Kitchen Spotlight: Beets!

 

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Care to Try Some Beets? – Dietitianmom.com

When a friend passed me some huge home grown beets, I was excited to use them. Although I had not incorporated these into my cooking repertoire yet, I had heard that beets were a great healthy food choice and the internet is rife with praise for these red colored giant turnip-like vegetables. However, it made me curious. Just what exactly are the actual health benefits of eating them or what is the current research saying? Here is the result of my investigation:

The taproot portion of the beet plant, beets are known by many other names such as beetroot or sugar beets. It has been in use since Roman times, exists in various cultivated varieties and most people may not be aware that they are actually ingesting beets as it is used as a common food coloring agent called E162.

Nutritional value: A half cup of sliced cooked beets (about 85 grams in weight) provides a good source of fiber (1.7 grams), protein (1.43 grams) and iron (0.67 milligrams). This is equivalent to a small apple but 4 times the protein content, and more than 7 times its iron content! Beets also provide many other nutrients like potassium, zinc, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and B vitamins. Comparing the raw and the cooked (boiled, drained) versions, the two forms are comparable in nutritional value. The main difference between eating the raw version versus the cooked is that you get a measurable amount more folate (about 40 micrograms Dietary Folate Equivalents more per 100 gram weight).

Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compounds like nitrate, betalain pigments, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids. Research is showing that many of these compounds display strong  antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive properties. Hence its consumption may be a health benefit in many areas, such as  in the prevention and treatment of certain chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Many of beets’ constituents are potent antioxidants, helping to keep our body’s cells in a state of redox balance. This means intake of these and other fruits or vegetables high in antioxidants help to fight excessive reactive oxygen and nitrogen species generated within the body from internal and external causes.  Beets may also increase the body’s existing internal antioxidant defenses, leading to a synergistic effect. In terms of inflammation, investigations so far are revealing that betalains and beet extracts may help to block pro-inflammatory signaling cascades, weakening the progression of chronic inflammation which is implicated in many chronic medical conditions. The role of beets’ compounds are also being further investigated in areas such as cognitive function and endothelial function both in the laboratory and on actual human subjects.

So the next time you see beets on offer at the store, try them! My husband and preschooler were skeptical trying these, but after cooking it a few different ways, these now make a regular appearance on our dinner table. See upcoming posts on some recipe ideas for ways to serve beets!

(Sources:

  1. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ.  The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients. 2015 Apr 14;7(4):2801-22. doi: 10.3390/nu7042801. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/. Accessed September 26, 2016.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. )

 

Kitchen Spotlight: Okra

In this “Kitcheokran Spotlight” post, we’ll move South and take a look at a favorite staple: Okra. Usually recognized by its green exterior, and sticky or slimy texture when cooked, few are aware that okra can come in red and purple colors as well. It is native to Africa, and there are nearly 20 different varieties of this vegetable.

One cup of raw okra (100 grams in weight) is composed of nearly 90 percent water, but a decent amount of fiber (3.2 grams), potassium (299 milligrams), some iron (0.62 milligrams), as well as small amounts of B vitamins, and the vitamins C, K, A and E. One cup of raw okra actually contains as much calcium (82 milligrams) as about 2 ½ cups of raw spinach (30 grams in weight)! When cooked, it is a good low carbohydrate choice suitable for those with diabetes, because a half cup of sliced boiled okra without salt (80 grams in weight) only yields 3.6 grams of carbohydrate. When boiled and drained, okra still provides approximately 2 grams of fiber, 62 milligrams of calcium, 0.22 milligrams of iron along with small amounts of the other nutrients. Okra also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Since most of the fiber in okra is soluble fiber, it is comparable to beans, barley, oats and apples in terms of health benefits.

