bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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You can make friends with salad

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In the wake of the hate on almonds, kale, and countless other vegetables comes the defamation of salads. And dietitians everywhere wept into their leafy greens.

Now, while the author is proclaiming that “salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition” his real points wilt down to derision for two things: lettuce and fast food salads.

The problem with lettuce is that it contains very few nutrients and uses a lot of water to grow. The problem with fast food salads is that they’re often packed with calorific ingredients like candied nuts, deep-fried croutons, and creamy dressings while containing few vitamins and minerals as they’re predominantly lettuce-based. No argument here. Let’s look a little closer at the first claim though.

Yes, lettuce is not exactly an outstanding vegetable in the land of superfoods. That doesn’t mean that we should quit it entirely. It does contain some nutrients and precisely because it contains relatively few calories it can be a great choice for anyone who’s trying to manage their weight. Four cups of romaine lettuce contains only 40 calories! For one of the very reasons that the author eschews lettuce many people choose to eat it. The water in that lettuce also contributes to your hydration; it’s not like it’s just going to waste.

Even if lettuce isn’t the greatest. That’s no reason to dismiss salads entirely. Lettuce is not an essential salad ingredient. If you want some nutrient-packed salad greens go for spinach, kale, or shredded brussels sprouts. Salads can include loads of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, everything from apples to zucchini. You can include grains, nuts, seeds, cheese, meat. The salad combinations are endless, delicious, and nutritious. Salads are so much more than just lettuce.


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Recipe: Corn and Black Bean Panzanella with Avocado Lime Dressing

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I never really post recipes anymore but I’ve been on a bit of a panzanella kick and due to demand, here’s the recipe for the one I made for supper last night.

Black Bean and Corn Panzanella with Avocado Lime Dressing

(serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

Croutons (from about four slices of bread – I baked this sweet potato bread the night before but you can use whatever type of bread you want. Rustic, crusty loaves are best)

Corn (if it’s in season, I recommend using the corn from four cobs. Otherwise, about two cups of frozen kernels)

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

Freshly ground black pepper

Cherry tomatoes (quartered)

1 can of black beans (thoroughly rinsed and drained)

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

Olive oil (about 1 tablespoon and 3 teaspoons)

1 ripe avocado

1 handful of cilantro

2 tablespoons of lime juice

1 clove of garlic

Herbamare

To make the dressing:

Combine avocado, cilantro, garlic, lime juice (to taste), dash of herbamare, and olive oil (to creamy consistency, about a tablespoon) in food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.

To make salad:

Heat large skillet over medium heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil. When heated, add your corn kernels, cumin, freshly ground pepper, and a little Herbamare and sauté until cooked. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toss together black beans, tomatoes, and red onion. Cube bread and heat another skillet over medium-low heat. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and about half the bread. Flip bread cubes until nice and toasty. Remove and place in a medium bowl. Repeat with the rest of the bread.

Add the corn to the black bean mixture, pour dressing over top and gently toss to coat.

Divide croutons and salad among bowls. Eat. Enjoy.


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Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.


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The glycemic index #realtalk

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I was disappointed to see an article by an RD extolling the virtues of consuming more low glycemic index (GI) foods. I’ve written about the GI before and how glycemic load (GL) is much more relevant when looking at the effects of a specific food on blood sugar. Even so, I don’t think that GL is all that useful (for healthy people) when making food choices in the real world. Sure, you can use it as a tool for selecting foods if you want. There’s certainly no harm in using the GI (or GL), but it’s complicated and frankly, would be a significant pain in the ass to be looking up the GI of every carbohydrate containing food on your grocery list. I mention carbohydrates because the article that prompted this post didn’t, perhaps assuming that everyone is already aware that GI is only relevant to carbohydrate containing foods. Just in case you weren’t, I don’t want anyone walking away with the impression that this is a way to push meat, fat, or a low-carb diet. Although, that would certainly make it whole heck of a lot easier; avoid carbs and thereby avoid high GI foods.

In case you couldn’t be bothered to read the older posts I linked to above. Here’s the gist of it: some high GI foods can be quite healthy (think: watermelon, baked potato, many crackers), and some low GI foods can be quite unhealthy (think: chocolate bars, corn chips, and ice cream). Should we all eat less watermelon and more chocolate bars? Probably not. The other thing about GI is that we don’t generally consume foods in isolation. So, while bread can be high on the GI it’s unusual for most of us to eat bread by itself. Usually we’d have it as part of a sandwich or toasted with peanut butter. Consuming higher GI foods with lower GI foods and fats and proteins helps to mitigate the effect on our blood sugar.

Okay, now that I’ve shat all over the GI what’s an easier way to make healthier choices? And here we go, back to the not so sexy RD style… Choose more whole foods. When choosing processed grains like breads, go for the whole grain options. Try to incorporate two foods groups when you have a snack. For example, cheese and crackers, veggies and hummus, banana and peanut butter, an apple and almonds, snack bars that contain nuts (not just oats and sugar), yoghurt and muesli, you get the idea. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated.


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Is skim milk healthier than whole milk?

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Last week Fooducate published a blog post answering (?) the question: Which is healthier for me: Skim or whole milk? Their response boiled down to “it depends”, can you afford the extra calories in whole milk or not? Which is certainly a part of the answer, but definitely not the whole (pardon the pun, you know I can’t resist) answer. So, what is the answer? Sadly, I don’t have the answer either, but I can give you a little bit more information than Fooducate did so that you can decide for yourself.

Fooducate mentions that lower fat milk options often have more sugar. This is not the case. Skim milk and whole milk both contain roughly 12 grams of sugar per cup (1, 2). When you get into chocolate milk and all of those bizarrely flavoured milks like Crispy Crunch or banana, yes, those will have more sugar than plain old white milk. This is the case regardless of fat content; it just so happens that most commercially available flavoured milks are low fat or skim. It can safely be said that white milk is better for you than chocolate. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have chocolate milk, it shouldn’t be considered a healthy dietary staple though. Treat chocolate milk like a liquid chocolate bar.

Fooducate focussed on macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. What they fail to look at is micronutrients. When comparing fortified skim and whole milk they are very similar on the vitamin and mineral front. The difference lies in the bioavailability of these nutrients. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) need fat for your body to absorb them. If you’re having a glass of milk with a meal that contains another source of fat, awesome, you’ll get those vitamins. However, if you’re eating a bowl of SpecialK for breakfast topped with skim milk then you’re not going to be getting as many nutrients out of that milk (or that fortified cereal) as you would if you used whole or 2% milk. Just because the nutrients are on the label doesn’t mean your body’s able to utilize them.

I’m not saying that everyone should go whole hog and drink milk. Heck, you don’t even need milk to have a healthy diet. The type of milk you should consume really depends on your personal preference, what else you’re consuming milk with, your overall diet, and your personal goals.