Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Based on personal experience, here are some tips for cooking and using spaghetti squash. While you can microwave or bake the spaghetti squash, I’ve found that it is easiest to boil it before removing its strand-like interior. Here is how I would recommend boiling spaghetti squash:

  1. Use a knife to make a few small holes or cut marks through the skin of the spaghetti squash.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and heat the water until boiling. Once boiling, put the squash in to cook (ease it slowly into the water to prevent burns!), turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon. The squash will likely float in the water but that is fine. After about 15-20 minutes (about 20-30 minutes for a large sized spaghetti squash), use a knife to insert into the spaghetti squash. If it goes through easily, then it is cooked through. Take out the spaghetti squash immediately and let it cool in a colander (excess water from within may also drain out).
  3. Don’t worry if the squash skin cracks open slightly. When cooled cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds with a spoon. Then use a fork to scrape out the noodle like strands into a bowl.

That’s it! If you would like to see a variety of ways to cook this delectable vegetable, check out this post I found listing 50 ways to cook spaghetti squash: http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. Like other hard shelled squashes, you can bake it, grill it, roast it, stuff it, and even throw it in the slow cooker. Have fun experimenting!

(Source: Aggies Kitchen. 50 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash. http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. October 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2017.)

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Qn of the Month: Does It Matter What I Weigh Before I Get Pregnant?

A: Ladies, regardless of whether you are underweight or overweight, your pre-pregnancy weight status does matter! It can affect your fertility, increase your risk of poorer birth outcomes compared to those of a normal or healthier weight status going into pregnancy, and also impact your post-partum health.

Firstly, what determines overweight or underweight? According to national and international authoritative bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight status is categorized using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Underweight is defined as a BMI less than 18.5, a healthy or ‘normal’ status is 18.5 – 24.9, overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 and 29.9, and obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to 30. Note that BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. Obesity status is further subdivided into 3 classes depending on the BMI level of an individual.

From a recent Maternal Nutrition Intensive Course that I attended, the consequences of being overweight or obese in terms of pregnancy outcomes were discussed in detail. These included an increased chance of lower fertility, a lower success of ART (assisted reproductive technology), a tendency for increased likelihood of getting gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia, as well as gestational diabetes. Obesity prior to pregnancy increased the risk of pre-eclampsia 3 to 8 fold. More alarmingly, if a woman has gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, they have double the risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the future. A high pre-pregnancy weight is also associated with more postpartum depression 6-8 weeks after delivery and a greater chance of postpartum weight retention.

A mother’s high pre-pregnancy weight can also affect her newborns in a variety of ways. For instance, during pregnancy, obese women are about twice as likely to need induction of labor, and congenital anomalies are more common in babies born to overweight and obese women. These include neural tube defects like spina bifida (even after controlling for folate intake), cardiac defects and limb reduction. For obese women, the birthweight of full-term infants tend to follow a ‘U’ shaped curve; there is an increased likelihood of either low birthweight or large for gestational age babies. Pre-term birth rates are also higher among obese women. This may be due to mothers having to be medically induced as a necessity due to high blood pressure or diabetes, or due to spontaneous pre-term births as a result of infection or inflammation.   Research is ongoing in this important area.

While a smaller proportion of the population have a prepregnancy underweight status, this is still a cause for concern as such women tend to be at higher risk for having low birth weight (LBW), small for gestational age (SGA), and  preterm infants.

So what is the take home message? For the best health for you and your baby, aim to get to a healthier weight prepregnancy if you are overweight or underweight. This means a BMI as much in the healthy weight range as possible. This can be achieved by eating as much as possible a whole foods plant-based diet and being regularly physically active.

(Sources:

  1. About Adult BMI. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/. Reviewed and updated May 15, 2015. Accessed July 26, 2017.
  2. Gaillard R, Durmuş B, Hofman A, Mackenbach JP, Steegers EA, Jaddoe VW. Risk factors and outcomes of maternal obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 May;21(5):1046-1055.
  3. Schummers L, Hutcheon JA, Bodnar LM, Lieberman E, Himes KP. Risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes by prepregnancy body mass index: a population-based study to inform prepregnancy weight loss counseling. Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Jan;125(1):133-143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285688/. Accessed July 26, 2017.)
  4. Papachatzi E, Dimitriou G, Dimitropoulos K, Vantarakis A. Pre-pregnancy obesity: maternal, neonatal and childhood outcomes. J Neonatal Perinatal Med. 2013;6(3):203-216. DOI: 10.3233/NPM-1370313.
  5. Stothard KJ, Tennant PW, Bell R, Rankin J. Maternal overweight and obesity and the risk of congenital anomalies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009 Feb 11;301(6):636-650. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.113.
  6. Waller DK, Shaw GM, Rasmussen SA, Hobbs CA, Canfield MA, Siega-Riz AM, et al.; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Prepregnancy obesity as a risk factor for structural birth defects. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Aug;161(8):745-750.
  7. Carmichael SL, Rasmussen SA, Shaw GM. Prepregnancy obesity: a complex risk factor for selected birth defects. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2010 Oct;88(10):804-810.)

