Qn of the Month: What is in Rhubarb?

It is interesting how in every place one lives in, there are certain foods found more commonly in that location. In the Southern part of the United States, this might be okra, iced tea and hush puppies. In the United Kingdom, this might be minced pies and mulled apple cider. In this part of Canada where our family is living now, I’ve noticed that the rhubarb pie seems to be featured at nearly every potluck or dinner event. I’m not complaining as it’s delicious, but it has caused me to look more closely into this delectable vegetable.

Yes, that’s right. Even though rhubarb may have a ‘fruity’ taste and is often found in desserts, jams, jellies and sauces, it is actually a vegetable. But beware, only the stalks of this plant should be eaten, primarily because the leaves contain a high oxalic acid content.

So what’s in rhubarb? It turns out that rhubarb is rich in many nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin K. Just one cup of diced raw rhubarb (122 grams in weight) provides 26 calories, 1.1 grams of protein, 2.2 grams of total dietary fiber, 105 milligrams of calcium, 0.27 milligrams of iron, 351 milligrams of potassium and 35.7 micrograms of vitamin K. It also provides small amounts of vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium. Its calcium content is equivalent to nearly two and a half cups of raw chopped broccoli! To compare, one cup of broccoli (91 grams in weight) provides 43 milligrams of calcium.

Since rhubarb has a tart acidic flavor, it is often sweetened with a lot of sugar or honey before incorporating into desserts. However, instead of adding a lot of sugar or honey, try combining this vegetable with sweet fruits like apples, pears or strawberries to add to ice-cream or baked desserts. Alternatively, use unsweetened rhubarb to make into sauces for savory dishes.

(Sources:

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed July 26, 2017.
  2. Ipatenco S. Can You Eat Rhubarb Leaves? http://www.livestrong.com. http://www.livestrong.com/article/491897-can-you-eat-rhubarb-leaves/. Updated July 18, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2017.
  3. Kerns M. How Many Calories Are in a Cup of Cooked Rhubarb With No Added Sugar? http://www.livestrong.com. http://www.livestrong.com/article/302281-how-many-calories-are-in-a-cup-of-cooked-rhubarb-with-no-added-sugar/. Updated November 9, 2015. Accessed July 26, 2017.)

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4

In this post, I would like to touch on Step 4: Increasing Beans/Legumes in one’s diet.

STEP #4: INCREASE THE BEANS/LEGUMES

If you are already using legumes like black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, garbanzo/chickpeas, split peas, lentils, soy beans and/or peanuts in your diet, then this step is easy. You can simply increase the amount and how regularly you eat of this nutrient dense category in your diet.

However, if you have not really cooked with these before, then this can be a whole new territory! You may be wondering, “What exactly are legumes?” (to learn more about legumes click here) and “How do I cook them?” Some of you may also be wondering if eating legumes will cause you to have more gas or affect your digestive system in other unpleasant ways. Well, I did! Don’t worry! There are lots of ways to deal with these to help you successfully incorporate beans/legumes regularly into your diet. That’s another advantage of a slower gradual transition to a plant-based diet, as it will help your body gradually adjust to having a higher fiber and legumes diet. Today, let’s look more closely at a few different types of legumes.

Beans & Chickpeas

For those new to using beans and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), the easiest way is to start with canned versions. Simply pop open a can, drain the liquid and then rinse the beans well before using. Some worry about the salt content in canned beans but it is really easy to remove much of the salt by properly rinsing and draining the beans. I usually open a can of beans into a colander, placing a plastic mixing bowl underneath. Then I fill up the colander with cold water, stir the beans a few times in the water, and then drain this liquid off by simply lifting the colander. I repeat this process a few times before using the beans in stir-fries, soups, making bean dips like hummus, slow cooker meals and other dishes. If you like, you can also let the beans sit in the cold water for a longer period before draining the liquid, to potentially help remove more salt content from the beans. Yes, it’s that easy! The benefits of using canned beans are that it is quick and easy, and also avoids the potential for toxic poisoning from phytohaemagglutinin. What is phytohaemagglutinin? Read on.

In plants, animals and humans, there exist certain naturally occurring proteins called lectins which have important functions. However, phytohaemagglutinin is a type of lectin that is found in many species of beans and can reach high levels in some plants, particularly in red kidney beans, and have toxic effects. As little as 4-5 raw beans can trigger symptoms such as nausea and vomiting a few hours after ingestion.  Slow cookers present a risk as the internal temperature of the food being cooked may not reach a high enough sufficient temperature to cook red kidney beans. Hence it may be best to use the canned versions of beans (especially red kidney beans) when making a slow cooker recipe.

To use dry beans in slow cooker recipes, take steps to ensure beans are cooked well before using and also by the end of the cooking process. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it is recommended to soak dry beans in water for at least 5 hours, then boil the beans in fresh water for at least 30 minutes, before discarding this water and using the beans (for more information, see the Sources section below). If you are really worried, you can use canned red kidney beans instead of dry ones when you make a bean-based slow cooker recipe, or substitute the red kidneys beans in the recipe with a different type of beans.

