition to smoothies or juices.
  • Eat a handful plain as a snack.
  • Add to items like potato salads for an added crunch & color.
  • Crush them and use as part of a "breading" for chicken or fish.
  • Use them as the nut component when making your own pesto.
  • Add to cookies, cakes, scones, muffins, or anything else that may have the addition of nuts and/or seeds.

Nutrition Facts for Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds:
Serving Size: 1 oz (28g)

Calories: 148
Total Fat: 13g
    Saturated Fat: 2g
    Trans Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 234mg
Total Carbohydrates: 5g
    Dietary Fiber: 1g
    Sugars: 0g
Protein: 7g

Vitamin A: 2%
Vitamin C: 1%
Calcium: 1%
Iron: 23%
(based on a 2,000 calorie diet)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Make-Ahead Zucchini & Summer Squash

If I had to pick my absolute favorite vegetables of all-time, it would have to be zucchini & summer squash, hands down.  Although their plants tend to take over our entire mini garden, I think this year we will try to make room for more.

I make this recipe every few weeks or so, portion it into small bags and freeze it.  It is very similar to my Make-Ahead Spinach recipe http://thenutritionchef.blogspot.com/2013/02/quick-healthy-cook-ahead-spinach.html. When I am ready to throw together my lunch in the morning before I go to work, I grab a bag of these - and I know I'm getting better nutrition this way.

Raw Zucchini

Raw Summer Squash

Make-Ahead Zucchini & Summer Squash
Yields: About 8-10 cups

4 medium-large zucchini, washed thoroughly, skins left on
4 medium-large summer squash, washed thoroughly, skins left on
2 cups water or vegetable stock, or as needed
1 Tbsp. sea salt, or as desired

Heat the water (or vegetable stock) in a very large pot.  Slice the zucchini and summer squash into coins about 1/4-inch thick.  Add coins to the pot and add salt to taste.  Let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Pink Himalayan Sea Salt
Before Cooking

When vegetables start to soften and turn color, use a chopping or mashing device to cut up/mash the pieces (I use the Pampered Chef chopper - and let me tell you - that is my new favorite kitchen staple!).  Keep chopping until desired consistency is reached.  

Pampered Chef Chopper
Once Squash Starts to Cook Down - Chop

Let vegetables simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until they are completely cooked through.  Drain in a colander.  Let cool completely.  Portion into small bags and freeze.  Portions can be held in the freezer for up to 3 months (if they last that long - not in my house lol).

Drain In Colander
Freeze Portioned Bags
Portion If Desired

Quick, Easy & CLEAN, Healthy Lunch! (Chicken & Zucchini & Summer Squash)

Interesting & Helpful Facts:
  • You will get a lot of nutrition from the skins themselves.  Simply wash off any dirt and any of the tiny fibers on the outside of the skin before slicing.
  • Both of the squashes belong to the gourd Cucurbitaceae family.
  • Crookneck squashes have a bent neck and a bumpy wart-like skin - which are much tougher than the traditional varieties used here in the US.
  • Zucchini is high in antioxidants such as carotene, leutein and zea-xanthin.
  • They are high in Vitamins A, C and some B-complexes.
  • They pack minerals such as potassium - which helps regulate blood sodium levels.
  • They have a decent level of iron, manganese, phosphorous and zinc.
  • Although these veggies are not the best in their anti-oxidant group, they are used a lot when prescribing diets because you can get a lot of volume and a very small amount of calories - hence you feel fuller with fewer calories!

