Friday, April 29, 2011

Pizza Perfect

Pizza - one of the staple foods of your average college student. Probably one of the reasons for the freshman fifteen, and definitely not the best food for you.

The average slice of cheese pizza contains 300 calories and 11 grams of fat. A good way to save on the fat is to order your pizza with part-skim cheese, which will save you up to 24g of fat per pie. When ordering, try to avoid the most destructive toppings - pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, and extra cheese.

Fun (ish?) pizza facts:

  • A standard pizza in Italy contains 500 to 800 calories
  • A medium cheese pizza from Pizza Hut has over 2,150 calories
  • About 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year, 400 million of which come from Domino's
  • Pizza is the 4th most-craved food among Americans (after cheese, chocolate, and ice cream)
  • Dipping sauces from major pizza chains can contain up to 18 grams of fat per little tub
  • You save 20 to 50 calories per slice by blotting away the excess oils - not much, but if you're eating a few slices it adds up

Try adding vegetables to your usual pizza order to get some of the nutrients your body needs. Some of the best toppings are green peppers, mushrooms, onions, roma tomatoes, pineapple, chicken, broccoli, and spinach. Also, add a packet of crushed red peppers to your pizza - the capsaicin in the pepper has been shown to stimulate metabolism. There are definitely ways to make your pizza healthier, just try to avoid eating a pie for dinner every night. Portion control is key with foods like pizza.

Good at home pizza tools:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"All Natural" ≠ All Natural

When you're shopping for groceries, you see numerous claims on packages.  One product may have a full serving of fruits and vegetables, another may be fat free, a third may be grown in the USA, and another might be "all natural."  Which one of these packages is lying to you? As you probably guessed by the post title, it is the package that says "all natural." 

Though I cannot say for certain that the product is not made from all natural ingredients, the term "all natural" is not regulated by the FDA. For example, some consider high-fructose corn syrup as all natural, because it comes from a plant. Whereas whole kernel corn is healthy, when you refine it and extract the sugars to make high-fructose corn syrup, you get a blatantly unnatural ingredient that contributes to higher rates of obesity and type-II diabetes.

Of course, it's all quite ridiculous. By some definition, anything derived from plants, animals or elements found on the planet could earn the "all natural" label. The key is in understanding that the process is unnatural, not the source. When you chemically or structurally alter food ingredients into a form that no longer appears anywhere in nature, it is no longer natural. So again, instead of believing the claims on the front of the box - check the list of ingredients. More posts on some sneaky ingredients are coming soon. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recipe Three: Margarita Chicken

Chefs love alcohol.  If you've never watched Top Chef (on Bravo TV) before, I think you are missing out big time.  I think one of my favorite quotes from the show is, "you're not cooking until you're drinking."  I was reminded of this quote earlier today, and thought I would share my first (of many to come) recipes with alcohol.

Margarita Chicken
Makes 3 servings


  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup margarita mix
  • 2/3 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chicken seasoning
  1. Place all ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag.  Squeeze out all the air and massage the bag to combine the ingredients.  Refrigerate for at least one hour (overnight is best).
  2. Preheat grill to medium.  Remove chicken from the bag and grill until cooked through.
  3. Serve hot. You can garnish with baby arugula and lime if you want.

Nutrition Information
  • 217 calories
  • 6g carbohydrates
    • 0g dietary fiber
    • 4g sugars
  • 2.5g fat
  • 20g protein
I love this recipe (and it actually tastes like a margarita!!).  It has been thoroughly tested on college students.  At one of our huge dinners for the Dean's Scholars, it was completely devoured.  More on cooking for the Dean's Scholars soon, as we have our end-of-year dinner coming up in less than 2 weeks!! Hope y'all enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kitchen Starters

Many times, people ask me how to get started cooking.  They are generally moving into an apartment for the first time, or are just making the (very healthy) shift away from only eating frozen dinners.  I have decided to compile my own list of (non-perishable) ingredients that I always keep in stock around my kitchen, and that I think everyone else should keep in theirs.

