Category Archives: nutrition

Simply Sunday – Healthy Cooking

Welcome to Simply Sunday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  Today’s topic of discussion is healthy cooking.  A quality diet isn’t just characterized by the type of foods that you eat, but how you prepare and cook them.  Using proper tecnniques will lessen the chances of decreasing the vitamin and mineral content of foods and adding unnecessary amounts of fat and sodium to meals.  Here are a few tips to follow when in the kitchen:

  • Do not peel away the edible skin of fruits and vegetables (e.g., apples, peaches, potatoes, etc.,).  Most of the vitamins and minerals are not found in the middle, rather they are present in the skin and just below the skin.  By removing the peel you are stripping away vital nutrients.
  • Steam rather than boil vegetables.  There is very little or no contact with water during the steaming process; therefore, most of the vegetable’s nutrients can be retained.  Because some of the vitamins can be dissolved in water, boiling vegetables can lead to a loss of nutrients.  If you need to boil your produce, save and freeze the cooking water to be used at a later date for soup stock, sauces, etc.,.  This way, you can still obtain the water-soluble nutrients that were dissolved in the water during the boiling process. 
  • Roast vegetables using nonstick cooking spray to enhance flavor while cutting down on fat content.
  • Do not overcook vegetables.  Overcooking destroys vitamins and minerals.
  • Rinse canned fish and meat before consuming to lower sodium and fat content.
  • To lower the fat content of your meal, trim the fat from cuts of poultry and meats before cooking and remove the skin from cooked poultry before eating.
  • Microwave meats and produce.  The fast-cooking process of microwaving decreases the time that the heat-sensitive nutrients of food are exposed to high temperatures.  Also, you do not need to add any fat to your meal to cook it in the microwave.
  • Baste using low-fat or fat-free liquids such as lemon juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, tomato juice, fat-skimmed stock, and wine.
  • When sauteing, use wine, lemon juice, or fat-skimmed stock and/or broth instead of oil or butter to lower fat content.
  • When roasting, grilling, and broiling use a rack so that fat drippings fall away from meat and poultry.

What techniques do you use for healthy cooking?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, homemade meals, nutrition

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Eat What?

Eat What? recommends what to eat from grocery stores and restaurants.

Last month, PICKKA launched a cool new app for the iPhone – Eat What?. This nifty app provides you with a list of recommended products to buy at the grocery store and/or suggestions of menu items from a restaurant based on your dietary objectives (e.g., management of diabetes, prediabetes, weight, cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and/or adhering to healthy eating).  Eat What? is simple to use.

First, select your health objectives.

Second, specify whether you want to search restaurant menu items or products from the grocery store.  Then, type the name of the restaurant, product brand, or food category for which you would like recommendations.

Third, review the list of recommendations.  Nutritional information is provided as well as consumer ratings of taste to help you narrow your choice.

“Eat What?” eliminates the guess work out of deciding what to eat so you can spend more time enjoying your food and less time analyzing it.  For an easy way to stay on track, download the “Eat What?” app for your iPhone.

Don’t have an iPhone?  Try PICKKA’s “Eat This?” app now available for the Android market.  Visit Eat This?” to learn more and to download the app to your Android phone.


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Filed under Eat This?, Eat What?, health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, iPhone apps, nutrition, nutrition labels, PICKKA, restaurant meals

Thinking of Going Vegetarian? Here is What you Need to Know…

Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity as a way to improve health, prevent disease, maintain a proper body weight, and to follow a green/sustainable lifestyle.  Vegetarian diets can provide adequate nutrition when the right food choices are made.  If you are considering making the switch to a diet consisting of more meat-free meals, here is what you need to know:

Protein:  You can provide your body with all of the essential amino acids it needs by taking care to eat a wide variety of plant-based protein throughout the day.  Good choices include:

  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts and Nut butters
  • Soy products such as tofu, veggie burgers/hotdogs, and tempeh
  • Whole grains such as quinoa (a seed originally from the Andes region of South America that contains all eight essential amino acids)
  • For ovo lacto vegetarians, eggs and reduced-fat and nonfat cheeses and milk are good sources

Iron: There has been some concern in the past that individuals who follow a strict vegetarian diet are at an increased risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia because the body does not absorb iron from plant sources as well as it does from animal sources.  Increasing your awareness of good plant-based sources of iron, as well as learning which foods will inhibit iron absorption, is important to reduce your risk.  Consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin C-rich foods (e.g., orange juice, citrus fruits, and tomatoes) in combination with plant sources of iron will improve your body’s absorption of this mineral.