Okra makes a great side dish or an addition to the main entrée when cooking stews and curries such as Indian bhindi curries and in African curries. It works well in combination with tomatoes, onion, corn or beans. You can choose to grill, fry, stir-fry or roast whole okra for a crisp and tender dish. Here are few ways to prepare and serve okra from the kitchen:

  • Use in gumbo (a New Orleans specialty creole stew)
  • Defrost frozen sliced or whole okra, then roll in cornmeal before baking.
  • Quickly steam and season whole pods, or lightly oil and season them before roasting on a sheet pan
  • Quickly sauté okra and flavor with lime and cilantro before using in traditional Mexican dishes, in place of nopal cactus
  • Pickle whole okra pods in vinegar
  • Pressure cook sliced fresh okra for one minute to yield a pleasant crunch

If frozen, okra can remain frozen in the freezer for up to 24 months. Enjoy experimenting with this vegetable!

(Sources:

  •  Nussinow J. Okra. Food & Nutrition Magazine, July/August 2013 Edition.
  • USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. )

 

 Kitchen Spotlight: Apples

In this “Kitchen Spotlight” post, we’ll take a snapshot look at an all-time American (and likely around the world in other countries) favorite: apples. Apples are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber and contain phytochemicals (an example would be flavonoids such as quercetin). Carbohydrates are the main macronutrient, but apples also contain quite an array of micronutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin A and E, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and fatty acids – though all in very minute amounts. A general comparison of the nutrient profile of a medium apple with and without skin on shows that an apple with skin has roughly 2 grams more fiber than the alternative, and packs just a little bit more of certain nutrients such as vitamins A, E, and K.  However, choose your apples carefully. Due to high pesticide levels found in U. S. grown apples, it is best to go with New Zealand grown apples and/or organic varieties where possible. ConsumerReports has found that while washing apples well in water will help reduce some of the surface pesticide residues, peeling may not be as effective as most think in reducing pesticide load (see source citation below for more information).

As it turns out, apples shine in the kitchen too by being versatile cooking ingredients. Although we tend to think of just apple pies, apple crisps and candied apples, apples can actually be incorporated into a variety of other ‘non-dessert’ recipe food items. Here are 5 lesser known ways you can use apples in your food:

  • Combine fresh apple slices or frozen diced versions with roasted or sautéed vegetables (e.g., root vegetables, cabbage or Brussel sprouts)
  • Instead of syrups, use a chunky applesauce or make your own version of a lightly sweetened diced apple topping to use on breakfast pancakes, waffles or French toast
  • Blend unsweetened applesauce into squash or potato soups or mash unsweetened applesauce into sweet potatoes
  • Combine with meats such as apple slices on top of roasted pork loins for added flavor or mix unsweetened applesauce into a meatloaf
  • Reduce the fat content in baked recipes by substituting some of the fat from butter with applesauce or apple butter (e.g., gingerbread, quick bread, muffins, breakfast bars)

So the next time you pick up an apple, take a moment to think about where it’s from, and how you’ll use it in the kitchen!

(Sources:

The Wonders of Kale

 

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I’m sure we’ve all heard of this wonder vegetable before, but what’s really so great about kale? From far and up close it just looks like a bunch of thick dark curly leaves. Isn’t it just like any of the other dark leafy greens? I decided to do a bit of investigating. As it turns out, kale is really a lot more than a ‘one hit wonder’!

Kale is part of the Brassica family, which includes cruciferous vegetables like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage. There are actually 3 varieties of kale (curly, ornamental and dinosaur types). The benefits of eating kale are enormous. One cup of chopped raw kale provides almost 3g of protein, 2.4g fiber, 100mg calcium, nearly 1mg of iron, 80mg vitamin C, 335µg vitamin A and 472µg vitamin K. In fact, leafy greens like collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, mustard greens and Swiss chard all pale in comparison to kale in terms of these nutrients. One cup of raw chopped kale actually has 3 times more calcium and protein than spinach, 4 times more vitamin A than mustard greens, and about the same amount of vitamin C as an orange. Along with important anti-cancer antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids , kale also provides eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. And all this for only about $1 US dollar for a raw bunch!

