Orange you glad I didn’t say banana by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

Ode to Orange

I love the color orange so much that I bought a pair of orange boots. But when I was a child I hated the fact that my hair was orange and the kids used to call me “carrot top.” As an adult and a Dietitian, I cherish the idea of being compared to a super-food, especially this time of year when orange vegetables are plentiful.

Carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash attribute their beautiful orange hues and outstanding nutrition to the first fat soluble vitamin ever to be identified: vitamin A. Being fat soluble means vitamin A is optimally absorbed and stored with the addition of fat in the diet. Vitamin A, aka retinol, is so named because its primary function is in the retina of the eye. Retinol, which is pre-formed vitamin A, is only found in foods of animal origin.

Certain fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids or “provitamin A,” which must be converted to the active form in the body. These carotenoids include beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-crytopxanthin. Zeaxanthin, lutein and lycopene are also carotenoids but are not precursors to vitamin A. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are chock full of provitamin A carotenoids which are masked by the green chlorophyll.

You need vitamin A-rich foods year round, but, because vitamin A is fat soluble, it is easily stored in your liver and fat cells. You can eat it every other day and still build up ample stores. Aside from promoting vision, especially night vision, vitamin A also supports the immune system and the health and vitality of your skin. It also promotes bone growth and remodeling.

Vitamin A can be toxic so beware of supplements and topical creams which may contain vitamin A. The Tolerable Upper Limit (TLU) is 10,000 IU preformed vitamin A per day. Look for a multivitamin/mineral supplement with no more than 2,500 IU vitamin A (retinol) or a supplement that contains up to 5,000 IU with 50 percent coming from beta-carotene.

There is an abundance of provitamin A rich foods in the fall and winter. Inherently we may eat more orange vegetables as a way to stockpile provitamin A to optimize our night vision during the longer dark hours. Additionally, we might crave these calorie-dense options as a way to store fat and keep us warm in the winter.

This recipe contains all the “A” you need for a day and just enough fat to absorb it. Now that you’ve turned your clocks back, you need all the help you can get to see clearly as you drive home from work in the dark.

Baked Winter Squash with Curried Brown Rice
1 cup brown or wild rice, cooked
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large butternut
or delicata squash or two small acorn or kabocha squash
2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
3 cloves garlic
, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 cup pitted dried plums
, diced
1/4 cup mango chutney or apricot preserves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 ounces cashew Cheddar cheese (make while squash is baking)
Or Cheddar cheese of your choice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place squash halves down in a baking dish filled with about 1/2 inch of water. Bake squash until soft. Remove from oven but leave oven on. Scoop out most of the squash flesh and cut into 1/4 inch chunks. Reserve squash shells. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in dried plums, chutney or preserves, lemon juice and squash chunks and cook until squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in rice to blend flavors. Remove from heat. Drain liquid from baking dish. Place squash shells in dish, cut side up. Spoon mixture into shells. Sprinkle with cheddar. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 10 minutes.
Makes 8 servings. Serving size approximately 1 cup: 170 calories, 4.5g fat, 60mg Omega-3 fats, 4g protein, 33g carbs, 6g fiber, 110% Daily Value vitamin A (3,663 IU or 1,100 mcg RE), significant source of vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphoprus and potassium.

Cashew Cheese
1 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups plain almond milk
, unsweetened
3/4 cup agar flakes
1/3 cup canola oil
3 Tablespoons yellow miso
Juice of one lemon

Grind cashews in food processor using pulse button. Add nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder and sea salt. Pulse to blend spices.
In a saucepan combine almond milk, agar and oil. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until agar dissolves, about 10 minutes. Turn processor on low. Gradually add almond milk mixture. Blend smooth and creamy. Add miso and lemon juice and blend until everything is combined evenly.
Refrigerate four hours until firm or use as is when you want already melted cheese.

What is “Normal” eating? by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

Define “Normal”

In a country obsessed with body image, chronic disease, healthcare, food shows, fast food, vegan and raw food diets as well as high protein diets and supplements, one can’t help but wonder: What is “Normal” eating?

What does it feel like to eat for the purpose of nourishing your body but without worrying whether or not we nourished properly? How many of us eat mindfully with a true appreciation for the food, where it came from, how it was prepared and how it will make us feel while not considering if it is raw, organic, high in fiber or causes weight gain?

Frankly, in developed countries, I doubt there are many who can eat without regard for some consequence. If we don’t ask, we can’t always be sure that the meat we are about to eat is grass-fed; that the vegetables were grown without pesticides; that the added fat is “heart healthy.” We simply don’t know unless we investigate every time we eat at a restaurant or at someone’s house, every time we buy groceries or visit a new food purveyor. Each and every time we eat, we take a chance.

We have taken all the fun out of eating, all the reasons that food and festivities go hand in hand: the celebration of the harvest or the holiday, the joy of the bounty, the merriment of new life, the commemoration of a loved one passed. We seem to eat most often simply because food is readily available for consumption, because it is our right to eat what we want, when we want.

If we think too much about eating, then certainly we are not eating normally. Does that mean that all concerned citizens have an eating disorder? Some of us are overly apprehensive about our health while others are completely aloof. Maybe we all have experienced disordered eating for either not caring or caring too much.

A recent New York Times article struck a chord with a fellow dietitian and I can see why. The writer stated that she did not have an eating disorder immediately after listing her “no-no” foods which in essence included anything with a carbohydrate content above five grams. She wrote about making an egg and flaxseed bread that resembled canvas. She later admitted to relaxing the rules and allowing herself to eat French fries but only the French fries that touch the burger, not the outliers. She will eat the pizza toppings, not the dough except for the crust, but not the part her fingers have touched. I can’t even follow that trail.

She goes on to admit that her plate looks like something a toddler picked over, but it’s the way she eats “and as labor-intensive as it is, it beats having to exercise.” Since when is exercise a punishment for eating? Let me just clarify that both eating and exercise are meant to be enjoyed and neither should ever feel like a death sentence. When they do, then it’s time to reprioritize your goals.

As a dietitian, I teach people to make better food choices that go hand-in-hand with their goals: whether to lose weight, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation or simply for the sake of making healthier choices. I help clients see the connection between food and emotions as well as health. Like most people, I grew up using food for comfort but the more I learn about nutrition and myself, the better I am able to eat for the sake of nourishment. But sometimes I just really want to enjoy some chocolate ice cream. So I enjoy it, no guilt, no rules, just pure pleasure.

My favorite definition on “normal eating” comes from Ellyn Satter, a dietitian who with her 40 years of experience is a renowned expert on eating and feeding.

“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”

However, to define “normal eating” is actually kind of ironic. Shouldn’t we all inherently be experts?

To learn more about eating for all kinds of reasons please visit Elizabeth’s website: http://www.thekitchenvixen.com/

Where’s the Grass-fed Beef? by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

To eat beef or not to eat beef?

While walking through my favorite grocery store, I overheard the guy at the meat counter tell a customer that their organic, free-range beef was raised on a mixed grass and grain diet. Although I eat red meat infrequently, I thought I was buying a good source from this supplier. I have also bought grass-fed beef at the farmer’s market, but you have to buy a pound at a time which is frozen and therefore difficult to break into smaller portions for rationing.

The downfall of grain-fed beef is that it is more likely to contain harmful E. coli than beef from grass-fed cattle. According to research microbiologist James B. Russell, cattle are fed grain to help increase their growth rate, but being fed a diet rich in grains instead of grass can disrupt normal physiology. For one thing, grain-based diets are lower in beneficial fiber than grass-fed diets.

Grain-based diets allow fermentation acids to accumulate in the rumen, one of the four stomachs of a ruminant animal. The rumen serves as a vat where microorganisms, including “good bacteria,” feed off of dietary fiber and therefore aid fiber digestion. In turn, these microorganisms supply the cattle with useful protein, vitamins and short-chain organic fatty acids. Without adequate fiber, these acids are not absorbed efficiently leading to acid buildup and resulting in ulcers. Infectious bacteria pass from the rumen through the ulcers to the blood stream and finally to the liver where they cause abscesses. The animal is then given antibiotics causing further disruption to their symbiotic microbial ecosystem.

Ruminant animals lack the digestive enzymes to break down grains. This can lead to the overgrowth of Clostridium perfringens, potentially deadly to the animal. There is also risk of an increased growth of a harmful strain of E. coli in the digestive tract. This particular strain of E. coli, 0157:H7, are resistant to stomach acid. When this E. coli contaminates ground beef, it can lead to illness and even death in certain populations. Cattle switched from grain-based diets to hay or grass are less likely to produce harmful E. coli.

My foray into the world of grass versus grain-fed beef began after reading a story about a woman who became paralyzed from that harmful E. coli. She ate a contaminated burger and five days later she was in a coma. When she awoke nine weeks later, she could no longer walk.

Food safety may be a big reason people are opting for more vegetarian meals. Vegetarian diets offer myriad health benefits over a diet rich in animal protein. However, when following a strict vegetarian diet, it can be difficult to meet all of your nutrient needs. If you choose to go vegetarian or vegan, make an extra effort to ingest adequate sources of protein, B12, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin D or supplement appropriately.

I like fortified nutritional yeast flakes for B12; beans, spinach and dried fruit for iron; almond or soy milk also for B12 as well as calcium and vitamin D. Zinc is a bit tougher to get in a vegetarian diet, but one cup of beans provides up to 1/3 of the recommended intake. Protein is found in beans and grains. If you still want an occasional beef burger, this recipe works well to extend the use of your more costly but much safer grass-fed beef. Simply mix these ingredients with your grass-fed beef and enjoy the wonderful health benefits of eating a semi-vegetarian diet.

Gluten-free Veggie Burgers

1 cup dried black or pinto beans (1/2 pound or 1/2 bag dried beans)
4 cups water
2 bay leaves

1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 slices gluten free bread
toasted and processed into crumbs or 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 Tablespoon tamari
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup homemade barbeque sauce (see recipe on my blog under Sauces)

Cook beans on the stove top or Crockpot with water and bay leafs. In a food processor, combine cooked, drained beans with flax seed and water. Puree until blended but still lumpy. Add remaining ingredients except barbeque sauce. Pulse until blended. Place in bowl and cover and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When ready to cook burgers, shape into eight patties and place on an oiled cookie sheet. Baste burgers with barbeque sauce and bake 1 hour. Carefully flip and baste burgers every 15 minutes for a crispy coating.
(Recipe adapted from The Crispy Cook, a wheat-free, meat-free blog)
Per serving: 228 calories, 12g protein, 30g carbs, 9g fiber, 7g fat, 1190mg Omega-3 fats. High in every nutrient except vitamins C, D and E.