Good plant sources of iron include:

  • Fortified whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach and turnip and beet greens
  • Dried beans and legumes such as kidney beans and lentils
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Certain dried fruits such as prunes, apricots, and raisins
  • Blackstrap molasses

Foods that interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron include:*

  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Foods high in calcium and zinc
  • protein from soy, egg, and milk products

*Note: these foods do not have to be eliminated from your diet, but care should be taken to not regularly consume them at the same time you eat iron-rich foods.  This is where balance and variety throughout the day become important.

Calcium: Some studies suggest that the body absorbs and retains calcium better from a vegetarian diet than it does from a non-vegetarian diet.  Good sources of calcium for vegetarians include:

  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Fortified foods such as soy and/or rice milk, orange juice, and cereals
  • Lacto vegetarians can get calcium from reduced-fat and nonfat diary products

Vitamin B12: Because Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, strict vegetarians can be at risk for a deficiency.  Sources of Vitamin B12 for the vegetarian include:

  • Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, cereals, and soy-based products (soy milk, veggie burgers, etc.,)
  • Ovo lacto vegetarians can get Vitamin B12 from eggs and reduced-fat and nonfat dairy products

You can follow a vegetarian diet and still meet your body’s nutritional needs through proper planning and incorporating a variety of plant-based foods into your meals and snacks throughout the day.  Seeking the advice of a registered dietitian can help you to develop food combinations that maximize your potential for getting adequate amounts of protein and iron in your diet.  For more information on living a vegetarian lifestyle visit the websites of the American Dietetic Association and/or the United States Department of Agriculture.

Are you trying to eat less meat and more plant-based meals?  Do you have any tips you would like to offer?  Share with us, we want to know!


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Filed under green eating, health, healthy food, milk alternatives, nutrition, rice milk, soy milk, sustainable, vegetarian

A Focus on Men’s Health by Guest Blogger Steve Jasper

Men’s Health Week By Steve Jasper

Every year, Men’s Health Week falls on the seven days prior to Father’s Day. The significance of this event would mean nothing without first realizing that one’s health is not only a measure of the lifestyle you lead, but how you stay in shape as well. A fraction of men are regular gym-goers who work out tirelessly with exercise equipment in order to keep their bodies healthy and active. Men realize that working out serves a more important function than just building muscles. Working out can help you improve your body image, self confidence, and even add years to your life.

Men’s Health Week (June 14-20th) is a week of awareness involving health issues and diseases for men that easily can be averted with early action, treatment, and healthy prevention. It’s no coincidence that Men’s Health Week leads right up to Father’s Day because Father’s Day is where we celebrate a man we love and wish nothing but health and happiness to. Many men understand the importance of adhering to a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, whole-grains, low- and nonfat dairy products, and lean meat choices.  Yet, how can more men be proactive in staying healthy and avoiding illness and heath issues? Well, a good place to start is to be educated about how to use the gym, and exactly how important it is to do so. A better knowledge of how to properly exercise is integral to fighting obesity and improving your health.

The list of ailments that go along with obesity is almost endless: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, respiratory problems, and even cancer all have higher incidence rates in the obese. This is scary enough, but looking at the statistics, it’s even more frightening. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that 72 percent of men over the age of 20 are considered to be overweight or obese while 32 percent are dangerously obese. This is too much- especially when studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have shown that physical activity may greatly reduce the risk of both obesity and most health conditions in men.

There are plenty of great foods men can eat that will not only improve their exercise performance and overall fitness, but help them to be healthier and avoid obesity as well. Incorporating foods like blueberries (which are loaded with antioxidants) and sardines (not for everyone, but they are nutritious) can change a man’s attitude and drive. Additionally, other great foods men can snack on are nuts, which are full of vitamin E. Rice is also a good source for your vitamins, potassium and zinc. Even smaller foods are great to add to your diet in order to make things run smoothly. For example, sesame seeds are great for a man’s sex drive because they are rich in amino acids. Amino acids, as you may know, are the building blocks for your body’s proteins. Eating the right food can even affect your mood, which has been seen with edamame (or soy beans), for example. When you are fulfilling your dietary needs, you are less likely to succumb to binges on junk foods. Getting on the right diet and eating foods that help maintain a healthy body is one of the most important steps a man can take towards staying healthy and avoiding obesity. Of course, the other half of the equation is keeping a good workout routine.

