Category Archives: Tips & Techniques

ABC10 | Healthy Easter Basket Treats

I was on ABC10 TV out of Sacramento yesterday to show their viewers (a.k.a. Easter bunnies) how to pull together a ‘healthy Easter basket’. Hmmm…. that’s an oxymoron, you say. Believe it or not, options outside of solid chocolate bunnies, Peeps and sugar-coated sugar do actually exist.

Here are my five basic principles when it comes to “healthify-ing” this tradition.

  • Include plant-based foods and plant-based colorants.
  • Load up on whole grains.
  • Use healthy fats.
  • Cut back on sugar.
  • Swap out milk chocolate with dark chocolate.

All the recipes for the treats on the show will be featured in my upcoming book, “Athletes in Aprons“. 😀

Oat & Berry Bars: These whole-grain, gluten-free bars are made with oat flour and rolled oats layered with an organic berry purée sweetened with just apple juice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies: These cookies will surprise you! They’re made with garbanzo bean and fava bean flours, oat flour, zucchini, dairy-free dark chocolate, and organic unsweetened applesauce. Gluten-free.

Fudge Brownies: These fudge-y treats are made with whole wheat flour and… spinach. Really! Their moist richness comes from just a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, unsweetened applesauce, and golden ground flaxseeds. You have to taste ’em to believe they’re not loaded with hydrogenated fat and white flour.

Banana-Date Granola: Most granolas are made with lots of oats, sugar and fat. Here’s a no-sugar/no-fat-added granola (no kidding!) made with a base of protein- and     Continue reading

How to Slow Growing Old

Businessman Suffering From Shoulder PainIf you’ve ever moaned, “Ugh. It’s tough growing old.”, you’re likely in pain or you can’t do the things you used to do. But all is not lost! You can control how well you feel and how fast you age. However, before laying out the foundation of youth, here’s why your body is aging in the first place.

Blame It On Blood Sugar

One of the key suspects in what causes your cells to deteriorate is your own circulating blood sugar (glucose). In a process called glycation, these glucose molecules cling to proteins, and a chain of chemical reactions take place in your body. The end result? Proteins clump together, known as crosslinked proteins, which accumulate over time and disrupt the normal functioning of your cells.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)

These “crosslinks”, also known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) or glycotoxins, seem to ‘stiffen’ tissues. A stiff body is an aging body. But remember my mantra: “Your age is a given. Growing old is an option.” So don’t throw up your hands just yet. Read on…

Why You Get Stiff

Collagen is the most common and longest living protein molecule in your body. Skin care companies spend billions of dollars trying to replicate it and sell it as their revolutionary secret to erasing wrinkles. Collagen provides structure and support to not only your skin, but to your joints and organs as well.

When glucose binds with collagen (part of the aging process), your collagen loses its suppleness and becomes less flexible. As a result, your lungs, arteries, tendons, and other tissues stiffen. Stiff = Less efficient. For example, when your arteries are stiff, they lose their contractility and can’t pump as much blood through them due to their limited inability to expand and contract.

Age-Related Diseases Linked to AGEs      

Continue reading

Lengthen the Life of Your Produce | Frig 101

Fresh produce in grocery bag

You just returned from the Farmer’s Market, arms overflowing with fresh, seasonal produce that need to go in the frig fast. Do you randomly stash them in the produce drawer? That is, do you put them wherever they fit… only to find that a few days later your greens are wimpy, berries are moldy, and your cucumbers are shriveling? If this sounds familiar, here’s how to store your bounty to maintain their optimal freshness.

humidity-drawerThose drawers in your refrigerator, a.k.a. humidity drawers or produce crispers, actually have a purpose. Notice the humidity controls ranging from low to high on each drawer. Do you know what they mean?

These settings aren’t anything fancy. They simply open or close a window in the drawer. For the low humidity setting, the window is completely open; for the high humidity setting, it is completely closed. And here’s why…

The Gassy Offender

Ethylene gas is produced naturally and released by many fruits and veggies. It causes:

  • Cells to degrade
  • Fruit to ripen (become softer and sweeter)
  • Leaves to go limp
  • Seeds or buds to sprout

Knowing which items are ethylene-gas producers and which are sensitive to the gas, you’ll never toss your apples in with your lettuce again. It’s all about the gas!

What Goes in the Low-Humidity Drawer (“Low Rot”)

Apples, pears and grapes

1. Produce that IS NOT sensitive to moisture loss.
2. Produce that emits ethylene gas. When the window is open, the gases escape, and fruits and vegetables won’t spoil prematurely.

Here are some common fruits and vegetables to keep in the low-humidity drawer (window open):    Continue reading

Whole Grains for Your Heart? Use the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule

Grain and cereal food selection in heart shaped porcelain bowls over lokta paper background. Green freekeh wheat in large dish with ears.

Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating whole wheat bread. You congratulated yourself on trading in (reluctantly) your soft white “wonder” for a 21-grain brick, but your new kind of loaf may not be as healthy and whole as you might think.

Why You Need More Dietary Fiber

There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:

• Type 2 diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Certain cancers
• Weight gain
• Obesity
• Diverticular disease
• Functional constipation

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, as your fiber intake goes up, your risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. (See ‘”Inflammation / Foods that Heal and Harm“)

It’s no surprise that another study concluded that for every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%. Seven grams of fiber really doesn’t equate to that much food. You can get 7 grams through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.

How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart

The cardiovascular benefits of dietary fiber include:

  • Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
  • Reduces cholesterol production
  • Feeds our “good” bacteria
  • Changes our gut hormones
  • Promotes eating low-calorie-density foods
  • Increases satiety
  • Delays gastric emptying

These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Also, per a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation, specifically, C-reactive protein, a sensitive inflammatory marker that can predict chronic disease.

Eat More Whole Plant Foods

Consuming more dietary fiber means eating lots of whole plant foods, such as:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Soluble fiber acts like a “cholesterol sponge”. Sources include:

  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (especially flaxseeds)
  • Legumes
  • Most fruits

Sources of insoluble fiber, a.k.a. “Nature’s Broom”, help prevent constipation and include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Wheat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Other whole grains
  • Most vegetables

When shopping for “packaged” grain products, such as bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, the first word in the ingredients list should be “whole”. However, the remaining ingredients might look like a bunch of chemicals, so how do you choose?

The “Five to One Fiber Rule”   

A more reliable strategy to identify a healthy whole grain food product is to   Continue reading

ABC10 | Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau

Guest appearance on ABC10 “Sac & Co”

VIDEO: Native Hawaiian cuisine traditionally consisted of meat (pig and fowl), fish and shellfish, pineapples, coconuts, coconut milk, sweet potatoes, taro, seaweed, and sea salt as a condiment. Here’s an updated veggie version of some historical Hawaiian dishes which incorporate some of these native foods. I chatted with host Mellisa Paul on Sac & Co, ABC10’s local morning TV show out of Sacramento, about how to host a vegetarian Hawaiian luau.

Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau_Sac&Co1Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau_Sac&Co3

Here’s what I prepared for the show:

  • Vegetarian Poke: tofu, mango, avocado, wakame (seaweed to impart the flavor of the sea), sweet onions (e.g., Maui or Vidalia onions), green onions, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian sea salt
  • Vegetarian Lau Lau: sweet potato, spinach, sweet onions, green onions, coconut milk, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, Hawaiian sea salt, and collard greens
  • Hibiscus Cooler 
  • Mango Freeze
  • Sparkling POG Juice
  • Haupia with fresh fruit and edible flowers (coconut dessert – pudding style)
  • Hawaiian bread pudding
  • Fresh pineapple in freshly cut coconut bowls

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: If you cannot find Maui or Vidalia onions, look for an onion that has a flattened vs round globe shape. These onions are less pungent due to their low amount of sulfur compounds which allows their ‘sweetness’ (sugar) to come through.

ABC10 | Win the Picky Eater War

Guest appearance on ABC10 “Sac & Co”

VIDEO: As children develop, they also develop likes and dislikes for different foods whereby mealtime can become a battleground with your kids (or grandkids). I chatted with host Mellisa Paul on Sac & Co, ABC10’s local morning TV show out of Sacramento, about how to get your picky eater to be more curious and adventurous when it comes to trying new foods.

Sac & Co_Picky Eater left

Sac & Co_Picky Eater center

Sac & Co_Picky Eater right

Sac & Co_Picky Eater wide

Above are my top picky-eater picks that I prepared for the show:

  • Inside-Out Cheeseburgers (can be made with tofu, turkey or beef)
  • Garden Pasta Salad (leaf-shaped pasta with broccoli ‘trees’ misted with olive oil)
  • Carrot Flowers in Edamame and Brown Rice
  • Lasagna Logs
  • Personal Pinwheels in Zucchini Rings
  • Surprise Branana Muffins

Fit Find | Spicely® Lemon Pepper

Lemon pepper is a refreshing blend of the peel of real lemons and coarsely ground pepper. It’s a classic spice for grilled or baked fresh fish (chicken or turkey) and gives fresh zing to grilled, roasted or steamed vegetables, salads, salad dressings, and hummus.

Lemon pepper is often considered a tasty alternative to salt, but beware. Not all lemon peppers are alike. There are several brands on the supermarket shelves and some include salt and sugar.

This Spice Is Nice

Spicely Lemon PepperSpicely® Organic Lemon Pepper is a pure product that’s rather herbal with a touch of tang. Best of all, it contains NO added salt, sugar, processed starches, anti-caking agents, or food colorants. This seasoning is a delicious blend of: Organic Lemon Peel, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Garlic, Organic Onion, Organic Celery Seed, Organic Dill Seed, and Organic Turmeric.

Spicely also makes an Organic Lemon Peel if you like even more lemon-y zest on your food. Lemons add brightness and acidity to any dish. The lemon peel is granulated and delicious in soups and marinades as well.

Spicely states, “All imported spices are required to go through a sterilization process before being sold in the United States. Most spice companies sterilize using synthetic chemicals or radiation. Spicely Organics uses a process called steam sterilization, which sterilizes food products without adding any chemicals or hazardous materials.” 

The Not-So-Fit Finds

McCormick Lemon Pepper with Garlic & OnionMcCormick’s California Style Lemon Pepper with Garlic & Onion – Black Pepper, Lemon Peel, Citric Acid*, Salt, Onion, Garlic, Sugar, Maltodextrin**, Lemon Juice Solids, and Natural Flavors.

*Citric Acid is a white crystalline powder produced commercially by using a culture of Aspergillus niger (a fungus) and feeding it simple sugar. Molasses is used primarily for citric acid fermentation since it’s readily available and relatively inexpensive. A. niger uses the glucose as food and produces citric acid and carbon dioxide (C02) as waste products.

NOTE: This is the same fungus that causes a disease called ‘black mold’ on certain fruits and vegetables (e.g., grapes, apricots, onions, and peanuts) and is a common contaminant of food. In foods, citric acid is used as a flavor enhancer, preservative and emulsifier.

**Maltodextrin is a cheap filler or thickener that’s added to processed foods. It’s derived from starch, i.e., carbohydrates, such as corn, wheat, potatoes, or rice. The processed starch turns into a moderately sweet or a flavorless white powder. Maltodextrin is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, in fact, as rapidly as pure glucose. This additive is used in some spice blends as we’ve just learned, but it’s often used in:    Continue reading

How to Keep Your Lemons Fresh for a Month

Earlier this season I was blessed with a steady stream and quite generous supply of organic fresh-picked lemons from one of my cardiac rehab patients. (Thank you, Bob S.!) Although I couldn’t possibly consume even one of his weekly harvests in a couple of weeks, I found a way to keep them fresh for a long time.

I truly appreciate these little homegrown globes of sunshine as their juice and zest add a zing of freshness to my handmade salad dressings as well as green salads, dips, sides, fish, and fresh fruit. And if you’re a natural homekeeper like me, you’ll also use the lemons for cleaning!

After trying different methods over the years through trial and error and some by accident (!), here are the BEST and WORST ways to get the most juice out of your lemons (and limes) and make them last:

The BEST:

  • Sealed in a zipper-lock plastic bag and refrigerated! I found they will last for well over a month in the refrigerator — really! The sealed bag helps to retain moisture, so the lemons don’t dehydrate as quickly.

The WORST: 

  • Stored at room temperature on the counter. They’ll get hard and dry. Although I must admit, I sacrifice a few because I love how their bright colors brighten up my kitchen and tabletop.
  • Stored loosely in your refrigerator. They’ll shrivel up and turn brown even in the crisper drawer.
  • Stored in the supermarket produce bags and refrigerated. They’ll dry out in these flimsy bags regardless of where you store them in your frig.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: After you’ve juiced your lemon, slice them into quarters and toss them in your garbage disposal with a few ice cubes. It’ll clean the disposer, knock off the gunk that’s built up on the blades, so they keep grinding properly (it does NOT sharpen the blades), and it’ll smell oh-so-fresh! 🙂 And to get the most juice out of your lemons, here’s my latest and greatest Fit Find

Fit Find | Chef’n® Citrus Juicer

I love adding fresh citrus juice to my food and have tried many different ways to get the most juice out of lemons and limes. I’ve tried the electric models to different manual methods. What’s most important to me when it comes to kitchen tools is efficiency, that is, I want something that’s fast, easy to use, easy to clean, durable, easy to store, and most of all, does the job.

Citrus JuicerI have to say, I absolutely LOVE my new Chef’n® FreshForce™ Citrus Juicer! It was a life saver the other day when I decided to make some mango salsa and after starting a big batch, I could only find a single little lime in my refrigerator. Rats! Normally, one lime would not suffice, but this juicer is amazing. I squeezed the lime, then rotated it around within the squeezer, squeezed again, and continued to do this until I squeezed every last ounce of juice out of this lime. WOW! And yes, I ended up with enough lime juice for my salsa!

The manufacturer states that it “produces 20% more juice than conventional hand-held juicers”. Well, I definitely found that to be true and it does so without a lot of unwanted pulp. Just like a carpenter or mechanic, when you have the right tools, your work is much more efficent, economical and enjoyable. I hand-wash my juicer as recommended by the manufacturer. FreshForce sells for $24.99.