Uses for Zucchini & Summer Squash:
  • Can be sliced raw & put on salads.
  • Seed it and use as an appetizer "boat" with cheeses or dip.
  • Can be cut into sticks and used as a part of a vegetable tray.
  • Dice it and cook it up in spaghetti sauce to add texture and flavor.
  • Dice it up and use it as a bulking agent or the primary ingredient in turkey or chicken stuffing.
  • Toss lightly with olive oil, fresh herbs (such as rosemary and thyme) and grill....yum!!! (I like to add goat cheese or herbed feta cheese to my grilled veggies)
  • Can be used as the "noodles" in lasagna by slicing them lengthwise.
  • Can be shredded into spaghetti-like noodles (I use a 5 opening orange zester for this) and actually substituted for real noodles (which makes them a fantastic gluten free option!).
  • Makes a great ingredient for a stir fry.
Nutrition Facts for 1 cup Zucchini & Summer Squash Cooked:

Calories: 38   Carbs: 10g   Fat: 0g   Protein: 2g   Sugar: 4g

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Health Benefits of Goji Berries

Goji Berries are one of the new-found "superfruits" in our area of the world.  Although they have been around for thousands of years, they most recently have gained notoriety in our area for their incredible nutrient density.  

Organic Goji Berries

 What is a "Superfruit?":  
  • A superfruit is a fruit that is nutritionally dense in many ways, usually containing a high level of vitamins and/or minerals, protein and a high level of antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, E) that help to fight the free radicals in your body that are thought to cause harm to your tissues, organs and other bodily systems.
 So What Exactly is a Goji Berry?  
  • It is a berry that grows on shrubs (Lycium barbarum) that are usually found in the Himalayas and other sub-tropical regions such as the Mongolian region of China.  
  • It is part of the nightshade family (so be advised if you cannot consume nightshade plants). 
  • They are raw and vegan.
  • They are usually sun-dried or factory dried at low temperatures to preserve as many nutrients as possible.
  • These little berries have been used for thousands of years in ancient Chinese medicine to treat various ailments.  
1 Pound Bag of Goji Berries

Nutrition Facts: 
1 ounce of Goji Berries contains: 

Calories: 100
Fat: 0g
Trans Fat: 0g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 75mg
Carbogydrates: 21g
Fiber: 3g
Sugar: 13g
Protein: 4g

Vitamin A: 140%
Vitamin C: 20%
Calcium: 4%
Iron: 10%
(based on a 2,000 calorie diet)

What Are the Health Benefits of Goji Berries?:
  • They are high in antioxidants, specifically the carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and zeaxanthin (compound that absorbs blue light and helps protect the eyes).
  • The antioxidants in the berries are thought to help fight off free radicals in the body.
  • Goji Berries have about 20 different vitamins and minerals, making it one of the most nutritionally beneficial foods available.
  • They have 18 different amino acids (the building blocks to protein).
  • They have been used for many years in teas, juices and tinctures to treat ailments (although these are just assumptions and not based on clinical trials - at least not yet!)  The FDA has NOT approved the consumption of these berries to treat any disease or ailment.

What Are Free Radicals?:
  • Free radicals happen when a bonded weak molecule splits. 
  • Free radicals are very unstable and react with anything and everything to try to gain their electron back.  
  • They will attack a nearby molecule and steal its electron, thus making THAT molecule a free radical now.  
  • You can just about imagine the chain of damage that wreaks havoc on the body when processes like these take place in the body.  
  • This is a snowball reaction that will eventually lead to damaged cells and systems in the body.  
  • Although not all free radicals are bad (some exist to actually fight off and neutralize diseases), the majority of external factors are not beneficial such as cigarette smoke, pollution, radiation, etc.  
  • It is thought that antioxidants protect the body from these free radicals wreaking havoc.  Think of antioxidants as the "police" that capture the "burglar."
  • The antioxidants act like a cleanup crew of sorts to pick up these free radicals and dispose of them before they start their chain reaction.

What does a Goji Berry Taste Like?:
  • The flavor of a Goji Berry is slightly sweet and slightly tart with a bit of bitterness and dryness at the end.
  • It tastes very similar to a raisin, although it does have bitter finishing notes.
  • It has a texture very similar to raisins - although they almost remind me of stale raisins that have been left open exposed to the air for too long (it has an almost crunchy outside skin).
  • The shape reminds me an awful lot of cardamon pods (frequently used in Indian cuisine).
  • When chewed, the berries break down and turn everything orange (that's how much beta-carotene is in them!).