General Items
Oils - extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil
Condiments - soy sauce (low sodium), ketchup, mustard, balsamic vinegar

Herbs and Spices
Seasonings - Morton's table salt, black pepper
Herbs - oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley (all dried), bay leaves
Spices - garlic powder, ground cinnamon, mustard powder, smoked paprika

Baking and Dry Goods
Sugars - granulated sugar, brown sugar, (powdered sugar if you intend to bake a lot)
Other Sweets - honey, maple syrup, almonds or mixed nuts
Baking - whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, almond extract
Other - pasta, rice, stock cubes: vegetable, chicken, and beef

Freezer Items
Vegetables - broccoli, green beans, peas, sweet corn
Other - fruit (see previous post), shrimp

This list is just an outline of the kind of things you may want to stock up on when you start to cook more seriously.  Generally, buy what you can (not all at once), and discover what ingredients are used in the recipes you like best.  Most of these items will sit happily in your pantry or freezer for months, and having them nearby will help you get a bit more creative in the kitchen.

Let me know (comment below) if you think I missed something vital. =)

In the News: Sleep Deprivation Increases Hunger

Researchers at Columbia University in New York have observed that sleep deprived individuals consume more calories the day after than if they had a good night's sleep.  According to the study, women consume 329 more calories and men consume 269 extra.
In addition to consuming more calories, the study participants seemed to gravitate to high-fat, high-protein foods when sleep deprived, especially ice cream.

Regularly consuming an additional 300 calories per day would add up to about 30 pounds of weight gain over the course of a year, thus increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses associated with being overweight and obesity.

The first thing I thought when I read this study was, "Oh, right.  Freshman fifteen."  College students get waaaaaaaaaaay less sleep than they need.  And we realize it.  Well, most of us do.  But we choose to do nothing about it, or just take lots of naps.  Anyway, we all need to get the right amount of sleep (at least 7-8 hrs per night), or else we will feel it in more ways than one.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ingredient Highlight: Spinach

Ah, the second ingredient highlight.  I hope you've enjoyed eating all those dishes that you made with apples in the past few days...but it's now time to go out and buy the next great ingredient, spinach.  Spinach is low in calories (it's actually a negative calorie food), yet extremely rich with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.  Notably, spinach is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, and selenium. wonder spinach is called a superfood (and no wonder it was Popeye's food of choice).

Health Benefits: Spinach helps to combat or prevent

  • Increased carbohydrate and fat metabolism
  • May reduce hunger and food intake
  • Acidosis
  • Anemia
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Bleeding gums
  • Breast, cervical, prostate, stomach, and skin cancers
  • Migraines
  • Colitis
  • Poor digestion
  • Stomach Ulcers
  • Macular degeneration
  • Night blindness
  • Development of cataracts
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis

Peak Season: March to May

How to Pick: Go for bunches that are green and crisp with no spots or yellowing.  Thin stems are better as thicker stems are a sign of bitterness.  Make sure to clean spinach thoroughly before eating it, as spinach tends to collect sand, soil, and pesticides.

Cooked or Raw?
Spinach can be great on salads (as a main type of lettuce, or even part of a leafy green lettuce mix), or sautéed and put into many different dishes.  Personally, I like to add sauteed spinach to my pasta sauces to give them an extra health kick.  To me, spinach is one of the few foods that tastes great cooked or raw...but which is better for you?  In short, both, and here's why.
  • Cooked - cooking releases beta-carotene and lutein, and it also neutralizes oxalic acid or oxalate, a compound that inhibits the absorption of both calcium and iron.  Therefore, don’t reuse the cooking water from spinach.  It’s recommended that you boil spinach quickly – just for a minute!
  • Raw - vitamin C and folate are heat-sensitive, so have spinach on a salad to get the most of these nutrients
As per my earlier post, spinach does lose nutrients, even when refrigerated well.  Use spinach as soon as possible, because after eight days, most of the nutrients are gone.  And that's not eight days from when you bought it - it's eight days from when it was harvested.  Just remember to eat your

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Breakfast On-The-Go

I personally don't have tons of time in the morning to eat a full, balanced breakfast like I should. Having an entire bowl of cereal, a piece of fruit, and orange juice takes quite a bit of time - and I know we are all on the go all the time.  This prompts the question, can I eat a healthy breakfast on the go?  The answer, quite simply, is yes.  However, there are many pitfalls in the breakfast on the go route.

