Beautiful on the Inside

Mother and sun snuggling in the kitchen with an assortment of colorful, fresh pearsThis week a coworker said to me, “My son doesn’t eat fruits and vegetables, but it’s okay. He looks healthy.” Uh oh, this sounds familiar. Rather than what’s on the outside, the question we should ask is, “What does he look like on the inside?” Thinness does not imply healthy, and those who look like they are a healthy or expected weight on the outside may, due to poor diet or lack of exercise, harbor risk factors for chronic diseases on the inside. Medically this is called metabolically obese normal weight and socially called “skinny fat.” Unfortunately, like obesity, this condition is associated with insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood lipids, predisposing individuals to premature diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [1]

National data suggest that metabolically obese normal weight individuals make up more than 20% of the normal weight population, and about half of all American adults have one or more illnesses associated with poor diet. [2,3] And it’s no wonder. Americans tend to eat too much sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish that may protect against chronic illnesses. [4] Additionally, Americans don’t move enough; only 21% of US adults meet the national physical activity recommendation of 150 minutes per week. Weight is only one indicator of health status: The scale does not replace eating well, exercise, and an annual physical exam.

Like I discussed with my coworker (and just about anyone who will listen), small changes to increase fruit and veggie consumption and movement will go a long way – especially in children who are building lifelong habits. As we’ve been told a million times in our lives, it truly is what’s on the inside that matters.

 
1. Suliga E, Koziel D, Gluszek S. Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in normal weight individuals. Ann Agric Environ Med 2016; 23:631-635.
2. Wildman RP, Muntner P, Reynolds K, McGinn AP, Rajpathak S, Wylie-Rosett J, Sowers MR. Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes Among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004). Arch Intern Med 2008; 168:1617-1624.
3. Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults: A 2012 Update. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11.
4. Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Accessed Apr 16, 2017]; Usual Dietary Intakes: Food Intakes, U.S. Population, 2007–2010.

Pear “Toasts”

Pears sliced lengthwise topped with delicious toppingsYou’ve probably noticed how trendy the idea of toast has become, with food magazines, cooking shows, and restaurant chefs across the country coming up with enticing toppings for a humble slice of bread. There are even entire cafes dedicated to the concept. But what happens when you have the wacky idea to exchange a slice of pear for the bread? Magic!

Here are four delicious ideas for topping pear “toasts” at home. Consider this a jumping off point for coming up with your own creative combinations, using whatever variety of pear you have ripening on the counter, and any tasty toppings sitting in your fridge or pantry. The options are practically endless, since pears taste amazing with both sweet and savory flavors. These quick creations are a yummy snack for kids and adults alike, whether the craving strikes after school or at the office. But really they are great anytime of the day, from breakfast on the go to a midnight snack.

The first step is to slice a ripe USA pear lengthwise, cutting on either side of the core to create 1/4-inch thick planks. Next, get topping!

Toast 1:
USA Green Anjou Pear
Almond Nut Butter
Banana Slices
Honey Drizzle
Cinnamon Sprinkle
Poppy Seeds

Toast 2:
USA Bosc Pear
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Cucumber Slices
Crumbled Feta
Chopped Kalamata Olives
Dill Sprigs

Toast 3:
USA Bosc Pear
Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese
Salami Slices
Chopped Hazelnuts
Chopped Parsley

Toast 4:
USA Red Anjou
Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Chopped Dried Apricots
Mint Leaves
Black Sesame Seeds

Spring is in the Air

pear blossoms on a tree in springSpring is in the air. And along with that, at least for me, comes the feeling of renewal – out with the old, in with new. First thing I like to do is go through my closet; sandals to replace boots, t-shirts replace sweaters, and long sleeve dresses make room for sleeveless ones.

Next stop, the kitchen. I try year-round to make sure my cupboards and refrigerator aren’t stocked with foods that have expired. But part of my spring-cleaning ritual still includes a thorough review. And after the gloominess of winter, I long for a kitchen stocked with fresh produce that make me feel great.

Well, hello, Anjou pear.