So how can you eat kale? Incorporate it into your cooking like other green leafy vegetables. For example, use kale in a salad, throw chopped kale into stews, soups, lasagna, quiche, pasta or add sautéed kale onto pizza. If you’re more adventurous, make pesto sauce with it, turn it into ‘kale’slaw (instead of using cabbage), blend it into green smoothies or even use it instead of flour/corn tortillas as a burrito shell. Heck, I bet you can even steam or boil and blend it down to make a kale puree for baby. I feel I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of incorporating this power veggie into my family!

Toddler Won’t Eat? Tips for Over Ones (Part 2)  

As a follow up to my first post  [Toddler Won’t Eat: Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)], I’ll like to provide 6 more tips that may help encourage and get your toddler eating:

Respect Independence/Share Responsibility
One of the marks of toddlerhood is an increasing sense of independence and desire to do things by one self. A good example is a toddler wanting to feed himself or herself with a spoon or fork without parental help. Such growing independence should be respected and encouraged, and this would mean an increasingly shared responsibility when it comes to meals/snacks. It’s helpful to remember Ellyn Satter’s ‘Division of Responsibility’ model where the parent decides what foods to serve and when to serve them. It is then the child’s responsibility to determine if he/she wants to eat and how much.

Limit the High Calorie Low Nutrient Drinks/Snacks
Like most of us, it’s often never a problem to get children to eat high calorie but low nutrient foods and snacks like soda, juices, chips, cookies, chocolate, doughnuts…you name it. But understandably a child can easily fill up on these foods and then not be hungry for more nutritious foods. So make an effort to limit or avoid giving those high calorie drinks like soda and fruit juices for your child, and limit milk intake as well to no more than a maximum of 18-24 ounces a day (especially if there are already other dairy rich sources in the child’s diet). As one fellow mom shared, she has a ‘one sweet item at home at a time (e.g., sugar cookies)’ rule–this might work for your home as well.

Offer a Variety!
It is important to keep offering those new foods, even if your child is in the midst of a food jag. Offer a variety of age-appropriate foods-even if it means offering the same food 10-15 times! Keep in mind that the same food presented in different forms may be considered new foods to your child (e.g., a boiled egg versus a scrambled egg). My now 20 month old toddler seems to be getting a bit more choosy and taste/texture sensitive (or as my sister says, “she now has a more sophisticated palate!”) so she is more wary of trying and accepting new foods which look different and have an unfamiliar texture. This is case with foods she used to enjoy in late babyhood like lentil shepherd pie but which I didn’t give her to eat for some time. But I have found some success with modeling my enjoyment and presenting the new food many times so that becomes a regular part of her diet. So my advice? Treat the ‘2 years and under’ period as a real window of opportunity to get your child exposed to as wide a variety of foods as possible. After that, it does get a bit more challenging but it can still be done!

Respect Eating Preferences (to a Degree…):
Foods eaten today may not be eaten tomorrow, like small pieces of broccoli versus the stems. Your child may also react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to always offer a substitute food. At times, you go with the flow because the child will most likely grow out of this and at other times you find a way to work around it. For example, my daughter at one point decided she only wanted to eat the crusts of sandwiches (which have the least filling) instead of the center white part where the filling was spread. So what did I do? I just served ‘crustless sandwich squares’ for a few weeks until she was used to eating those. Then I switched back to giving the regular sandwiches. It worked!

Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
In Part 1 of my post on this subject, I’ve already mentioned about the importance of sticking to a regular meal/snack schedule. This will often mean 3 meals and 2-3 snacks, as toddlers have small tummies, though some children eat 3 larger meals during the day and seem happy to go without snacks in between. If a toddler is not excessively hungry, he or she will be less grouchy and more willing to eat at meals. If the child won’t eat, still have him sit at the table until most of the family members have finished eating within reason.

If your toddler refuses a meal or snack, you can give another one in another hour or two and she can wait till then. If she was hungry but chose not to eat, she will be more likely to eat what is offered next time. Even if your toddler eats very little or not anything at all, be assured that he/she will make up the nutrition later that day or later in the week. Recently my toddler’s dinner was delayed by over an hour, because she had a late lunch and I (unwisely) gave her an afternoon snack as well. So the rest of the family had our dinner while she continued playing. An hour later, she was famished and ate all her dinner within 15 minutes! I’m glad I didn’t try to make her a different meal, but I did learn that the next time she has a late lunch I probably need to skip the afternoon snack!