Depending on who you ask, going to the gym may either seem like a hobby or a chore, but following those routines are important to staying fit and healthy for men everywhere. Now, we all come up with excuses as to why we can’t work out. When polled, the biggest reason men gave for not being able to exercise is, “not enough time.” The best way to overcome this hurdle is by getting your hands on one of your own personal home gyms. When you factor in the time it takes to travel back and forth from your fitness center, the gas money spent to do so, and the various membership fees, a home gym starts to look like a very reasonable option. And if you are more likely to work out regularly on your home gym than you are at your club, then all the more reason to pick one up.

How do you or the man in your life stay in shape?  Do you have a personal home gym?  What do you eat to help fuel your exercise?  Share with us, we want to know!

About the Author:

Steve Jasper is not a medical expert. If you have any serious medical concerns, please consult a qualified medical professional before undertaking a new fitness regimen. Steve is a contributing blogger from Gymsource who writes an all topics related to fitness equipment and much more.


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Filed under diet, exercise equipment, fitness, health, healthy food, men, nutrition, obesity, weight loss

Nutritional Supplement or Glorified Candy Bar?

Whole foods are best, but when you are constantly on-the-go, that option is not always possible.  Enter meal replacement bars – the go-to source of nutrition of many that has gained in popularity in recent years.  And, for good reason – when you are about to debunk and are faced with choosing between an empty calorie, high-sodium, fat-ladened meal from a fast food restaurant or an enriched energy bar, the latter choice wins out.  Care needs to be taken, however, when choosing the best meal replacement bar for you.  With all of the different choices on the market today, this can prove to be a challenge.  How is one to know if their bar of choice is a good supplement to their diet or just a glorified candy bar?

Manufacturers of supplement bars strive to reach different consumer targets.  Usually, the label tells all.  Descriptors such as “low-carb,” “high-performance,” or “high-fiber” give an indication as for whom the bar is made and what nutritional “needs”  it is intended to meet.  Supplement bars basically fall under two main categories – meal replacement and performance.  Subcategories within these would include bars engineered to meet the needs of different gender and age groups (e.g., women, children, etc.,), and/or those individuals with special dietary requirements/preferences (e.g., “vegan,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” etc.,).

When choosing the best bar for you, consider the following:

  • Who are you buying the bar for? You? Your child?
  • What are your goals? Are  you looking to increase exercise performance? Do you want to build muscle mass? Lose weight? Run longer?
  • Is the bar to replace a regular meal or to act as a nutritional supplement in your diet or your child’s diet?

The descriptions below of what to expect from the different categories of bars may help you to select the one that meets your needs and goals.

Meal Replacement Bars

  • Individuals interested in using supplement bars as part of their weight loss program want to ensure that the bars provide a nutritional equivalent to what would be achieved by consuming a small meal composed of whole foods.  These bars should contain fiber (at least 3-5 grams) to provide a sense of fullness.  Diet bars should be relatively low in fat (no more than 5 grams), contain a moderate amount of protein (10-15 grams), and should be enriched with a third of your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
  • When choosing a bar that will be a nutritional supplement to fill-in any “gaps” that may be in your or your child’s diet, be wary of claims such as “real fruit,” “yogurt,” etc.,.  Read the label carefully because the source of “fruit” may actually be from juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup rather than real pieces of fruit.  And, the form of yogurt present typically does not contain the live, active cultures that help with digestive and immune function.  Also, use caution when deciding upon meal replacement bars that are dipped in chocolate or have chocolates swirls on top.  These “extras” usually come with a price – added sugar and fat in amounts that equate or exceed those found in candy bars.
  • To round out your nutritional needs or those of your child, serve a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or a glass of skim milk along with the meal replacement bar.

Performance Bars

  • Although there is a range, performance bars can contain a higher caloric content than diet bars targeted for weight loss in order to meet the increased energy needs of an active individual.
  • Supplement bars that target bodybuilders tend to have the highest protein content, around 20-30 grams.  Choose a bar that lists high-quality protein (whey, casein, or soy) as one of the main sources.
  • Athletes who are looking for an energy bar to consume prior to a moderate- to high-intensity workout should look for one that is high in carbohydrates (around 25-40 grams).  Avoid bars that are high in fat and fiber which can interfere with digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.
  • Endurance athletes looking for a supplement bar to be consumed during a prolonged exercise session (longer than an hour) would benefit from bars that are high in quick digesting carbohydrates (glucose).  Ideally, these individuals want to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
  • Energy bars consumed post-workout should be relatively high in carbohydrates (30 grams or more) to replenish energy stores and have a moderate amount of protein (10 grams) to aid in muscle tissue repair.

What to Look for in all Supplement Bars

  • The fat source should primarily come from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as whole-grains and nuts (e.g., oats, almonds, etc.,).  Avoid bars high in trans and saturated fats.
  • Limit bars sweetened with sugar alcohols which can lead to gastrointestinal upset.  Instead, choose bars that are sweetened with natural sugars (e.g., fruit purees, honey, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with high-fructose corn syrup and/or have simple sugars listed as the first or second ingredient.
  • Carbohydrates should come from complex sources (e.g., whole-grain oats, wheat bran, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with unrefined grains (e.g., white flour).
  • The protein should come from quality sources such as egg, soy, whey, and casein.

Meal replacement and performance bars are a convenient source of energy and can have a place in your and/or your child’s diet when chosen wisely.  Care should be taken to avoid going “overboard” on supplement bars.  Since many can contain mega amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, you are at risk for consuming more calories than you expend, which can lead to weight gain.  If you are considering using meal replacement bars, meeting with a dietitian can help you find the best one for your goals and nutritional needs.

Do you eat meal replacement bars?  Which ones are your favorites?  Share with us, we want to know!


Sources for more Information “Meal Replacements: Choose Those Bars and Drinks Carefully,” Zelman, K.

Running Times Magazine, April 2007, “Raising the Bar – How to find the best energy bar for you,” Eberle, S.G.

“Kids and On-the-Go Nutrition,” Gavin, M.L.

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Filed under children, diet, easy meals, energy bars, nutrition, nutritional supplement, snacks, weight loss

Simply Sunday

Welcome to Simply Sunday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  Today’s topic is “Healthy Kitchen Staples.”*  A well-stocked kitchen can help you meet your weight management and nutrition goals.  Packing your cupboards and icebox full of healthy food staples will provide you with the needed ingredients to prepare well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals.  A sufficiently prepared pantry can also aid in the creation of quick meals and snacks for those hectic, on-the-go days.  The healthy staples that you should have in your kitchen include:

Healthy Pantry Staples

  • Dried Beans:  These supply your body with protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Furthermore, they are relatively low in fat and contain no cholesterol.  A diet that is abundant in this healthy staple can help to decrease cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar values, and lower the risk of certain cancers.  Dried lentils are a good choice if you are short on time because there is no need to soak them overnight before they can be cooked.
  • Whole-Grains:  The fiber content of this food group can help with weight management by providing a sensation of fullness with a consumption of fewer calories.  Whole grains are a low-fat source of protein and complex carbohydrates.  Quinoa is a good choice, especially for vegetarians, because it is a complete protein (contains all eight essential amino acids) and is a good source of iron.
  • Healthy Oils:  Although you should not consume a high-fat diet, your body does require a certain amount of fat to carry out numerous metabolic processes.  The type of fat you consume is important for optimal health.  You will want to stock your pantry with oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.  Extra-virgin olive oil is a good choice because it has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and to protect against heart diseasae.
  • Spices:  Spices are an excellent way to add flavor to dishes without adding extra salt, sugar, and fat.  Cinnamon has been linked to improved fasting blood sugar levels in diabetics.  Sprinkle it over your morning oatmeal or use it as a flavoring for roasted nuts.  Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.  Use it to flavor brown rice or other whole-grain dishes.
  • Canned Tuna:  Albacore tuna fish is an excellent source of protein and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Purchase low-sodium cans of tuna and rinse with water prior to consuming to reduce sodium content.  Mix a can of tuna fish with whole-grain pasta for a quick lunch.
  • Canned Tomatoes:  This pantry staple can be used to make salsas, sauces, and soups.  It also makes a great topping for baked potatoes and omelets.  Thanks to the lycopene content, canned tomatoes offer protection against certain cancers (lung, colon, breast, prostate, and skin) and they have been linked to a reduced the risk of heart disease.
  • Nut and Seed Butters:  A great source of protein, nut and seed butters can be spread on whole-grain bread, mixed with hot cereal, or used in sauces to top whole-grain noodles or rice.

Healthy Icebox Staples

  • Soybeans (Edamame):  Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber.  Edamame can be tossed in a mixed-greens salad or eaten alone as a healthy snack.
  • Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: These icebox staples are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  They also help with weight management due to their fiber content.  Frozen fruit can be used to make smoothies and frozen vegetables can be added to soups and sauces.

Healthy eating requires planning and preparation.  By keeping your pantry and icebox stocked with staples that can be easily and quickly turned into meals, you increase your chances of adhering to a healthy lifestyle.

*Today’s post was adapted from Simply Fit’s “Kitchen Staple Essentials for the Physically Active” posted on November 5, 2009.


The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M

“How to Build a Healthy Pantry For Busy People,” December 8, 2008, Van Sunder, T.

Food for Fitness, Eat Right to Train Right, 2004, Carmichael, C.

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Filed under easy meals, health, healthy food, healthy pantry staples, nutrition

Eat Breakfast for Better Health

Most of us wouldn’t consider going for a day trip in a car that has a near-empty gas tank.  We’d fill it up first to avoid running out of gas before we got to our destination.  Yet, many of us don’t think twice about skipping breakfast – the fuel our bodies need to help us function throughout the day.

Do you fall into that category?  Unfortunately, the decision to forgo breakfast can cause you to prematurely “run out of steam,” often by mid-morning.  As a result, you may find yourself reaching for the quickest source of energy which, more likely than not, would be high in calories and fat and low in nutrients.  Consuming foods like this will ultimately drain you of more energy.

How does eating breakfast prevent this?  A good breakfast prepares your body for the day ahead.  It replenishes your body’s energy stores from the fast that occurred while you slept.  Therefore, instead of starting your day on empty, you begin with a full “tank.”

Eating breakfast provides you with many other health benefits as well.  These include:

  • Increased Metabolism and Decreased Body Weight: Individuals who regularly eat a healthy breakfast tend to be thinner than those who skip it.  Why?  Eating breakfast stimulates the body’s production of enzymes that metabolize fat to make energy – thus, promoting weight loss.  Also, if you eat breakfast, you are less likely to become overly hungry later – which is often associated with “binge” eating at lunch and dinner.
  • Improved Overall Nutrition. Research shows that individuals who eat breakfast tend to consume less fat and cholesterol and more vitamins and minerals, especially if they eat whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal.
  • Greater Concentration and Improved Ability to Focus. A healthy, nutrient-dense breakfast provides fuel for the brain.
  • Improved Strength and Endurance. If you eat breakfast you have more energy to engage in physical activity throughout the day – thus, enhancing your fitness level.

What Constitutes a Healthy Breakfast?

  • Low-fat/Lean Protein. Egg whites and/or lean slices of meat, such as Canadian bacon, are good sources of protein without the extra calories from fat.
  • Whole Grains/High-fiber Foods. Oat bran, whole-grain brown rice, and whole-grain ready-to-eat cereals are all good ways to start the day.
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Produce is a great choice in the morning.  It provides you with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Low- or Nonfat Dairy Products. Reduced-fat cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk provide calcium for strong bones.

Breakfast Suggestions:

  • A bowl of whole-grain brown rice with raisins and sprinkled with cinnamon and 8 ounces of skim milk to drink.
  • Scrambled egg with 2 TBS shredded low-fat cheese wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla and 8 ounces of 100% pure orange juice.
  • Home-made breakfast trail mix – 1/4 cup of raw whole oats, 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup of your favorite ready-to-eat whole grain cereal, and 1/4 cup of dried fruit such as cherries; 8 ounces of 100% grapefruit juice.
  • Cottage-cheese with 2 TBS of wheat germ, one medium orange, and skim milk to drink.

The breakfast you eat in the morning does not need to be elaborate to be beneficial.  You should, however, avoid foods that are low in fiber and high in fat and calories (e.g., doughnuts).  Consuming a high-fiber breakfast will help you to feel full for a longer period of time.  Making breakfast a part of your every day will help to lay the foundation from which you can build a healthy life.

What is your favorite healthy breakfast to eat in the morning?  Do you have any tricks to eat a healthy breakfast on-the-go?


Filed under breakfast, health, healthy food, nutrition