Yes, I could have enjoyed you when it was snowing outside, but honestly, I got sidetracked. Packed with satiating fiber and with the powerful antioxidant of Vitamin C, you are a welcome addition to my refreshed, spring lifestyle. Since I’ll be even more active than I was in the winter (just completed my yoga teacher training last month!), I’m going to need to stay satiated and energized with the right foods.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy pears:

1. Sliced and cooked into my morning bowl of oatmeal for some sweetness.

oatmeall topped with pears and walnuts in a bowl2. Thin slivers on a slice of 100% whole wheat bread with peanut butter for crunch and sweetness (instead of jam). Perhaps with a drizzle of honey. Whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter and sliced pears
3. Slices or cubes added to any type of mixed green salad with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar for crunch and sweetness. Goodbye croutons and sugar-laden salad dressings.Mixed greens topped with fresh, sliced pears
4. Cut into wedges served with a tablespoon of almond butter for a delicious snack.Sliced pear wedges with nut butter for dipping

And now, I’m feeling properly prePEARed for spring!

Pickled Pear and Irish Cheddar Toasties in a Bread Basket

Little grilled cheese and pickled pear snadwiches stuffed inside a hollowed out bread loaf on a green plateLittle toastie sandwiches, filled with melting Irish Cheddar and piquant pickled pears, are (adorably) presented right in their own hollowed out bread loaf. This recipe makes 2 pints of sweet and tangy pickled pears perfumed with caraway and bay. You won’t need that much for the toasties, so you’ll have pickled pears in your fridge for a month, if they last that long! Enjoy them with cheeses and charcuterie, in salads and sandwiches, or as a tasty snack.

Makes 8 toasties; serves 4 (because everyone will want 2!)

Caraway Pickled Pears
2 medium ripe or slightly underripe Bosc pears
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

For the Toasties
1 unsliced loaf of hearty whole-grain sandwich bread (AKA a “Pullman” loaf)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, sliced and at room temperature
16 slices Caraway Pickled Pears

To make the pickled pears: Halve and core the pears, and slice each one lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Pack the slices into 2 wide-mouth, pint-size glass canning jars, or other heatproof container(s). Bring the vinegar, water, honey, salt, caraway seeds, and bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the honey and salt are dissolved. Boil for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine into the jars, completely covering the pears. Cover the jars with lids and set aside to allow the brine to cool to room temperature as it pickles the pears. When completely cooled, use right away or refrigerate the pickled pears for up to 1 month.

To make the toasties: First preheat the broiler.

loaf of bread on a cutting board with the crust and top intact, but the middle removed in a blockUsing a bread knife, saw off the top crust of the bread, just where it begins to dome (if it is a flattop loaf, then just saw off about ½ inch of the top crust); set the top aside. Now cut out the inside of the bread in one giant rectangle, so that you will basically have a crustless smaller loaf within the outer shell of crust. Here’s how to do that: Saw around the perimeter of the bread parallel to the long and short edges of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on all edges and without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Now cut a slit through one of the long edges of the crust that runs parallel to the bottom crust, about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on either end of the loaf so as not to completely slice off the bottom crust; this will free the inside bread rectangle, leaving a long slit toward the bottom of the bread bowl (but that won’t matter, it’s a secret!). Carefully remove the now crustless interior rectangle of bread and cut it into 16 slices.

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top sides with butter. Place them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the top heating element, until nicely toasted. Flip and toast the slices on the other side. Remove them from the oven, and now preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Top 8 of the toasted bread slices with a slice of cheese and then 2 slices of pickled pear. Place the other 8 bread slices on top, creating 8 little toastie sandwiches. Stuff the toasties back into the hollowed out bread “basket.” You will likely only be able to fit about 6 of them inside, so set the other 2 aside for now. Replace the top of the bread. Wrap the entire loaf in a sheet of aluminum foil and place it on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheese is melted, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the remaining 2 toasties on a small baking pan and heat them in the oven a few minutes before the big loaf is done, just until the cheese is melted.

To serve, place the bread basket and extra toasties on a large platter, and enjoy while the cheese is hot and melty!

Put Your Best Fork Forward!

Woman with curly blonde hair in an orchard excitedly about to bite a fresh pearHappy National Nutrition Month! Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages getting back to the basics of a healthful diet, and moving toward healthful habits can be as simple as changing the next bite. Lately, I have been hearing of more nutrition and food fads and myths than usual. It seems the internet has made everyone a nutrition expert. (Insert a shrug and a sigh.) My personal pet peeve is the use of the phrases good food and bad food. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t black and white unless you’re eating a hot fudge sundae. When I was an obese teen, I’d come home after school and cram my mouth full of snack cakes, potato chips, whatever packaged food I could find in our overstuffed pantry. These, of course, were not nutrient-dense choices and I don’t ever recommend eating this way. But can we still splurge on perceived bad foods while maintaining a healthful diet?