How Can Goji Berries Be Consumed?:
  • You can eat a small handful of them plain.
  • Add them to yogurt or Greek yogurt for an added boost of nutrition.
  • Add them as a nutritional boost in your smoothies.
  • Mix them with your homemade granola and/or trailmix.
  • Sprinkle on your oatmeal for breakfast.
  • Add to muffins, baked goods, pancake batter, waffle batter, cookies or anything that would have the addition of something like a raisin.
  • Try not to consume an awful lot of these.  Just because something is thought to be "good" for you doesn't mean you want to eat a ton of it.  Just like any food, moderation is key.

Where Can I Purchase Goji Berries and Are They Expensive:?
  • You can find them in most health food stores or higher end grocery stores with a natural foods section.  They are next to the dried fruits (usually).
  • You can purchase them online at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Navitas-Naturals-Berries-16-Ounce-Pouches/dp/B000FFLHSY or simply by doing a Google search.  Navitas Naturals is the brand that I purchased.
  • Goji Berries are not cheap by any means.  Although they are not the most expensive health food I have purchased, they run in my area for about $18.00 for a 1 pound bag.  Seems like a lot of money, but trust me, 1 pound of Gogi Berries goes an awful long way.

Now do you see why this is such an incredible fruit?! Even if nothing has been officially determined by the FDA, I go with my gut.  I know through my extensive nutrition training that fruits and vegetables are wonderful additions to your diet.  If you add one more that is high in vitamins and minerals, you are just reaping those benefits.  Plus, they taste pretty good too!  If you are a little leery of trying these, shop around at your local health food store and ask if you can try a sample.  They are not very cheap, so it may help to try them first.

I recently gave these to my kids for the first time over the weekend.  My toddler absolutely loved them and called them "way-zinz" (raisins) lol.  My older son said they were "ok" but he would rather put them in something like Greek yogurt.

Good luck in all your health food quests.  I am continually discovering and tasting new foods that are thought to be healthy and I can't wait to share my new discoveries with you! ~Cathy

NOTE: Please consult your doctor before starting any new food as a part of your diet.  This fruit has been known to interact with blood thinners, so please do your background research before starting these as a part of your daily regime. The FDA has NOT approved this to treat any medical conditions and this post is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

One of my absolute favorite vegetables of all-time is spaghetti squash.  It is mild, yet slightly creamy and a little al dente at the same time.  It isn't as strong as a hubbard, butternut or acorn squash (it is more light and nutty) and has the most fascinating fibers that look just like noodles!

My young kids absolutely love this veggie right along with me.  If I put a little butter and "sprinkle cheese" (aka Parmesan cheese) on it, they go nuts - because it tastes like macaroni and cheese to them.

Spaghetti Squash

  • Spaghetti squash is high in Vitamin C and also has Vitamin A, B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) and Vitamin K.  
  • It also contains a fairly high amount of manganese, a mineral that aids in bone and tissue health, metabolism, blood sugar, absorption of calcium and nervous system functions.  It also has calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, iron and selenium, all of which are critical in our diets.
  • Spaghetti squash also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids!  Those fats are good for preventing diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, inflammation, amongst many other things.
  • One cup of cooked spaghetti squash only has 42 calories (if you do not add oil), which makes it a perfect alternative to starchy potatoes or regular pasta.  It has a fair amount of fiber, which helps make you feel fuller longer and let's face it - the texture is pretty darn cool too!

Spaghetti Squash - Ready To Eat!

Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Yields: About 6-8 cups (depending on the size of the squash)

2 medium-large sized Spaghetti Squash
Olive Oil (not extra-virgin) or Grapeseed Oil, as needed
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut each spaghetti squash in half (or quarter them if they are very large).  Be very careful when cutting spaghetti squash as it tends to have a very thick outside skin.  Make sure to use a very sharp knife or a heavy duty serrated bread knife if all else fails.  Scrape seeds out of the squash.  **You may save the seeds and bake later if desired.