Dessert
If you want to give your child dessert, know that you don’t need to offer it with every meal or even everyday. But if you do offer dessert, don’t make it a weapon. This means don’t withhold the dessert if your child refuses to eat. Otherwise your toddler will quickly realize that dessert must be better and something good, and will start to evaluate foods into different categories instead of being on the same standing. In our household yogurt is the sweeter second course for dinner, and often fruit is the dessert that we give at the end of the meal. So think of alternatives that you can give to the traditional dessert foods!

 

As always, make the meal time atmosphere as inviting and pleasant as possible. Have pleasant conversation, a clean and bright eating space, music if desired and limit distractions like TV viewing (and arguing). You can even inject a bit of fun into meal times for older toddlers/children by having themed nights and themed food. This can be as simple as a dress up, color themed food/dress, taco night or breakfast for dinner night!

Toddler Won’t Eat? Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)

Is your little one fussing and not wanting to eat? Are you worried that he or she might turn into a picky eater? Well don’t be. Here are 5 simple ways to help get your toddler eating and make sure what your toddler eats is as nutrition-packed as possible!

Boost the Finger Foods
Offer more protein and nutrient dense finger foods. This way, even if your toddler will only eat mostly those and less spooned foods, at least YOU feel better and know your little one is getting more nutrition than just pasta bits, rice, or Cheerios® for a whole meal. Examples of nutrient dense finger foods would be soft cooked beans, tender cooked meat bits, bits of cooked fish, tofu, boiled egg white pieces, cheese sticks, or pasta pieces coated in a protein rich puree sauce.

Offer Nutritious Snacks
During snack time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only giving carbohydrate rich foods like goldfish crackers, Chex® cereal or animal crackers. Take a bit of time to think about your child’s snack time and alternatives that you can offer (e.g., using hummus, mashed kidney/black bean spread or commercial baby meat jar as filling between bread to make a few bite-sized sandwich squares). Other ideas include offering fruits or vegetables with spreads like peanut butter, hummus or sunflower spread, offering fruit slices with cheese, or making mini pita veggie sandwiches, or melted cheese and tomato quesadillas. Offer small nutrient dense portions at snack time so that your child will still be able to get hungry by the time meal time rolls around.

Don’t Delay Those Meals and Snacks
If your baby is used to a schedule of 3 meals 2 snacks, then stick to it. Don’t delay! Between late babyhood to early toddlerhood, there were times when I found that if my little one was over hungry, she tended to get more irritable and fussy, and this sometimes made it much harder to get her to settle down and eat properly in the high chair. So listen and look out for baby’s cues (my baby tends to get noticeably more irritable when playing with toys before a meal/snack time), and have food ready before you put baby in the high chair. This way you can immediately offer some food to baby or start spoon feeding him or her. The longer baby has to wait for food in the chair, the more fussy your toddler can become (plus, it’s not fun to be strapped in and unable to move much). Alternatively, you could put a few bits of finger snacks on the table to get baby started. Responding to your baby or toddler’s cues will also help him or her listen to internal hunger and satiety cues.

Go Easy on the Milk!
After a baby turns 12 months of age, it’s possible to end up giving too much dairy products (especially milk) in the course of a day. This can occur if a mother has stopped breastfeeding and wants her toddler to take more cow’s milk, or if a young toddler has been used to drinking a certain volume of formula every day as a baby.  What’s more, toddlers generally love milk, cheese, yogurts and other dairy products, so getting them to eat these foods is often not a problem. But a child could end up getting full on these foods and then not be willing to eat other foods which may be important nutritionally. Recommended calcium intakes for toddlers do vary by country (more on this in a later post), but if you are following US calcium intake recommendations then about 4-5 servings of calcium rich foods a day will suffice (depending on the portion size and calcium content of these foods). Recommended servings sizes for toddlers are generally a 4 ounce cup of milk, a slice of cheese and a 4 ounce pot of yogurt.  If your child has been used to getting milk with snacks and meals, you may need to offer water with snacks instead, so that your child has a chance to get hungrier for meal times.