Yes. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as starting with the next forkful. Each bite is important, but never splurging is an impossibility. I eventually overhauled my diet and my palate – but I didn’t start there. I started with one simple change. I added more fresh produce. Notice I didn’t say I cut out the junk, ran five miles a day, and added fresh produce, because I didn’t (at first). I made a conscious decision to add fresh foods to my plate. Sometimes it was as simple as a few carrots in addition to my chips. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit after a meal. Over time, I started to feel a little better and liked how fresh foods tasted – and it wasn’t terribly difficult to maintain one bite at a time. Now, I feel great and I definitely still splurge!

Considering it is National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on a simple change, such as improving the next bite. Do I wish as a teen I had stuffed my face with pears and carrots instead? Of course. But starting with the next bite can turn into a lifelong habit!

Go green and get your culinary jig on this St. Patrick’s Day

Many Irish staples carry an impressive nutrient profile. You can boost the benefits even further by complementing them with flavorful, nutritious pears. Here are 4 ways to do it:

steel cut oatmeal in a small mason jar1) Irish Oatmeal
Start the day with a festive batch of oatmeal. Prepare this simple recipe for Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats, then speckle with pieces of bright green Anjou pear (in season now!).

pretty diced pear and apple chutney in a jar2) Soda Bread
This quick and easy 5-Ingredient Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread is hearty and satisfying without breaking the calorie bank. Serve with a spread of pear jam or spoonfuls of pear chutney and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese.

Hearty sheppard's pie slice with bosc pears on a white plate with a green napkin3) Potatoes
Spuds get a bad reputation for being unhealthy but are actually filled with important nutrients, including potassium, iron, fiber and B-vitamins. Bake, mash or cut into fries and roast in the oven. Serve with roasted chicken and a side of Cinnamon Pear Sauce. For a one-pot meal, add chopped, firm Bosc pears to your favorite recipe for a tasty spin on a classic Shepard’s Pie.

sliced pears atop red cabbage with green onions in a white bowl4) Cabbage
There’s more to this cruciferous and cancer-fighting veggie than corned beef. Enjoy cabbage year-round in salads and slaws. Stick with the green theme by combining cabbage with kale in a fresh and crunchy Kale Cabbage and Pear Slaw with Citrus Dressing.

February is Heart Health Month

Pears have more fiber than most other fruits. A graphic showing how pears rank higher than bananas and oranges in fiberThere’s good reason as to why we have an entire month dedicated to heart health: heart disease is the number 1 cause of death for men and woman in the United States (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016). According to the CDC, this has been the case for upwards of 80 years now, with current numbers pointing to about 610,000 deaths in the United States every year. Translation: heart disease is to blame for 1 out of every 4 deaths in America! While statistics like this are shocking and scary, there is at least one thing you can start doing today to immediately lower your risk: improve your diet.

The truth is, a healthy heart is directly correlated with a healthy diet. Studies show that fiber is excellent at preventing and reducing elevated cholesterol levels, which is a strong predictor of heart disease (Chai, 2012) (Department of Epidemiology, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, 2008). High levels of cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, which is plaque buildup on the artery walls that can constrict blood flow and lead to heart attacks. Fiber, the zero-calorie indigestible part of carbohydrates, helps lower cholesterol by attaching itself to dietary cholesterol and ushering it out of the body, so it never gets absorbed into the blood (where it would otherwise stick and build up on the artery walls – yikes!).

So, how can you fiber-up your diet? Pears are a delicious place to start! A medium pear puts you 6 grams closer to meeting your daily fiber needs—which for women is 25 grams, men 38. Pears also have Vitamin C, with a medium-sized pear containing approximately 7 mg or 10 percent of the daily value. Because pears don’t need to be refrigerated, they’re also a very portable snack, especially if you work a desk job or are on the go. Pack one with you today to show your heart some pear love.

Healthy is Strong

Bosc Heart
February is American Heart Month, and taking care of yourself and the ones you love is the perfect way to say I love you this Valentine’s Day. According to the Million Hearts® Healthy is Strong campaign, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. Instead of giving your sweetie chocolates this Valentine’s Day, why not give your heart? For men and women, one small change can add up to one healthy heart!

One simple way to boost heart health is with physical activity. No, you don’t have to run five miles every day, but increasing activity slowly, such as a romantic walk with your sweetie, improves cardiovascular health. As a rule of thumb, aim for 150 minutes of activity each week – and if you #PearUp with a partner, you’re more likely to stick to your plan!