Fruit - Just having a simple apple or banana before school or work will give you many of the nutrients you need to start your day off right.  You might miss your morning dose of protein, but overall you're doing okay.

Carnation Instant Breakfast - All you have to do is add the powder to a glass of milk, stir, and drink.  This packet of "No Sugar Added Rich Milk Chocolate" added to 8 ounces of skim milk will only run you 150 calories, give you one-quarter of your daily protein, just half a gram of fat, and no saturated fat.

Bar Food - No, not chicken wings or a hamburger and fries, I'm talking about cereal bars, energy bars, and protein bars.  These are easy to prepare (just tear it open), easy to eat with one hand, and don't make a big mess.  There are dozens of varieties of these types of bars, so buyer beware.  Read the nutrion information on the package - make sure your bar is not so high in fat or sugar that you are essentially eating a candy bar.  Try to buy a product with less than 15 grams of sugar per bar (unless you're going to double up).  Also, if the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup (essentially high-sugar sugar) then put the package back on the shelf.  Anything with a lot of fiber, grains, and fruit (real fruit, not fake sugary fruit) will help start your day off right.  If you're overwhelmed and don't know where to start, then check out Fiber One, Kashi, and Nature Valley at your local store.

Arguably we can't eat the healthiest foods all the time, but we can try to pick up something that helps pick us up in the morning.

P.S. If you want to pick something up on the road, here's a list of the best fast-food breakfasts out there. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In the News: Cereal Helps Prevent Hypertension

According to a report my the American Heart Association (AHA), having a bowl of cereal each morning could cut your risk of hypertension by up to 20%.  They added that whole grain varieties of cereal were much healthier and reduced hypertension risk more than non-whole grain varieties.
"Compared with men who never ate cereal, those who averaged one serving per week had a 7% lower risk of hypertension. Those who consumed cereal more frequently had even greater reductions in risk: Two to six weekly servings were associated with an 11% lower risk, and one or more servings per day were associated with a 19% lower risk." (
About 1 in 3 adults in the United States has hypertension, a major risk factor for kidney problems, heart attacks, and strokes. The AHA estimates that hypertension costs the country an estimated $90 billion in health-care and other costs each year.

Recipe Two: Snazzy Chicken Salad

We have made this chicken salad every year for one of the big events (usually about 100 people attending) for one of my groups at school.  Even with an entire kitchen completely covered in a myriad of foods, this chicken salad is the first bowl to run dry.  Normally, I wouldn't think of chicken salad as a health food (mostly due to all the mayonnaise), but there are ways to spice it up and make it better for you and your gut.

Chicken Salad
Makes 6 servings


  • 3 cups pulled chicken
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup halved green grapes
  • 1/2 cup halved red grapes
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (prefer light)
  1. Combine all ingredients except the mayonnaise in a large mixing bowl.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
  2. Mix mayonnaise into the chicken salad, then eat up!

Nutrition Information:
  • 238 calories
  • 8g carbohydrates
    • 2g dietary fiber
    • 3g sugars
  • 13g fat
  • 25g protein
To lower the fat content of the chicken salad, try substituting Greek yogurt or whipped cream for a portion of the mayonnaise.  The celery, grapes, and almonds add vital vitamins to the chicken salad, including vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids.  You can even play with the chicken to fruits and vegetables ratio to make this chicken salad even healthier, or just throw in some shredded carrots or alfalfa sprouts to enhance the nutritional benefits.  Try serving the chicken salad over a bed of spinach or leafy greens instead of on bread or a bagel.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Popcorn...A Health Food?

True? Yes. Surprising? Probably so.

Although, if you think about the base ingredient in popcorn - whole corn kernels.  This means that popcorn is a whole grain product (and I'm very surprised the marketing teams haven't caught onto this yet).  Popcorn actually contains a whole load of fiber that is good for you, but also high levels of polyphenols (an antioxidant).  Because of these antioxidants, popcorn has been linked to lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Okay, okay so now that I know popcorn is good for me, can I go out and buy some at my local grocery store? Not yet.  As you may have guessed by now, the heaps of oil and butter on top of popcorn tend to limit or even overpower popcorn's benefits.  Eating fiber along with dozens of grams of fats and trans fats isn't going to get you ready for swimsuit season.  The best way to prepare popcorn is to air-pop it (Presto 114316 04820 PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper), but if you must buy microwave popcorn, get a naked or lightly salted variety (definitely don't go for the ultra-super-butter-explosion types).  Also, keep the portion size down - share a bag with a friend, or buy the 100 calorie bags if you plan to snack alone.

In short, popcorn is not only a healthier snack than most chips or crackers with refined flour, but helps to curb food cravings - just don't slather it with butter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frozen IS Fresher

The freezer section of the grocery store can be a scary place for nutrition freaks (I know I'm intimidated by aisles and aisles of freezers towering over me).  However, you need not skip the freezer aisles while shopping to ensure a healthier lifestyle.  Quite the opposite actually.

Fresher ≠ Healthier
Frozen foods are not only cheaper, but sometimes healthier than fresh foods - especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  According to a 1998 study by the FDA, frozen fruits and vegetables have the same health benefits as fresh fruits and vegetables.  However, this doesn't give you the full picture.  Certain vegetables like spinach and green beans lose 75% of their vitamin C after being stored in the refrigerator for a week.  Ready-to-drink orange juice has less than half the vitamin C of frozen OJ and loses all of its vitamin C within a month of opening the container.  
Additionally, food producers pick produce for the produce aisle before it is ripe and let it ripen on the very long (perhaps over 1,000 mile) journey to your local supermarket.  On the other hand, produce meant to be frozen is picked at its peak ripeness - this means it has soaked up all the possible nutrients from the soil and sun.

Frozen Produce is Better for the Environment
Unlike "fresh" fruits and vegetables that have to be grown in hot houses and tropical climates and shipped to your local grocery store out of season, frozen produce can be picked at peak ripeness (and in the correct growing season) and then stored.  Since the freezing process allows fruits and vegetables to be stored almost indefinitely without losing their nutrients, frozen is the way to go.

Frozen Produce Tips
  • Always keep a full freezer - cooling air requires more energy than cooling food, so save money on electricity by buying more frozen items
  • Steam or microwave your frozen vegetables - they can lose up to 50% of their nutrients when boiled
  • Buy frozen blueberries whenever you can find them, as they are far more nutritious than the fresh variety
  • If you buy frozen dinners, spice them up with a frozen vegetable medley

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ingredient Highlight: Apple

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away"

How many times have we heard this phrase in our lifetimes? Do apples really deserve this much praise, or is it just a way for parents to get their children to eat fruit?  Well the answer is simple: apples are good for you, and (red) delicious.

Since this is the first ingredient highlight, I'm not really sure what people want to hear, so I'm just going to have a few different sections - let me know what you like or don't like so I can adjust for future ingredient highlights.

First, a little bit of background.  There are over 7,500 different varieties of apples grown worldwide, about a third of which are grown in the United States.  Charred apples have been found in prehistoric caves in Switzerland, and the apple was the favorite fruit of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Apples have a number of health benefits, even though they are lower in vitamin C than most other fruits and vegetables.  Some of the most notable benefits are:

  • Prevention of dementia
  • Increase in bone density
  • Decreased levels of bad cholesterol (LDL)
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Prevention of breast, colon, liver, lung, and prostate cancers

Apples are a great source of fiber (about 5g per apple).  In fact, two-thirds of the fiber and lots of antioxidants are found in the peel.  So DON'T peel your apples.  However, I would personally suggest that you buy certified organic apples (really you should buy organic for any fruit or vegetable where you eat the skin).  Why buy organic?  Well, in the case of apples, many apples have commercial grade wax applied after harvesting and cleaning.  Did you really think your apples were that shiny all on their own?  Not only is eating wax a tad disgusting, but the wax coating actually traps pesticides used when growing the apples.  In fact, apples are one of the top twelve pesticide containing foods.  So I'll reiterate: buy organic.

Wax scraped from a commercially sold apple

Peak Season: September to May
Tip: Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they are refrigerated
Apple Gadgets: (Yes, I know I really love my gadgets)

Not only are apples great to eat as an afternoon snack, they are a wonderful ingredient for all types of recipes (read: APPLE PIE).  Okay, okay, you can make some healthy foods with apples.  You can cook up anything from caramelized apple-onion soup to apple curry chicken to ginger apple stir fry, and let's not forget apple pie!