Qn of the Month: Do Different Brands of Baby Cereal Provide the Same Nutrition?

A: No! Although there are some similarities, there appears to be more differences between different brands of baby cereal products, even between different brand products of the same type of cereal.  How so? Read on.

Generally all infant cereals are fortified in certain nutrients such as iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Baby cereal products also contain (per serving) similar amounts of macronutrients such as calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein. However, major differences exist. For example, in Canada, Nestle Gerber’s® baby oat infant cereal provides in a (5 tablespoons or 28 grams) serving the following: 15% Daily Value (DV) of calcium, 60% DV of vitamin B12, 100% DV of iron and 0 grams of fiber. But a comparable (1/3 cup or 30 grams) serving of Heinz’s baby oat cereal provides more iron (110% of DV iron), 4 times the amount of calcium (60% DV of calcium), 2 grams of fiber but absolutely no vitamin B12! Not only that, Nestle Gerber’s® baby oat infant cereal contains in a serving 30% DV of biotin, 15% DV of iodide, 15 % DV of zinc and 30% DV of magnesium. However, a similar serving size of Heinz’s baby oat cereal contains no biotin or iodide, only 6% DV of zinc and halfthe quantity of magnesium (15% DV)! It appears that Heinz’sbaby oat cereal is a really good source of iron and calcium per serving, but not so much of the other nutrients.

So the next time you go shopping, make sure to check the nutrition facts panel of the infant baby cereal you are planning to buy, to see what nutrition your baby will really be getting from consuming that particular product!

Qn of the Month: What Are Key Infant & Toddler Feeding Transitions?

A: Have you ever wondered whether your baby or child is meeting or progressing well in terms of his or her oral motor development? For new mothers, it can be especially daunting knowing when to introduce a different texture or when to start teaching your baby how to drink from a cup. The following are key infant and toddler feeding transitions that are important for a child’s optimal growth and physical as well as oral motor development:

Feeding Transition Age of Occurrence
Establishing breastfeeding Birth to 1 month
Introduction of solid foods 4 – 7 months
Finger foods 6 – 8 months
Introduction to the cup 6 – 12 months
Introduction to table foods (texture) 9 – 12 months
Weaning from breast or bottle 12 – 18 months
Rotary chewing 2 -3 years

Even though it is true that every healthy baby develops differently and often at their own pace, it is still good to keep these general key infant and toddler feeding transitions in mind as you watch and help your baby progress.

[Source: Milano K. How Infant Feeding Transitions Relate to Feeding Difficulties in Young Children. PNPG Building Block for Life. Spring 2016, 39(2): 1-6]

 

 

Qn of the Month: Intakes of Baby-Led Weaning Infants & Traditional Spoon Feed Infants – Are There Nutritional Differences?

Pureed or Baby Led? - Dietitianmom.com

Pureed or Baby Led? – Dietitianmom.com

A: Yes, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Led by Morison and colleagues, this New Zealand based study looked at the intake of 51 age-matched and sex-matched infants at 6-8 months of age. One to three day weighted food records and questionnaires were collected from those in the baby led weaning (BLW) group and those in the traditional spoon feeding (TSF) group, which were then analyzed. The result? It was found that while infants in both groups had relatively similar caloric intake, those in the BLW group may be consuming higher fat and higher saturated fat intakes, along with possibly lower iron, zinc and vitamin B12 intakes.

Although the research finding results are exciting, it is important to note the strengths and limitations of the study. Strengths include analysis done by a registered dietitian blinded to which group an infant belonged to, the use of weighted food records and detailed questionnaires, and the age and sex matching of infants. The limitations of this study however include the fact that a small sample size was used, the use of estimated breast milk volumes, and the fact that there was no standard definition or classification used in the study of what constituted a baby led weaning infant.

As mentioned in my previous post on BLW (Qn of the Month: How is Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Really Defined?), research on BLW is complicated by the fact that there is no standardized definition of baby led weaning, with research studies using different definitions. In this study, parents self-reported and classified themselves which group their infant fell into. Also, the lower iron intake levels observed in the BLW group compared to the TSF group may be due to the fact that the BLW infants consumed less iron fortified infant cereals, and were breastfed for much longer (approximately 8 more weeks) than TSF infants. Hence infants in the BLW group would have received less iron fortified infant formula.

It is unclear whether this study looked at the potential differences in nutrients contributed by use of iron fortified infant formula and breast milk intake, which could have a big impact on the final nutrient intake of infants in either group.  Also, since estimated breast milk volumes were used, this study cannot accurately determine the exact differences in caloric and iron intake levels between the BLW and the TSF groups. A future study needs to not only control for potential confounding in terms of the length of breastfeeding in both groups, but may also need to include biochemical tests to determine more accurately the iron status of infants in both groups.

 (Sources:

  1. University of Otago. “Dietary intake differs in infants who follow baby-led weaning.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517094206.htm. Accessed Nov 26, 2016.
  1. Morison BJ, Taylor RW, Haszard JJ, et al. How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6–8 months. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010665. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/5/e010665. Accessed November 26, 2016.)

Kitchen Spotlight: Beets!

 

beets2

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: 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: