Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eat...more beans

Beans, beans, the musical fruit....yes, you know the rest! My clients get pretty sick of me talking about the health benefits of beans but they are on a very important list of the healthiest foods that you are not eating! As a vegetarian, beans are a huge part of my diet but most of us tend only to eat beans in chili, hummus or refried form. So I've come up with 5 good reasons to get to know the lowly bean...

1. Fibre: No plant food has more fibre and since the average Canadian only gets 14 grams of fibre a day - it is time to reach for beans! Depending on the bean, the average is 5 grams of fibre per half cup. Not too shabby indeed.

2. Protein: we all need to eat more plant based protein for our health, the health of the environment and the health of our wallets. Beans are a great source of protein and are easy to add to salads, soups, casseroles and more to beef up (no pun intended!) the protein. Just rinse canned beans and add them to your favourite foods.

3. Slow Carbs: the ultimate slow carb source, the carbohydrates in beans (and nutrient balance in general) ensure a nice steady rise in blood sugar for sustained energy and hormone balance.

4. Potassium: 3/4 cup of lentils, like other beans, have 540 mg of potassium. Potassium is severely lacking in our processed food world and is vital for healthy blood pressure regulation.

5. Magnesium: another "if only we ate more whole foods" nutrient, most of us don't get enough magnesium...and not because it doesn't exist in foods! Magnesium is vital for muscle contraction and heart health; magnesium also has a calming effect on the body 3/4 cup of most beans have about 50 mg of magnesium...you only need about 350 mg a day.

So here is a little comfort food for the last days of winter....my Beans and Greens Casserole! This recipe will easily serve 4-6 hungry people -

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

Bring quinoa and water to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, fluff and re-cover for later.

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-3 cloves garlic
1/2 large sweet onion
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
2 19oz cans of your favourite beans, such as white cannellini beans or chickpeas

1 lb of your favourite greens, such as broccoli, kale or spinach
2 tbsp soy sauce
chili flakes to taste

1 cup 1% cottage cheese
2 cups light (not low fat) aged cheddar, grated

Chop onion, garlic and greens. Drain and rinse one can of beans. Leave the other can with liquid intact.
Heat oil over medium heat, add onions and saute until glossy. Add garlic, oregano and rosemary and saute for a minute more - don't let the garlic brown.

Add both cans of beans and simmer for 10 minutes then add greens and simmer until tender. Add soy sauce and chili flakes.

Place quinoa, cottage cheese and beans mixture into a 9 x 12 baking dish and mix until thoroughly combined. Top with cheddar and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.

To lower the sodium, use salt free beans and reduced sodium soy sauce.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Eat...smart by being label savvy

Dietitians tend to dish out a lot of lessons to help you label read like a pro...but do we ever stop and ask ourselves whether or not we should care sometimes? Reading labels can help with a lot of things...help you separate the high fibre cereal from the fluffy versions, help you avoid the foods that have 5 pounds of salt poured into them and even to help you get the most calcium for your bones. However, now that nutrition messages on the front of the pack have exploded to almost laughable proportions we have to ask ourselves...why?

First things first...nine times out of ten, if a food comes in a fancy package, it is less healthy than one that doesn't. Example? Lucky Charms versus brown rice or granola bars versus broccoli. So why are those packages screaming at you with health claims? Because they know you want to eat healthier and they are doing their best to convince you that their product has the nutritional advantage over their competitor and they also know that they have the platform to tell you about their apparent benefits while the bulk quinoa silently looks on. However, unlike the cold hard nutrition facts and ingredients listings...front of the pack claims, while technically truthful, are usually pretty misleading. Here are five from my hall of shame...next time you see them, laugh, move on and buy the broccoli instead.

1. Whole Grain....ah yes! Made with 100% whole grain, that must be healthy right? Wrong! Next time you see this claim, compare the food to a grain of brown rice or quinoa. How different do they look? The health benefits of whole grains get distorted the further away you get from its raw, natural state. Brown rice or wheat kernels? Healthy! 100% whole wheat spaghetti? Still pretty healthy! 100% whole grain lucky charms? Not a chance. Milled flour, turned into paste and exploded into airy shapes and packaged with sugary marshmallows? Think about it. And don't even get me started on "white" 100% whole wheat...Best whole grain cereal choice? Steel cut oats. Next best? Anything with more than 5 grams of fibre per serving...like Nature's Path Optimum or Smart Bran.

2. Sweetened with fruit juice...usually found on kid's fruit snack packages. Sorry moms but this one is out there to stump you. Fruit juice concentrate is sugar...pure and simple. All fruit juice is nothing more than sugar and water and a few vitamins (if it is less processed) and when it is concentrated to the level of syrup, what's left? Just sugar folks! Candy is candy, even if it goes by the name of fruit snacks.

3. Cholesterol Free...this one is fun, because it is usually on potato chips. To find the humor in this claim, you have to know that all plant foods do not have cholesterol.  Avocados? No cholesterol! Coconut? No cholesterol! Potatoes? No cholesterol! Vegetable oil? No cholesterol! So potato chips are naturally cholesterol free...still loaded with deep fried fat but yes - no cholesterol! Unless you already have heart disease, food cholesterol is not as important to your heart health as saturated fat...so don't think of cholesterol free goodies as health food, deal?

4. Trans Fat Free...trans fats are horrible, it's true. So as we were learning how widespread they are in our food supply, this claim helped us support companies that refused to use them and send a message to food manufacturers to clean up their ways. However, just because a food is trans fat free doesn't mean its healthy. Trans fat free Doritos are still loaded with MSG and saturated fat and artificial colours and flavours. A treat is a treat...enjoy a little bit and move on!

5. 100% Juice...this one can be terrible because most of us think of juice as a really healthy food and drink it with abandon. Remember my comment above? That juice is just sugar and water? Well, they can take a lot of the water out of the fruit juice and technically it is still 100% juice - with a sugar content not found in nature. Looking for a fun experiment to test this one out? Buy a 100% cranberry juice from a big name brand and then find a 100% cranberry juice NOT from concentrate (notice the price difference too...how are foods that require more intensive processing cheaper??). In the US and Canada, you have Lakewood brand and in Canada, you also have Bremner's (my personal fave). Pour an ounce of each into separate shot glasses. Taste the big brand...now taste the not from concentrate. In all likelihood, you could barely drink the not from concentrate stuff. The difference? A lot of sugar...and because we have been so weaned on heavily sweetened foods, most of us have lost our taste for the bitter, astringent and sour foods found in nature.

The take home message? We don't really need juice in our diets but if you are going to do it, drink NOT from concentrate every single time and keep it to a 1/2 cup a day.

Healthy, savvy you...1...Sneaky food manufacturers...0!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eat...at Ping's Cafe

I am a big fan of supporting my neighbourhood businesses...lucky for me, I live on Main St! We have walked by Ping's Cafe quite a few times but it always seems so busy that we haven't ventured in. However, wanting to show off some uniquely West Coast cuisine, my husband and I I brought our friend (and recent Montreal transplant) to Ping's.

Ping's Cafe website http://www.pingscafe.ca/ states that the cuisine is Western Influenced Japanese. However, having lived in Japan as a teenager...I might reverse this statement. We tend to think of Japanese food as sushi, ramen and other traditional specialties - but Japan has always put their special mark on western dishes. As a foreigner, it can be a little disorienting to buy mayonnaise and find it tasting sweet...or potato salad that just doesn't quite taste like home. And that is the food that Ping's Cafe does well...to put you in that headspace of ordering familiar foods that manage to not feel familiar!

The restaurant is beautiful and the website states that everything except for the chairs was made by hand...which when I saw their beautiful light fixtures I was pretty amazed by:

Another reason I chose this restaurant is because it is definitely budget friendly...nothing over $18 and most of the small plates $6-8. The gomae (sesame spinach) was super yummy...too yummy! Gomae is always served in a small bowl but you could double the portion and I would be in heaven. We also had to try the potato salad...which was just like I remember in Japan!

I had very yummy panko breaded Tofu Furai (Tofu Fry in Japanisized English...clever!). The tofu inside was firm yet perfectly smooth textured and the mayo dip was super yummy.

As I had two carnivores with me, they approved of the pork gyoza and the bratwurst - served with pickled beets and sauerkraut:

We also had the veggie poutine...a Japanese style veggie curry gravy and paneer. The fries were great and the gravy was tasty - but the paneer was really small (I would have liked more):

For dessert, we tried the black sesame ice cream...having forgone the red bean as it brought back too many memories of "red bean surprises" having lived in Asia. The first bite was very sesame and then after your nose gets used to it, it becomes the richest, most wonderful flavour. Watch out if you are on a date here, the teeth look pretty black as you munch away :)

All in all, I really liked Ping's...we will definitely be back!

In good health,