Archive | February, 2011

Meatless Monday:: Polenta Lasagna

28 Feb

In honor of Meatless Monday, I’m sharing a DE-LISH vegetarian recipe I’ve tried from Oxygen magazine – Polenta Lasagna. I love Oxygen! It always has great “clean” recipes, and good workout tips and motivational articles also. Even better, they have registered dietitians on staff!

 This was actually my first time using polenta, which is cornmeal simmered in water. Polenta is a (gluten-free) whole grain and is a good source of  protein and many vitamins and minerals including vitamin A [good for your eyes and cells], potassium [helps to lower blood pressure] and calcium [necessary for bone health and used in muscle contractions]. It was traditionally eaten at breakfast, but is very versatile and often used instead of pasta!

My own photos didn’t turn out too well – we were starving and dug in before it had much time to sit and cool so it pretty much just fell apart on the plate! As messy as it  looked, it tasted wonderful – enjoy.

[Click on to enlarge if you can’t read the directions]


The REAL Wonder Pill :: Vitamin D

27 Feb

The newest superstar supplement  (and I must say, I’m on board with the bandwagon) is vitamin D, which isn’t a vitamin at all as it can be synthesized by the body (when the skin is exposed to sunlight) – it’s actually a prohormone. Nonetheless, vitamin D is important to many bodily functions and research is finding that many Americans are deficient in it, which may be contributing to chronic diseases.

Vitamin D:

  • Helps calcium absorption from the gut and maintains normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. If not enough calcium is absorbed from the intestines, the body will take calcium from the bones to normalize blood levels – which we obviously don’t want!
    • Without adequate vitamin D and calcium, only 10-15% of dietary calcium and 60% dietary phosphorus is absorbed
  • Prevents rickets (soft bones) in children, osteomalacia (weak bones) and osteoporosis in adults [see above mechanism]
  • Recent research indicates that adequate stores of vitamin D may play a role in preventing many chronic diseases and conditions including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, allergies in children, multiple sclerosis
    • One study reported that postmenopausal women who increased their vitamin D intake by 1100 IU of vitamin D3 reduced their relative risk of cancer by 60 to 77%
    • Several studies have linked vitamin D deficiency and colon, prostate, breast ovary and esophageal cancer, with blood levels >20ng/mL reducing the risk by as much as 30-50% according to one study
  • Likely plays a role in optimizing immune function
  • May help prevent cardiovascular disease by inhibiting inflammation [chronic inflammation is a risk factor for heart disease]

Those that may be at risk of deficiency: elderly, obese individuals, dark skinned individuals, lack of exposure to sunlight, exclusively breast fed infants, diets that avoid dairy/egg products, those with limited sun exposure, after gastric bypass surgery, hospitalized patients.

Specific disease states that increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency include cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, diabetes, pancreatic disease, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease

The test: Ask your doc to check 25hydroxyvitamin-D – there are a few different lab values they can check, but this is best indicator of vitamin D status in the body as it reflects the amount of vitamin D produced by the body and consumed (not in body tissues however).

How much do you need?

The Institute of Medicine recently came out with new [controversial] recommendations for vitamin D and calcium:

  • 0-12 months — 400 International Units (IU)
  • 1-70 years — 600 IU
  • >70 years — 800 IU

Many other health professionals (MD’s and RD’s) agree that this isn’t enough to do all the amazing things listed above. I get that the IOM is playing it safe, but with 30-50% of the general population being deficient, and the tolerable upper limit (maximum amount considered safe) being 4000 IU/day, supplementing 1000-2000 IU per day is my general recommendation for teenagers on. If you’re deficient [which I encourage all my patients to get checked] you actually would need 50,000 IU per month per week for about eight weeks and then a maintenence dose of 50,000 IU per month thereafter.

Sources of Vitamin D

Your body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, it can be difficult to obtain the necessary amounts based on many variables affecting the amount synthesized including: season, length of exposure, sunscreen, skin color (melanin content – the more this pigment you have, the darker your skin is and more difficult to synthesize vitamin D), and time of day. Some researchers suggest that 5-30 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen from 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM at least twice per week to the face, legs, arms or back should be adequate. However, you won’t find many health professionals recommending 60+ minutes of sunscreenless exposure per week due to risks for melanoma (skin cancer).

The best natural food source of vitamin D3 is fatty fish and some mushrooms contain D2. Fortified milk contains about 100 IU per 1 cup – meaning to meet the IOM’s recommendations, you would need to drink 6 cups per day (even of skim milk, that’s an extra 480 calories per day, or almost +1 pound per week – we won’t even talk about if it’s not skim milk); to meet my recommendations, 10-20 eight ounce glasses of milk per day!

 Test Results

Per the National Institute of Health, here’s what your blood test results mean:

<11 ng/mL (Deficiency) —  Rickets in infants and children 

<15 ng/mL (Insufficient) — Inadequate for bone and overall health

 >30 ng/mL (Sufficient) — Proposed as desirable level and disease prevention

>200 ng/mL (Intoxication) — Considered potentially toxic

Many experts recommend blood levels closer to 50-75ng/mL for optimal health.

D2 or D3?

Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) comes from yeast, while Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is found naturally in cod liver oil and oily fish such as salmon and can be obtained from sheep’s wool. Studies have had varied results, but many tend to think D3 is more effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D. However, if you are a vegan/vegetarian, D2 may be a better option and will still have positive effects.

Note: Make sure to take your vitamin D supplements with a meal containing fat – it is a fat soluble vitamin meaning that it needs fat to be absorbed.

Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D. Vitamin D Deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 2007
Michael F. Holick, Rachael M. Biancuzzo, Tai C. Chen, Ellen K. Klein, Azzie Young, Douglass Bibuld, Richard Reitz, Wael Salameh, Allen Ameri, and Andrew D. Tannenbaum Vitamin D2 Is as Effective as Vitamin D3 in Maintaining Circulating Concentrations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2008 93:677-681 originally published online Dec 18, 2007
Maryann King, MPH, RD, CNSD, LDN The Expanding Role of Vitamin D The Support Line 2/2011 Dietitians in Nutrition Support Dietetic Practice Group p. 16-23 

Oats in Pancake Form

22 Feb

Instead of eating my oats from the usual bowl, today I ate my oats in pancake form!

They may look very similar to my oatmeal almond butter pancakes… well they are. 🙂 These were nice though because they were softer, like real pancakes, whereas the oatmeal pancakes are more like a bake.

Yields: two medium sized pancakes
1/3 cup oat bran
1 tsp cinnamon
2 egg whites
1 T unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop Genisoy vanilla soy protein powder
1 T flaxseed meal
1 T chia seeds mixed in a little water first
1/2 banana
1 t honey or agave nectar

Mix the first 7 ingredients together well. Pour into hot skillet sprayed with cooking spray. Flip pancake after it begins to bubble and cook until browned. Top with sliced banana and honey!

These were absolutely delicious, but not quite as filling as I was hoping they would be, but it does take a lot to satiate me.

Nutrition Stats ::  425 calories, 18gm fat, 7gm poly, 6gm mono, 1gm saturated, 0gm trans fat, 587mg potassium, 50gm carbs, 16gm fiber, 27gm protein

What is your go-to breakfast to keep you satisfied?

Tofu Butternut Squash Tomato Sauce Over Spaghetti Squash

16 Feb

This dish was by far my favorite spaghetti squash pasta yet – and couldn’t have been easier!

Serves: 2


  • 1 medium spaghetti squash
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 uncooked butternut squash, cubed
  • 1/8-1/4 block extra firm lite tofu (lite can be found at larger health food stores)
  • 1 jar reduced sodium spaghetti sauce (we like Prego Heart Smart)
  • Onion powder, to taste
  • Italian seasoning, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste

One. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place cut side down in a 13 x 9 microwave safe dish. Add 1/4 cup water to dish. Microwave on high for 10-13 minutes or until tender. Can also bake in the oven.

 Two. While the squash is cooking, heat up a large nonstick skillet and spray with olive oil or canola oil cooking spray. Add mushrooms, onion, butternut squash and garlic; cook over medium heat until tender. Add sauce and seasonings; bring to a boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. 


Three. Use a fork and run it across the spaghetti squash to remove the strands. Serve sauce over squash. (Mine is also topped with pine nuts, which I didn’t particularly like – but I think my nuts may have been rancid).

Nutrition Notes :: Spaghetti squash is a great way to make a low calorie pasta dish that tastes delicious and provides additional vitamins (good source of B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, manganese) that pasta does not. Onions contain quercetin, an antioxidant and tomatoes (in the sauce) are also contain antioxidants. Soy (tofu) helps to lower cholesterol. Garlic is wonderful for the heart: it has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, decreases plaque build up in arteries and may even lower blood pressure. And yes, jarred pasta sauce can be okay – I just make sure to choose a low sodium version (and if I have the time, puree extra peppers, tomatoes and onion in the sauce for my picky eater fiance). Also, my version is gluten-free – just make sure to check your sauce.

Last, but not least, this dish was great when paired with one of my favorite drinkable treats.

Ch-ch-ch-CHIA [seeds]

15 Feb

So I’ve been hearing a lot about how amazing chia seeds are lately and decided to try them for myself and do a little research on them as well. So far, I’ve only added them to my oatmeal, which I do enjoy! They do seem to “puff up” and increase the volume of it… and anyone that knows me, knows I’m a volume eater – it takes a ginormous pile of food to tame my hunger. Has anyone baked with them?


Chia is a seed from a plant found in Mexico called Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Just a few of the health claims I’ve come across include:

  • Weight loss: chia seeds are claimed to reduce food cravings by preventing some of the food we eat from getting absorbed. 
    • First, why on earth would not want the nutrients we put in our body to be absorbed?A small, recent study found that chia seeds did not decrease appetite or aid in weight loss. However, my professional opinion is that since they are packed with protein, fat and fiber, they should slow down digestion and keep you full longer. And because of that, as a part of a lower calorie, well balanced diet with an exercise program, they may help with weight loss.
  • “Chia gel” provides good hydration for athletes due to its hydrophillic (water-loving) properties
    • I wasn’t surprised to not be able to find any recent, reliable research on this particular ‘benefit.’ The chia seed is supposed to absorb 9 times the weight of the seed in water. If you let the chia seeds sit in water, they do form a gel (looks like furry seeds to me). Supposedly, it is difficult to remove the water from the seed so that it is a long lasting hydration source. To be honest – I have NO idea on this one. Sounds like a well thought out (made up) theory to me, but also couldn’t hurt. Anyone have any research on this?
  • Reduces blood pressure
    • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help lower blood pressure (mostly EPA and DHA – below), but I did find one study that found no reduction in blood pressure when consuming 50gm of chia seeds per day.
  • Controls blood sugar by “slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar”
    • Well seeing that sugar is a carbohydrate… this statement obviously wasn’t well thought out. I know what they most likely meant, but this is another red flag that this source probably isn’t backed with scientific information. But like I said above, the protein, fat and fiber will slow digestion, which does stabilizes blood sugars.
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids therefore decreasing risk of heart disease, improving mood, improving inflammation of arthritis, etc.
    • There definitely is plenty of studies to prove the plethora of benefits that omega-3 fatty acids may offer, including the above. Chia seeds (as well as flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil) contain ALA, a type of omega-3. DHA and EPA are the two superstars as far as omega-3’s, with many studies showing prevention of heart disease; however, ALA is converted (inefficiently) to DHA and EPA in the body and may also contribute to some of the above benefits as well.
  • Beneficial to skin and hair.
    • Fats, protein and many of the micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) found in chia seeds are important components for healthy skin and hair
  • Used to treat colon cancer, IBS, diverticulitis, chronic constipation
    • Fiber definitely has a relationship to many GI conditions, including the above. It may help prevent colon cancer by keeping your bowels regular (if you drink plenty of fluid!), and it will help prevent diverticulitis flare-ups if you have diverticulosis (but during a flare-up, you may want to avoid high fiber foods).

Nutrition Stats (1 heaping tbsp) :: 56 calories, 5gm fat, 4gm poly, 0.5gm saturated, 6gm carbs, 6gm fiber (0.6gm soluble, 5.1gm insoluble), 3gm protein, 7% daily value iron

Also contains a vast array of vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals.

Just a note. There is a TON of information on the internet. Check your sources. If the site that is providing you with the information is also selling the product, do some additional research. Trust information from reliable websites (.org and .edu) and from trained professionals (RD, MD). Also, animal studies should be taken with a grain of salt; definitely a great research starting point, but humans anatomy is obviously different from any animal.

And my all time favorite advice: if it sounds too good to be true (whatever it is), it probably is.

Conclusion:: The bottom line is that chia seeds are no magic cure-all for every disease known to man (even though the internet apparently says otherwise). I did read a 2009 study that eating chia seeds had no effect on weight or various disease risk factors (inflammation, blood pressure, etc). But, in my opinion, I think they could be a good addition to a healthy, well-balanced diet due to the benefits of protein, fiber, polyunsaturated fats and many nutrients.

What do you use chia seeds in? What health claims have you heard about them? What’s your take?

Thought — “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” ~ George Elliot

Quick Thought…

10 Feb

My biggest piece of advice to my clients and patients… Pick one or two goals and adapt those into your life, then pick a few more. If you try to overhaul your life all at once, you’ll get overwhelmed and quit.

Time to take my own advice?? Hence the problem of Type A personalities.

My focus for this week:

1. Workout 5 days – more specifically see here

2. Log food THROUGH DINNER (I tend to stop keep track of food after I get home from work.. which is when it all goes south) 3 days.

??Question :: What are your tips for prioritizing your goals to improve your life?

Healthy Super Bowl Snacks

8 Feb

Well to start off with an update on my “wedding makeover”…. weight is stable, last week I only lifted twice (goal 3-4x/week) and did one regular run and one day of intervals on the treadmill (goal 2-4 days of cardio/week). I also have made it to yoga for the past 3 weeks! I’ve been doing better about keeping track of my food, and do pretty well during the day, but afternoon/evening snacking is definitely my downfall. That’s what I’ll focus on this week. I’ve been eating 300-350 calorie snacks between meals to see if it helps my hunger attacks later in the day. I’ll also be taking my measurements again this week; sometime the scale doesn’t budge but the inches are melting away (even though that’s not likely the case this week).

We had some friends over for the Super Bowl last night, not that I actually watched more than a few minutes of the game! But we had (if I do say so myself) a pretty fabulous spread; everyone left feeling just a bit too full!

One piece of advice I always give around the holidays, make sure to eat a good, healthy breakfast and lunch before parties. Many people “save” their calories for the party by skipping meals before – I PROMISE you that this doesn’t work out in your favor.

I started out with my usual oat bran and had a yummy salad for lunch. To make sure it would fill me up, I loaded it up with:

  • 1/8 block extra-firm lite tofu
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup kidney beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow and red peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 T. tahini paste, 1/2 T. tamari sauce, 1/2 T. minced garlic

And here are is the Super Bowl Spread:
Hummus :: (minus the roasted red peppers)

(we were hungry while cooking and broke into it before I could snap a photo!)

Sweet Potato Chips ::

Preheat oven to 400*F.

Wash and slice up some sweet potatoes. The thinner you slice them the more like chips they will be, the thicker they are the more like potato skims (yum) they are.

Lightly spray each side with olive oil cooking spray (or brush with olive oil). Line baking sheet with “chips”. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until brown (or crispy if desired).

Snapped the photo a little late I guess 🙂

Get creative with the spices on these! My other favorite combo is a little salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme!

I also made regular potato skins (Russet potatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic pepper)  and homemade corn and whole wheat tortilla chips. For the tortilla chips, cut the tortillas into eighths and prepare the same as the potato chips. I just added salt and pepper and they made for perfect, crunchy vehicles for my friend’s homemade queso dip and salsa!

We also grilled some turkey burgers topped with reduced fat Sargento provolone cheese and plenty of veggies.

And my favorite part of the day…. dessert!

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Balls ::

Makes 22 cookies

  • 1 cup raw, unsalted almonds
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
  • 18 whole, pitted dates
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 T dark chocolate chips

In a food processor, blend cashews and almonds until nuts are pulverized. Remove nuts and blend dates, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. Place nuts back into processor and blend together. It will looks like loose crumbs when it’s ready. Fold in chocolate chips. Using a heaping tablespoon to begin to form balls and shape in your hands. Refrigerate to help keep form. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for these no-bake balls lately, feel free to experiment with ingredients! I wanted to keep it simple this time, but I sure will be experimenting also!

Nutrition Stats (per ball) :: 100 calories, 10gm carbs, 7gm fat (almost all poly and monounsaturated), 3gm protein

Gluten-free Brownies ::

Makes 15 squares

  • 3 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 7 T. Smart Balance butter
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 2 T. + 1 1/2 t. oat flour (add 2T additional for high altitude)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup walnuts


Preheat oven to 350*F. Spray 8×11 baking pan with cooking spray. Melt choc chips and butter in a saucepan over low heat (or double boiler, if you have one). Once melted, add all the other ingredients and mix well. Pour into pan and cook for about 30 minutes, until springy in the center. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes then cut into 15 squares.

Nutrition Stats :: 122 calories, 11gm fat, 3gm saturated, 3gm poly, 3gm mono, 50mg sodium, 28mg cholesterol, 49mg potassium, 6gm carbs, 2gm fiber, 3gm sugar, 3gm protein


“All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them” – Walt Disney

Question // What are your favorite, healthy treats for entertaining?