Another quick fix is to add in heart-y foods to your diet, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, no salt added nuts and seeds, fish, and healthy oils, such as olive or canola. To keep it simple, try a piece of fruit for a snack, such as the delicious Anjou, Bosc or Bartlett pear – all American Heart Association Heart-Check certified for health. For a delectable option that still feels sinful, try sliced pears drizzled with dark chocolate. Yum!

So this February when love is in the air, remember that a healthy heart is a strong heart! Visit Healthy is Strong or Go Red for Women for more tips to take charge of your heart health.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Pears

Valentine pears dipped in chocolate and topped with fun toppingsMove over strawberries—chocolate dipped pears are a fresh twist on this decadent Valentine’s Day treat. Rich dark chocolate pairs perfectly with Red Anjou pears, which just so happen to be heart-check certified by the American Heart Association. (Happy National Heart Month!) Decorate your dipped pears with a variety of creative options for sprinkling, like nuts, coconut flakes, and even vivid red chile powder for a kick. With this thoughtful homemade gift, your Valentine will definitely be yours!

Makes 32

2 USA Red Anjou pears (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon Fruit-Fresh® Produce Protector
8 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped

Options for Sprinkling:
Finely chopped pistachios or other nuts
Flaky sea salt
Shredded coconut
Chile powder
Curry powder
Sesame seeds
Chopped colorful dried fruit, such as apricots, cranberries, or goji berries

Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

Halve, core, and stem the pears and cut each one into 16 wedges. Sprinkle with the Fruit-Fresh and toss the pears gently to coat evenly. (This will prevent the cut pears from browning for several hours.) Arrange the pears on the prepared baking sheet and place it next to the stove.

Place the chocolate in a medium stainless-steel bowl and set the bowl over the pan of simmering water. (Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Once the chocolate begins to melt, stir until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove the chocolate from the heat.

Immediately begin dipping the wide ends of the pears in the chocolate, coating about half the length. Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl and place the dipped pears on the wax paper. Working quickly before the chocolate dries, sprinkle with your choice of the optional garnishes. Refrigerate, uncovered to allow the chocolate to set, about 1 hour.

Once set, cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep the pears in the refrigerator until served. Enjoy them within the day.

Chocolate Pears 3

Simple Swaps for a Happy & Healthy 2017

Eating well doesn’t have to be a hassle. One of the easiest ways to be happier & healthier this year is by making fun, simple swaps to what you already enjoy eating. It’s as easy as following these two steps:
1) Decide what you love eating.
2) Make what you love eating with better-for-you ingredients.

Here’s some inspiration to kick off your year…

Fresh pears atop mixed greensDROP: Dried cranberries in salad.
SWAP: Diced pear in a salad.
Pears have no added sugar, an excellent source of fiber, and have immune-boosting vitamin C.

Pear and Walnuts make a satisfying snack!DROP: Protein bar as a snack.
SWAP: Pear + handful of nuts.
For similar calories, you will be more satisfied eating a pear + nuts because it’s a snack that has more volume and takes longer to chew.

Vegetarian taco bowls with fresh pears and avocado cremeDROP: Lunch sandwiches.
SWAP: Lunch bowls.
You can get a lot more veggies in a bowl than between two pieces of bread! Think of tasty combinations with different textures, like romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, grilled chicken, quinoa and hummus.

Swaps work for food, and they also work for your attitude on fitness and health goals…

DROP: “I need to get serious about getting healthy.”
SWAP: “I am going to have fun creating new healthy habits!”
Of course it’s important to commit to creating healthy new habits; however, getting serious seriously doesn’t work. Changes that are attainable and can stick are those that you enjoy doing!

DROP: “I don’t have time to do a workout.”
SWAP: “Anything is better than nothing!”
If you have 30-60 minutes to exercise during your busy day, great. However, even if you only have seven minutes to walk around the block, that’s better than zero minutes! Go for it, no matter how much or how little time you have.

The Superfood Sway book by Dawn Jackson BlatnerDawn Jackson Blatner is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics. Dawn is the nutritionist for the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, a food and nutrition blogger with Huffington Post, and a nutrition expert on the advisory board of SHAPE Magazine. She is the author of two award-winning books: The Flexitarian Diet and The Superfood Swap. Dawn recently starred in (and won!) the hit primetime ABC television show called, My Diet Is Better Than Yours. You can get your copy of Dawn’s newest book, The Superfood Swap, anywhere books are sold such as Amazon, Indie Bound or Barnes & Noble.