Bake at 350 Degrees F
Spaghetti-Like Fibers - Raw
Halved Spaghetti Squash

Line a baking tray with foil.  Place split spaghetti squash on the foil, cut side up.  Drizzle each half with oil and sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  You may also add fresh minced garlic or any herb of your choice at this point.

Seal Tightly With Foil
Drizzle with Oil, Salt & Pepper
Cover squash and entire baking tray tightly with foil.  **I buy the large industrial foil rolls at my local wholesale club, as it tends to not rip easily and is large enough to wrap around my baking sheets.

Bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the squash.  Check every 30 minutes or so.  Be careful when checking the squash as the steam will be very hot when removing the foil.

The squash will be done when you can run a fork into the flesh and it easily pulls away from the side of the shell.  If it is still hard or your fork does not easily pierce the flesh, cover with foil and continue baking.

Run Fork Through Roasted Flesh
Finished Product
When squash has finished baking, remove from oven, remove foil and let cool slightly.  Using a fork, run the tines down the side of the flesh - creating the spaghetti-like strands.  Serve immediately, refrigerate or portion into bags and freeze.

Alternate Recipes:
  • Once cooked, sprinkle with goat cheese and fresh (or dried) herbs such as dill, thyme or rosemary.  This adds a creamy, earthy note to this fabulous veggie.  
  • Sprinkle with feta cheese, sliced kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil and oregano to make a Mediterranean version of this side dish.
  • Sprinkle with goat cheese, toasted sliced or slivered almonds and dried cranberries (without added sugar). Yum!
  • You may also steam or boil the spaghetti squash, however, I prefer the taste of roasted.  It helps the natural sugars caramelize, leaving a slightly sweeter product.  Boiling will leach out a lot of the nutrients.
  • To help bring out more of a full-flavored roasted taste, remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of baking.  This will deepen the color and caramelize the sugars more thoroughly, giving a sweet and nutty roasted taste. 

**Why use sea salt when cooking? Sea salt is all natural, derived from the ocean and does not have any additives.  Table salt can have up to 2.5% chemicals, including aluminum! Aluminum in recent studies has been one of the items found in the brains of patients with Alzheimers. 

**To bake spaghetti squash seeds (or pumpkin seeds):  Rinse thoroughly in cold water.  Let drain.  Sprinkle with sea salt and toss together.  On a pan sprayed, foil-lined baking tray, spread seeds out in one flat layer.  Bake in a 300 degrees F oven for about 45 minutes or until seeds start to lightly brown, feel drier and lighter.

Nutrition Facts:
1 cup roasted spaghetti squash with about 1/2 tsp. oil per serving

Calories: 62   Carbs: 10g   Fat: 2g   Protein: 1g  Sugar: 3g

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kitchen Tips - The Pot That Never Boils Over

How many times have you started cooking noodles or anything in boiling water, walked away, then only moments later hear the sizzling sound of a pot boiling over?  You rush over to find that it is too late and you have one big mess to clean up. Ugh!

The Solution (and I do this EVERY time):

When you boil anything in water, place a wooden spoon on top of the pot.  When the starches from the food start to build up and rise to the top, they will start to go back down again once they hit the wooden spoon!

Wooden Spoon Prevents Pot From Boiling Over!

How & Why This Works:

When starches start to build up and form bubbles, they tend to stick together and form larger bubbles.  The steam builds up inside of these bubbles and they keep expanding.  If there is an object in the way, the bubbles have an obstacle.  Some of the bubbles are popped simply by touching the spoon and the rest are forced to create smaller bubbles (because the spoon is in the way), thus leaving a pot that never boils over!

After the pot comes to a boil and looks like it will boil over, after about 2-3 minutes of touching the spoon, the bubbles will start to dissipate. 

Try it!  I never believed it until I actually tried it.  Now every time I want to cook noodles for my kids, you bet that wooden spoon is on top of the pot.

Pot After 2-3 Minutes of Cooking - Bubbles Dissipate