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. )

 

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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!

Baby Food Transition: Intro to Complementary Feeding Stages

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the UK government both encourage exclusive breastfeeding till baby is around 6 months of age (26 weeks), which follows World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. However, after 6 months of age, solids need to be introduced to provide adequate nutrition for the growing baby. So while breast milk or formula remains an important part of a baby’s diet for the first year of life, providing solids alongside continued breastfeeding or formula will give your baby the best nutrition whilst baby learns new feeding skills.

Hence the main goals of complementary feeding are to optimize baby’s nutrition and to gradually introduce a variety of tastes and textures into a baby’s diet to help baby learn new skills such as self-feeding, chewing and eating solids. This helps to build the stepping stones towards baby eventually eating family meals.

Complementary feeding can be grouped into the three stages:
1. Smooth purees and mashed foods
2. Mashed foods with soft lumps and soft finger foods
3. Harder finger foods and minced family foods

It should be noted that while most babies will tend to follow this pattern of progression in solids/textures, not all babies do! So being flexible and aware of this as a mom is important. Babies progress as different rates and stages in their feeding skills, and some may take longer to go through one stage than another. For example, my eldest child took a long time to go through the pureed stage and was only at 13 months beginning to move onto minced family foods. Part of this could be because her top two teeth have finally come in, allowing her to be able to chew better and handle tougher textures. My second daughter seemed more ready for lumpy foods and textures at about 8 months of age. So don’t worry if your baby does not exactly follow the stages of transition of complementary feeding described in the upcoming posts!

Secret Uses of Baby Cereal Revealed

Do you have a half empty box of baby cereal left sitting on the kitchen shelf because baby is progressing onto other foods and textures? Don’t throw it away! There are still plenty of other ways to use the baby cereal besides it being a first pureed food for baby. Here are some great ways to put that remaining baby cereal to use:

Secret Use #1: As a Thickener
Add a little bit to thicken up yogurt, thin sauces, or your mistakes (e.g., if you happen to add in too much expressed breast milk, formula or water into your baby’s food by accident) or anything that may be too watery a consistency for your baby to manage and could cause baby to choke or gag when swallowing.

Secret Use #2: As a Fortifier
Baby cereal can come in handy when you want to give your baby’s meal a little boost in terms of calories and nutrients. Just mix a very small amount of the baby cereal with some expressed breast milk, formula or water, before adding it into an existing meal prepared for baby like pureed or mashed veggies, fruits or a mixed savoury meal. In the United States, baby cereal comes fortified with other nutrients like zinc, B vitamins, iron and calcium. So besides calories, you’ll be giving baby a few additional nutrients too, especially if you use some formula or breast milk to make up the baby cereal.

Secret Use #3: As a Transitional Aid
You may want to use baby cereal to help your baby transition over to more textured solids. I found this to be the case when my baby was about 7 to 9 months old. I had tried to give a mixed meal consisting of softened small pasta pieces and pureed meat in a tomato veggie sauce, but found baby choked and often gagged, bringing up what she previously ate. However I found it worked better when I added 1-2 small spoonfuls of baby cereal to the mix and minced the pasta down to even smaller pieces. The baby cereal helped to smooth out the texture for that in-between stage for meals like the pasta combo dish so baby was able to mash and swallow better, especially since my little one could still only mash foods between the gums. As baby’s teeth came in and baby became a more experienced eater, I gradually phased out use of the baby cereal.

Secret Use #4: As a Mild Sweetener
Sometimes a food may still be a bit too sour—like plain full-fat natural cow’s milk yogurt or Greek yogurt—even when these have some added fresh mashed or minced ripened fruit inside. I found that when I added a small spoon or two of baby oatmeal cereal (this has a slightly sweet taste compared to baby rice which is completely bland), this helped with the overall taste and baby took it better. It also made the yogurt a little bit thicker in consistency. So using a bit of baby oatmeal cereal is an option you can try, especially if you want to stay away from adding sugar, and babies under a year old shouldn’t be given honey. But of course, always try to add a bit of mashed fresh fruit or sweeter vegetables first—there are plenty of choices (e.g., banana, ripe mango, strawberries, ripe blueberries, raspberries, kiwis, butternut squash, sweet potato)! Another option is to add a bit of unsweetened natural applesauce to the plain full-fat natural cow’s milk yogurt or Greek yogurt first, before mixing in some mashed or minced ripened fruit or vegetables.

Does My Baby Need Vitamins?

UNITED STATES

The FACTS:
Of all the vitamins, I think the most crucial for your infant is vitamin D because breast milk provides limited amounts of vitamin D, so if you are exclusively or partially breastfeeding then it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the United States to give your baby a daily dose of 400 International Units (IU) of a vitamin D supplement starting from soon after birth. If you are doing mixed feedings with formula, your baby will need at least 27 ounces (about 800 ml) of standard formula to get 400 IU of vitamin D. Hence, the AAP also recommends a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement for all nonbreastfed and partially breastfed babies getting less than 1 liter of vitamin D fortified infant formula (1000ml) a day. The AAP further recommends that older children and adolescents who are not getting 400 IU vitamin D from at least 1 liter of vitamin D fortified milk a day or through other vitamin D rich sources, should also receive a 400 IU vitamin D supplement daily (one 8 ounce serving of a glass of milk provides roughly 100 IU vitamin D).

It is worth noting that in 2010, the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) in the United States recommended an increase in the RDA for vitamin D to 600 IU or 15 micrograms (mcg) per day for children over one year of age. It is likely that the current AAP recommendation of 400 IUs per day will be reconsidered.

 

The EXPERIENCE:

There are MANY infant vitamin supplements on the US market (compared to the 2 or 3 main brands/products I tend to recommend in the UK!). The local pharmacies and retail shops carry products like Enfamil Poly-Vi-Sol, Poly-Vi-Sol with iron, Tri-Vi-Sol (Vit A, D, C) or D-Vi-Sol (vit D). But online from websites like Amazon, there are a lot more products offered like Carlson Labs Vit D Baby Drops 400IU, Twinlab Infant Care Multivit Drops with DHA and D Drops Liquid Vit D3. Most of the vit D seems to be in D3 form.

I happened to be by a CVS, so I got the Enfamil Poly-Vi-Sol product to try. It tastes horrible! I found I had to wait till my baby was taking 3-4 tbsp of baby rice/oatmeal at a sitting, before I could begin adding a few vitamin drops into the food without it affecting the taste of the food much. Either that, or I needed to put the vitamin drops into mashed avocado, or into very sweet foods like yoghurt or sweet wheat cereal which helped to dilute the sweetness. I also ended up ordering an infant vitamin D supplement (Carlson’s brand Super Daily D3 for Baby) online as it was recommended to be tasteless and only one drop a day was needed (compared to 1ml a day for the Poly-Vi-Sol). I tried this out and it’s true—it’s absolutely tasteless and only one drop is needed! I wish I had known about this sooner. So if you are exclusively or mainly breastfeeding and need to give a vitamin D supplement right away, I would recommend going for a ‘tasteless ‘or ‘taste neutral’ product, which can also be put on the nipple before letting the baby latch on, or easily put onto the spoon when feeding the baby solids. Hope this helps!

UNITED KINGDOM

The FACTS:
The UK Department of Health recommends that all babies and young children from 6 months to 5 years of age receive vitamin supplement drops containing vitamins A, C and D. In particular it is important that these supplements contain vitamin D to meet this age group’s vitamin D requirements of 280 – 340 International Units (IU) or 7-8.5 micrograms a day. Babies who are fed infant formula (which are already fortified with vitamin D) would not need vitamin drops until they are having an intake of less than 500ml of formula a day. In addition, breastfed babies may need to start vitamin D supplement drops from one month of age if their mothers did have not take any vitamin D supplements during pregnancy.

The EXPERIENCE:
In the UK, there are fewer vitamin infant drops products available on the market. Some possible options are Dalivit and Abidec brands. If you qualify, your child may be able to receive free vitamin drops through the Healthy Start program available in some areas. In terms of giving your baby vitamin drops, if he or she refuses to take the drops off a spoon or syringe, then adding the vitamin drops to the baby’s food often works well.