Monday, May 30, 2011

Blueberries...Real or Fake?

If you like eating cereals, muffins, or other snacks with blueberries inside, get ready to have your world rocked.  Most likely, those are not real blueberries, but blueberry 'crunchlets', 'blueberry bits', or 'artificially flavored blueberry bits'. What does this mean? It means that you are not getting the antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber provided by the actual fruit. Instead you are eating 'sugar, artificial dyes, and soybean oil.'

The problem with these blueberry-flavored things is that they almost always contain oil or hydrogenated oils, increasing the fat and trans fat content, which actually detracts from the health value of the product.

I really can't say it better than this video from NaturalNews:

Just thought you all should know.  Buyer beware.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recipe Four: Turkey Meatballs and Sauce

Here's a healthier (turkey) meatball option for when you cook, with a delicious homemade sauce to go along with it.

Turkey Meatballs
Makes 6 servings


  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 16 oz can whole cut tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Small can sliced black olives

  1. Mix turkey, parmesan, egg, basil, breadcrumbs, parsley, and oregano in a bowl
  2. Form into 1 - 2 inch meatballs and sautée in large skillet until no longer pink in center
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the meatballs in a large pot
  4. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes
  5. Salt and pepper to taste, serve over hot pasta
Nutrition Information
  • 213 calories
  • 16 g carbohydrates
    • 2 g dietary fiber
    • 4 g sugar
  • 5 g fat
  • 25 g protein
This is such an easy recipe to make, and once you are done forming the meatballs, you basically just let them sit and cook - very little attention required. Bon appétit! 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grill Safely

There is a small cancer risk associated with grilling meat since carcinogens are created during the grilling process, however vegetables (even when they char) do not produce carcinogens. Taking a few precautions while barbecuing minimizes the health risks without sacrificing that delicious charcoal taste. 

Grilling protein-filled foods such as meats and fish creates two kinds of chemical compounds that may contribute to cancer: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs form when meat is cooked at a high temperature. While frying and broiling produce these chemicals as well, the charred bits at the edges of barbecued meat contain HCAs in their purest state. PAHs form when juices from meat drip onto coals or other hot surfaces and create smoke. The smoke contains these carcinogens, which are deposited onto the surface of meat as it swirls around the food on the grill. 

To cut down on the amount of carcinogens produced, you can microwave meat 60-90 seconds to reduce the amount of time needed to grill it. You can also cut off the charred parts of the meat which means you won't ingest the purest HCA's contained there. Certain recipes can also make grilling safer; vinegar or lemon marinades act as a shield to prevent PAH's from sticking to the meat. Instead of grilling meat, try grilling some vegetables like squash and asparagus, or fruits like pineapple.

Though grilling is not the greatest cancer risk, we should still take precautions to reduce known risk.  I hope everyone has a great summer grilling season! (I sure have some new recipes ready to go.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Range at Harrah's, Las Vegas

This is the first, and will probably be the most fancy (at least for a long while) restaurant review on my blog. While in Las Vegas this past week, we decided to splurge and eat at The Range steakhouse at Harrah's hotel and casino. Let me tell you, it was amazing.

I have a feeling that the pictures of the food will speak for themselves, but let me tell you a little about the experience. After ascending an elevator into the restaurant, we look out onto a beautiful view of the Las Vegas Strip at night.  The service was fantastic, our waiter (actually from Texas, awesome) was extremely attentive and made sure that we were well taken care of.  But enough of that, onto the foooooood:

Assortment of breadsticks

Surf and Turf (6 oz filet with a 4 oz lobster medallion, accompanied by spinach and potatoes)

10 oz filet mignon, topped with a caramelized onion. You can see also the heaping mound
of delicious grilled asparagus we ordered as a side dish.
And Tiramisu for dessert. Yum.

I would highly recommend The Range if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas and hungry for a delicious meal.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Nuts About Peanut Butter

Many of us looooove peanut butter - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter on bananas, Reese's peanut butter cups, and the list goes on and on. But nowadays how do we know which peanut butter is the best for us, with all of the different brands, varieties, and marketing schemes?

Walking through the grocery store, there is a huge section in one of the aisles devoted to peanut butter.  I kind of find this ridiculous, since you only need two ingredients to make it: peanuts and salt.  Though, I don't think any of the jarred peanut butters have only two ingredients. Personally, I like Jif, so I am going to use their products here for comparison, but other brands like Skippy could be compared in pretty much equivalent ways.