In practice when I work with dry beans, I tend to soak the quantity I want to use in a large pot of cold water overnight. Then the next day, I would drain the water and boil them in fresh water on the stove for at least 30 minutes before using. This helps to reduce the overall cooking time tremendously (in the actual recipe used) and also ensures that the beans are cooked before I discard the water and throw the beans in the slow cooker.

Lentils & Split Peas

There are many different types of lentils, coming in a range of sizes and colors such as yellow, red-orange, green, brown, and black. However, you will usually find red lentils most commonly at the local grocery store, followed by green or brown lentils. Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrients: just a small quarter cup of raw red lentils provides 10 grams of protein, and a quarter cup of green lentils provides 12 grams of protein! In my opinion red lentils are the easiest to cook, and one that I recommend starting out with initially. First, sort through the quantity of lentils to be used to remove small stones or other debris, before rinsing it in cold water (again I usually use my colander and mixing bowl combo) and draining the liquid. Then simply cook 1 cup dried red lentils to 3-4 cups of water, bringing the water to a gentle boil and then simmering on the stove for about 15-20 minutes (or until tender).  Remove the lentils and drain out the excess cooked water before using the lentils in the dish of choice. I like to season cooked red lentils with garlic powder, cumin and possibly a dash of onion powder. Brown and green lentils are firmer and hold their shape better with cooking. For faster cooking, soak the green/brown lentils overnight. Using canned lentils is also an option – just rinse and drain well first to remove as much of the salt content as possible.

Split peas come in green and yellow varieties. Dried split peas usually need a lot of soaking in order to be able to reduce cooking times. I find it helps to soak a batch overnight, even if I plan to put it in the slow cooker or on the stove the next day.

(Sources:

  1. Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book, Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins. Second Edition. [Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins, pp. 254]. 2012. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  2. Allen K, Proctor D. Killer Kidney Beans? http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/FN_FQE_2014-01pr.pdf. October 2014. Accessed March 15, 2017.)

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)

Qn of the Month: You Say ‘Yam’, I Say ‘Sweet Potato’…Which Is It?

 

Are You a Yam or Sweet Potato? – Dietitianmom.com

A: A sweet potato! Although both yams and sweet potatoes are edible starchy root tubers, there are differences in their outer and inner appearances. Plainly speaking, the red-skinned and orange fleshed tubers we find commonly labelled as ‘yams’ in grocery stores in the United States are actually sweet potatoes! How did this happen? These ‘yams’ were labelled so originally by shippers and producers to distinguish them from the white potatoes, using the English form of the African word “nyami”. And that name stuck. Today, the United States Department of Agriculture requires these sweet potatoes to be labelled with both terms ‘yam’ and ‘sweet potato’. Personally, I think that makes it more confusing…Depending on the specific variety of sweet potato, the flesh of sweet potatoes can actually be anywhere from pale yellowish to a rich orange hue. In the United States there are two common types of sweet potatoes sold: a firmer pale yellow flesh with a golden skin and a soft sweeter kind with a deep orange flesh.

What about real yams? According to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, “A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.” So as it turns out, there is more than just a name difference, and the dish we frequently serve at special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas is actually made from sweet potatoes, not yams!

(Sources:

  1. North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potatoes-101/difference-between-yam-and-sweet-potato/. Accessed June 20, 2017.
  2. Sweet Potato or Yam? Endurance Magazine. Endurancemag.com. November 2013.
  3. Foster K. What’s the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes? http://www.theKitchnn.com. http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-yams-and-sweet-potatoes-word-of-mouth-211176. Published October 6, 2014. Accessed June 20, 2016.)

 

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!

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3

Getting hungry? -Dietitianmom.com


Hello there! Previously, I had provided an overview of a whole foods plant-based diet and discussed the first 2 steps of transitioning to such a diet. These were “Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies” and “Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options” (see posts Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction, Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1, and Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2). In this post, I would like to touch on Step 3: Choosing Smart Snacks.

Tahini Raisin & Flaxmeal Crackers – Dietitianmom.com

STEP #3: CHOOSE SMART SNACKS
Need something to tide you over until lunch or dinner? Children tend to need to eat more frequently than adults, so would often benefit from snacks between meals. There are a few key reasons why. Children, especially younger children, tend to have high energy levels and smaller stomach capacities. In general, a whole foods plant-based diet tends to consist of foods that have a higher fiber but lower caloric content. Hence, due to the higher fiber content of these foods consumed, it is possible that in some cases a child could feel full easily at meals with their smaller stomachs, but receive inadequate calories for overall optimal growth.

 

 

Fruit Wedges with Seed Butter & Walnut Dotted Banana Coins – Dietitianmom.com

For adults, you may also feel the need to have snacks in between meals, especially if you find you are becoming more active, and if your metabolism revs up with the switch to a whole foods plant-based diet. That’s the best part of a whole foods plant-based diet – on such a ‘diet’, you actually don’t need to watch your caloric intake or restrict yourself unnecessarily in terms of how many times a day you eat, AS LONG as the foods you choose to consume are ALL whole foods plant-based foods. So this does not mean you can snack endlessly on cookies, candies, cakes, biscuits and other processed high refined sugar and high fat commercial foods since they are ‘vegetarian’. As mentioned before, being a ‘junk food vegetarian’ will negatively impact your health and reduce your intake of phytochemical nutrient-rich health boosting foods which you could be eating instead.

So it’s alright to have snacks frequently on a whole foods plant-based diet, but choose your snacks wisely! Try these tasty more nutrient dense options:

*A handful of nuts and/or seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, sunflower, pine nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts)
* A piece of whole fresh fruit (kiwi, apples, grapes, melon slices, oranges, grapefruit, pears…you name it! These also work great as dessert after meals!)
* Dried fruit (e.g., dried apricots, figs, dates, raisins)
* Vegetable or fresh fruit slices with spreads or dips (e.g., bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks)
* Soy spreads, seed butters  (such as tahini, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed butters) and nut butters (examples include almond,  cashew nut, and peanut butters)
*Vegetable and/or bean based dips such as hummus and guacamole
*Fruit/vegetable combination smoothies
*Fruit salads
*Vegetable salads
*Whole-wheat bread/pitas/tortillas for dipping into hummus or spread with nut butters for quick easy sandwiches or burritos
*High calcium and/or high iron cereal
*Bean-based or vegetable soups with whole-wheat pasta
*Soy-based or other vegan cheese slices and whole wheat crackers

 

Banana Sunflower Seed Butter Sandwiches – Yum! Dietitianmom.com

You can mix and match the above to create lots of tasty combinations! My current favorite is a sunflower seed butter sandwich with sliced banana wedges! Other ideas are a bowl of a bean-based vegetable soup with whole-wheat pasta, or some soy-based/vegan cheese slices with whole wheat crackers. Or you could have a quick bowl of calcium and iron fortified cereal with fortified almond/soy/coconut milk (and sprinkled with nuts or dried/fresh fruit on top!). Don’t forget about home-made vegetarian baked and no-bake treats which also make great snack options! Many such easy recipe ideas can be found on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time. The possibilities are really endless!

 

Qn of the Month: Are Legumes & Pulses Just Different Terms for the Same Thing?

 

A: What exactly are legumes and are they the same as pulses? The terms ‘legumes’, ‘pulses’ and ‘beans’ can certainly all be very confusing. A helpful way to keep these straight is to remember that ‘legumes’ is the overall umbrella name, just like ‘fruits’ is the umbrella name for a huge category of different types and varieties of fruits. Legumes simply refer to all plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. However, pulses only refer to the dried seed itself. So under legumes are 3 main subcategories: soybeans and peanuts, pulses and fresh beans/peas. I like this graphic from Pulse Canada which illustrates these categories aptly (see source citation for more details):

 

Pulses include dried beans, dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. Pulses are cheap, nutrient dense, low in fat, available throughout the year, and are high in protein and fiber. Soybeans and peanuts are separated out into their own separate subcategory due to their higher fat content. Legumes are also super versatile, as they can be cooked to the age appropriate texture in a variety of forms (e.g., pureed, mashed, or whole/halved but in soft cooked forms) for infants, toddlers and children of varying ages depending on their stage of oral motor development.

 

(Source: Pulse Canada. http://www.pulsecanada.com/about-us/what-is-a-pulse. Accessed March 15, 2017.)

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

I initially created this recipe below to use up some fresh cranberries I had on hand from the winter holidays. But my husband and child loved it so much that I’ve made it a few times since, including taking it to potluck meals. Enjoy!

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

Recipe by: DietitianMom
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 pears (ripened pears work best)
1 cup fresh cranberries, pierced
4 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼-1/2 cup brown sugar (depending on sweetness desired)
1 cup old fashioned/rolled/large flake oats

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  • Peel and cut pear into slices. Layer the pear slices, covering the bottom of a baking dish.
  • Rinse and wash the fresh cranberries, then pierce each with a toothpick. Then throw the cranberries into the baking dish, evenly dotting the pear slices.
  • In a bowl, mix the oats, brown sugar (add the amount you desire), cinnamon, nutmeg and oil together.
  • Sprinkle this oats combo mixture over the pear slices and cranberries in the baking dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly then serve!

Feel free to double or triple the recipe if you like. This is a great recipe to involve your preschooler or older child in, as it’s easy to make and is ready to eat in no time! My preschooler had lots of fun helping me pierce each fresh cranberry with a toothpick. The best part? Since the ripened pears are already sweet, you don’t really need to add too much additional sugar to sweeten the dish. So adjust the sweetness level to what you prefer by the amount of brown sugar you add. This crisp keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and tastes delicious cold too!