Recipe One: Baked Trout with Homemade Potato Chips

This is probably one of the easiest (and healthiest) meals to make at home.  I am going to break the recipe into two parts - the trout and the potato chips.  Nutrition information is provided for both parts, and is calculated per serving.

Kitchen gadgets you might find useful for this recipe:

Makes 3 servings

  • 1 lb. Steelhead trout
  • 1 tbsp. Olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. Lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350º
  2. Place uncooked trout in a baking dish (I use aluminum foil to reduce mess later)
  3. Mix olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, and lemon juice in a small bowl
  4. Using a pastry brush (a spoon works too), evenly spread the seasoning mixture onto the fish
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until fish is cooked through
Nutrition Information:
  • 155 calories
  • 2g carbohydrates
    • 0g dietary fiber
    • 0g sugars
  • 8g fat
  • 19g protein
Trout is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat for humans linked to a reduction in cancer cases, cardiovascular disease, psychotic disorders, and an increase in immune function. 

Potato Chips
Makes 3 servings

Good-quality Red Potatoes will be firm, smooth-skinned and have bright-red coloring. They should have few eyes, and those few eyes should be shallow.

  • 3 Medium sized red potatoes
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Olive Oil Spray
  1. Preheat oven to 350º
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with olive oil spray
  3. Sprinkle 1 tsp. salt over the empty baking sheet
  4. Using a mandoline (knives also work, but cutting even slices is tricky), slice potatoes into 1/8" slices and place these onto the baking sheet
  5. Spray potatoes on sheet with olive oil spray and sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. of salt
  6. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes start to crisp
Nutrition Information:
  • 267 calories
  • 59g carbohydrates
    • 5g dietary fiber
    • 4g sugars
  • 0g fat
  • 7g protein
Red potato tips and tricks:
  • Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator. Refrigeration converts the starch in potatoes to sugar which will cause the potato to darken when cooked.
  • Prolonged exposure to light causes greening and makes the potato taste bitter. Store potatoes in a dark place and peel or pare green area from the potato before using.
  • Red potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

0g Trans Fat? Guess Again.

Labels LIE!! Perhaps a theme that will continue to arise in my posts as I move forward.  Just because the nutrition information on a food package says '0g Trans Fat' does not mean that there is NO trans fat.

Counter intuitive? I think so.

The FDA allows for the claim of zero grams of trans fat as long as the product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.  This means you are probably still eating trans fat.

How can I tell if my food has trans fat if the labels are lying to me?
 Surprisingly, it's pretty simple.  Just check the ingredients list - you know, the one in size 4 font under the nutritional information.  If you see the phrase 'partially hydrogenated,'  then the product contains trans fat.

Why is trans fat bad? First, trans fats are non-essential and provide no benefit to humans through consumption.  Second, trans fats actually raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL) while lowering good cholesterol levels (HDL), thus increasing risk of heart disease.  Other effects of trans fat include increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction, infertility (in women), and depression.

Although I don't think it's necessary to stop buying products with partially hydrogenated ingredients, I do believe everyone should have the facts, and know that according to the FDA, one half gram equals zero grams.

Worried about your cholesterol levels? Check out:
10 Ways to Lower Your Cholestrol in just 5 Days
cholesterol: 51 Ways To Fight High Cholesterol

Multigrain vs. Whole grain

Fact: Multigrain is NOT the same as whole grain

Whole grain means that the entire grain kernel (bran, endosperm, and germ) is used, which means these foods contain nutrients
Multigrain foods can use highly processed versions of at least two different grains, but may not provide any nutritional benefit

When shopping, look for terms like "whole grain", "whole wheat," and "whole oats." When in doubt, examine the ingredients list.

Why eat whole grains? Because they can prevent things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.

F1rst Pl0st

As you may be able to tell from the title of this post, I am no regular food junkie.  I am actually a software engineer, who happens to love just about anything related to food or cooking.  I hope to use this blog to inform the general public about things I have learned about food (usually the hard way) and to give tips and tricks on how to eat healthier.