  • Regular Jif - Roasted peanuts and sugar, contains less than 2% of molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono- and diglycerides, salt
  • Reduced Fat Jif - Peanuts, corn syrup solids, soy protein, sugar, contains less than 2% of molasses, salt, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, folic acid, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, alphatocopheryl acetate, copper sulfate, ferric orthophosphate, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide (whew!)
  • Simply Jif - Roasted peanuts, contains less than 2% of fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, mono- and diglycerides, molasses, sugar, salt
  • Natural Jif - Peanuts, sugar, palm oil, contains less than 2% of salt, molasses
Personally, looking at this list, I would choose the Natural Jif, or any other peanut butter with the fewest unpronounceable ingredients.

America is focused on losing weight, and low-fat, low-calorie type foods, but I have a problem with reduced fat peanut butter. Yes, some of the fat is gone, but it has been replaced with cheap carbohydrates or chemical fillers used in many processed foods.  This means you're trading the healthy fat from peanuts for empty carbs (7g per serving up to 13g per serving of carbs), four times the amount of salt of the natural Jif, and more sugar. 

What you want to find is a peanut butter with the bare minimum: peanuts and salt; try to reduce on the oils and ingredients you can't pronounce. Also, try something new like cashew or almond butter. Since these products are a bit more rare, the ones I have seen are more 'natural', with fewer added ingredients. Most importantly, just read the ingredients list - don't be fooled by marketing claims without understanding them fully.  Now that my appetite is all worked up, I'm off to go eat some PB&J!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ingredient Highlight: Asparagus

I think asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables - it can be served warm or hot, and blends well many different types of food. For example, asparagus is a staple green in the Norwegian society, along with fish and potatoes, but with the right sauce can also be served with almost any Asian cuisine. A great spring/summer vegetable, asparagus provides the body with ample amounts of folate, a B vitamin that protects the heart by helping to reduce inflammation. Asparagus also provides huge amounts of vitamin K, along with large doses of vitamins A and C. The many different nutrients in asparagus have anti-aging functions, can protect against cancer, can prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk of heart disease, and can help prevent birth defects.

Asparagus is a perennial garden plant in the Lily family (Liliaceae). While over 300 varieties of asparagus have been found, only 20 are edible. While the most common variety of asparagus is green in color, you can find two other edible varieties in stores. White asparagus (which has a more delicate flavor and tender texture) is grown underground to inhibit the development of chlorophyll content, thus creating its distinctive white coloring. It is usually found canned, although you may find it fresh in some select shops. The other edible variety of asparagus is purple, is much smaller than the green or white variety (usually just 2 to 3 inches tall) and features a fruitier flavor. This variety also provides health benefits from phytonutrients called anthocyanins that produce its purple color.

When at the store, you may notice that some asparagus spears are thin and some are thicker. The thick ones are best for roasting or steaming. I find steaming the best and also very quick. The thin spears are ideal for the grill or if you are planning to sautée. Before cooking or consumption, the woody end of the stem should be snapped off. Asparagus may be served warm or cold, with many different seasonings or in many different types of sauce. Look for asparagus recipes coming soon!

Peak season: March to June
Tip: Asparagus has a much higher respiration rate than most vegetables, which means that it should be consumed within 48 hours of purchase

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cooking for 150 (at your house)?

Well, that's what I've been doing for the past two days (sorry I've been a bit too busy to post). Four times a year, the Dean's Scholars convene to devour carloads of food, and I've been lucky enough to be the head chef for the past year. Our dinner to honor the outgoing senior class last night was a great success!