Model Your Enjoyment
One of the best things you can do for baby is to have a regular family meal time together, where the toddler can be part of a relaxed meal time atmosphere witnessing other family members enjoying the foods served. Show your toddler how much you love the food you’re eating, especially if it is the same food the toddler is having! I find this often works, and my toddler is more willing to try a food on her tray, once she sees me eating the same food item on my plate.

What to Do When Baby Spits Out Food (Part 2)

Besides the taste, texture or temperature of the food, I want to mention a few other possible reasons why your baby may be repeatedly spitting out the food you are offering:

Ready for a Change
At some point during the meal your baby may be wanting a bit of a change…either in the food offered (time to bring the second course or to start switching between the two), or a new and more challenging texture (e.g., from soft smooth oatmeal to couscous). Sometimes baby could be ready for slightly stronger tasting foods to challenge her taste buds. This was what I experienced when baby turned 8 months—she was ready for more adult like tasting foods with new flavors (including hummus) and textures! It could also be that baby needs to have a sip or two of some liquid (e.g., expressed breast milk, water, formula) to help ‘wash’ the food down, before being willing to take more solids.

 Bored?
If you have an older baby, he or she may have gotten quite bored with being spoonfed the same food teaspoon after teaspoon. So it may be time to bring out a few finger foods so baby can feel more engaged in the eating process and get a variety of tastes in the mouth. Continue to offer spoons of food in between baby’s eating—she’s often happier eating this way!
Also, you can be creative and find other ways to make your spoonfed meal more appealing and attractive. For example, if your baby can take finger foods, spoon the food onto little bits of bread to make mini tiny sandwiches and arrange these pieces attractively on a plate.

Full?
Occasionally my little one would start out eating something really well, and then about halfway through suddenly start to let what was fed…just dribble out of her mouth. It is almost as if baby suddenly decided to refuse what was eaten.  It’s frustrating I know. What could be happening at this point is that baby is getting somewhat full, and since hunger is not so much of an issue anymore, baby can afford to be more ‘choosey’ over what she will or will not swallow!

 Not Hungry
It is worth mentioning that there will also be times when baby is just not hungry (or hungry enough to take the food you’re spoonfeeding her). On some days, the food could also taste delicious (to you) but baby just doesn’t want to eat. This applies to even some of her favorite foods (e.g., yogurt) and baby is well and not teething. Baby may really just not want to eat that day! On some level you need to trust baby…she does know what she wants or needs! The one time my baby absolutely refused to eat what I was giving her was when I had a savory meal made with couscous cooked in orange juice. The packaging had said it was alright to cook the couscous in water, broth or juice…but didn’t specify what kind of juice. Since I had some left over orange juice in the fridge I thought I would try this. I thought it was just her being fussy, but as it turned out the couscous cooked in orange juice really tasted quite sour and unpalatable!

So just offer the foods you have prepared during a 20-30 minute mealtime and if baby doesn’t take much, that’s alright. Quietly remove the foods without fuss. You can offer a similar meal/snack later when baby is hungry or just offer more as a breastfeed later on (for babies under a year old that are still breastfeeding). Don’t worry, baby may make up the eating later that day or the next!

Taste
If you have ruled out all the above possible reasons, then it could really be that baby doesn’t like the taste of the food you are offering. But even so, don’t give up offering those new foods or different textures, even if baby’s appetite and mood for eating seems to vary daily. Some days my daughter absolutely loves cooked egg white pieces and eats them like no tomorrow. On other days, she absolutely refuses to touch them! Know that often it takes 10-15 times of offering a food before a baby will accept it. Modeling how much you enjoy a food can also encourage your baby to try it. Another idea is to put a small amount on your finger and let baby taste it from there. My daughter would often try something from my finger that she wouldn’t touch on the highchair table (that is, until after she has tasted it from my finger)! So bring back out a recipe every once in a while and retry it with baby. Unless it’s orange juice couscous of course!