We generally have 150 attendees at these dinner parties, and we prepare and cook all of the food at one of our professor's houses. Yes, with two ovens, a stovetop, grill, and electric wok, we cook for 150. The theme for senior dinner this year was Chinese food (so we employed an extra 10 or so rice cookers). In total, we had about 15 helpers each shift, cooking for a total of 14 hours over two days. I couldn't do it without them. This year's menu was:


  • Pearl Balls
  • Turkey Pot Stickers
  • Chicken Wings
  • Chinese Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Hunan Candied Pecans
  • Braised Black Mushrooms
  • Shrimp Chips
Main Dishes
  • Minced Chicken & Veggies in Lettuce Cups
  • Cantonese Roast Duck
  • Grilled Korean Beef
  • Moo Shoo Pork & Veggies
  • Shrimp Curry
  • Cashew Broccoli
  • Spicy Braised Eggplant
  • Mixed Noodles
  • Cold Asparagus
  • Cucumber Salad
  • Rice
  • Almond Jello with Lychees, Pineapple, and Mandarin Oranges
  • Fortune Cookies
  • Almond Cookies
  • Dean's Scholars Snickers Cake
  • Cookies and Cream Ice Cream
  • Mango Ice Cream
  • Strawberry Ice Cream
Everything is homemade (except for the two types of cookies for dessert), and is a big undertaking. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as executive chef, and hope that their helpers next year are as good as mine have been. Recipes for a couple of the dishes to come soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In the News: HALF of Americans Use Supplements

Supplement facts:

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that more of half of U.S. adults use dietary supplements -- including multivitamins, minerals and, herbs.
  • The most popular supplements are multivitamins, used by 39% of U.S. adults in 2006.
  • While some supplements are helpful, supplements cannot replace proper nutrition.
  • Several epidemiological studies showed there was no significant difference between people who take supplements and those who do not
  • Some supplements may have side effect like prescription drugs
  • Supplements are not regulated in the same way as prescription drugs
Basically, eat well. Most multivitamins won't harm you, but they cannot replace proper nutrition. I just thought it was interesting how many people take vitamins in the USA.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Eating Makes Us Feel Good

Everybody eats.  And many of us eat and eat and eat. Having a full stomach makes us feel good and content. But why do many of us overeat...continuing to stuff ourselves even when we are full?

Evolution has given us the instinct to eat a lot every time we can, preparing for hard times. It's the drive to survive, like squirrels storing up for the winter. It's also fueled by competition: beating others to the food.  And as for that warm, content feeling after eating a meal, scientists studying that good feeling call it ingestion analgesia, literally pain relief from eating. Despite the modern environment bombarded by appetizing advertisements and fast food, the wiring in the human brain hasn't changed. The reward circuits in the brain still release chemicals that comfort and satisfy.

The body rewards fatty, salty, and sugary foods by releasing endogenous opioids, chemicals which help control pain. A study published in Nature Neuroscience recently suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. According to this study, when rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction.

It is this addiction to foods that are bad for us that has helped to cause the current obesity crisis in the United States, and many other parts of the world. Our brains tell us that we are full, but we ignore ourselves because evolution tells us to keep eating. We need to learn to listen, and I leave you with a few tips that might help:

  • STOP EATING when you are full
  • Eat when you feel hungry, because if you wait too long to eat (become 'starving') then you are more likely to overeat.
  • Eat slowly - give your brain time to figure out that you have eaten, and are full. The dinner table is not a competition of which family member (or apartment mate) can finish first (if it was, I would consistently lose)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Instant Noodles: A College Staple

Ramen noodles are another food that I believe every college student has consumed. Sadly, these instant noodles are extremely cheap (19¢ per package), and require only water, a microwave, and a few minutes to make. However inexpensive and easy, these noodles are terrible for the body.

First, let us think about the ingredients. The seemingly innocent noodles are actually deep fried. That doesn't bode well for any health aspect of the food. This is basically taking enriched flour (the non-whole grain variety), which is already stripped of pretty much any fiber or nutritional value, and dropping it in oil. The seasoning packet is almost all pure salt. How do I know? I looked at the ingredients list on the package. Ingredient number one is salt. Followed by the phrase 'contains less than 1% of...' 

Next, we can look at the nutrition information on the package. One package of ramen (technically two servings) contains 14g of fat (half of which is saturated fat).  That means one bowl of ramen has one fifth of your daily fat intake (remember, this is just noodles and broth). Ramen also contains almost 1800mg of sodium - 75% of your daily intake. Definitely not good. Lastly, there are 52g of carbohydrates (hey, they are noodles), however, only 2g of this are dietary fiber. In total, this constitutes 400 calories for the bowl of ramen noodles, 150 of which come from fat. Ew.

All of these factors combine into a higher risk for weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Instead of buying ramen deathbricks, try getting some whole grain pasta, and jarred pasta sauce. It might cost slightly more per serving, but it will keep you going in the long run. More on pasta soon.