Grill Master

grilled pearsTo me, summer means sunshine, farmers’ markets and grilling. I personally love the flavors of grilled foods and regularly grill veggies as a side or base for meals. One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my years of counseling and teaching is that people have been trained to think they don’t like fruit and/or vegetables, and they don’t venture outside the norm for ingredients or culinary techniques. The remedy is simply to get a little creative in the kitchen – or backyard – and be okay with failing once in a while. I base most of my meals on produce, and in the summer that means adding a treat of grilled fruit at the end!

Grilling is probably one of the simplest culinary techniques for fruit and veggies. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to stay close to the grill to keep an eye on your food; err on the side of slightly lower heat so it doesn’t burn, then turn up the heat at the end for beautiful grill marks. Grilling infuses fruit with smoky and savory flavors and causes caramelization of sugars, leading to more color and flavor changes. It’s a whole new way to experience fruit! In my food science lab, we talk about how sugars in fruit, when exposed to high temperatures, start to melt: The sugars are inverted and water is released, resulting in sugar molecules rearranging and binding together to form chains. Organic acids and other flavor compounds also accrue, resulting in different flavors than the original sugars. Basically, the compounds are altered so we sense a unique flavor on our taste receptors.* Science is fun!

My favorite treat is to slice pears in half, set them on the top rack to soften, then pop it onto the heat for a bit at the end. I serve them drizzled with honey or chocolate sauce, then sprinkle with walnuts or a dollop of whipped cream. Delicious and a pretty presentation! Want more ideas? Check out a few of my favorite grilled pear recipes, including grilled pears stuffed with mascarpone and bacon, at USA Pears.
*McWiliams, Margaret. (2012). Foods Experimental Perspectives. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

It’s What is on the Inside that Counts

more bruised pearsWe’ve all done it – picked up a slightly speckled piece of fruit and put it back in search of a more cosmetically appealing piece. Just like meat and eggs, produce is graded, and most grocery retailers purchase and profit from higher grade produce. According to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, U.S. Number 1 fruit must be “carefully hand-picked, clean, well formed” and free from injury, including bruising. Produce items that don’t make the gradearenow being called “ugly fruit and vegetables” – those that are imperfect and less/not profitable – and often end up being discarded. According to the USDA, food waste is the greatest contributor to landfills, 31% of edible food is wasted, and food waste accounts for an estimated annual loss of $161.6 billion.

Interestingly, recent studies suggest that blemished fruit, the stuff not pretty enough for consumption, may have increased antioxidant content and actually be better for us. Antioxidants, such as polyphenols found in pears and other fruit,1-3 molecules that prevent damage to human cells and may play a protective role against disease and illness,4 act as part of a plant’s immune system fending off pests, fungi, and disease.5-8 When a plant is injured, polyphenol amounts increase in the affected area to protect and heal the injured tissue as seen in studies on apples, strawberries, green beans, raspberries and walnuts: If we eat these affected areas, we may consume more antioxidants than just consuming healthier portions of the plant.6-8 Some organizations are already onboard with collecting and distributing ugly produce, including California-based Imperfect Produce who recently partnered with Whole Foods to increase sales of ugly produce. And this trend isn’t going anywhere – this is the first time the USDA has issued food waste reduction goals.

For fruit, just like humans, perhaps the perfect body doesn’t exist – what matters is what is on the inside. Not sure what to do with that bruised pear? Slice it, bake it, or throw it in a smoothie for a delicious meal or snack!

1 http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/5/727.full
2 http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/flavonoids
3 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691510005697
4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778075
5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20043255
6 http://publik.tuwien.ac.at/files/PubDat_194363.pdf
7 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-7348.2010.00402.x/abstract
8 http://ojs.aas.bf.uni-lj.si/index.php/AAS/article/view/197/126

Tackle the Fridge!

098

This weekend I tackled the fridge, and I don’t mean Super Bowl XX champions Chicago Bears’ William “Refrigerator” Perry. I’d like to say that I clean my fridge at least once per month, but like most Americans I only get to this important task about twice per year. Unfortunately, this practice can lead to increased food spoilage, food waste and risk for foodborne illness. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), 9000 deaths and 6.5 to 33 million illnesses each year are directly linked to foodborne illness – often from not keeping foods at the appropriate temperture. [1] It seems to me we need to talk about refrigerator health!

First things first: Your refrigerator should remain under 40°F. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40° and 140°F, called the Food Danger Zone, and some can double in number every 20 minutes in this zone. These foods may look and smell perfectly fine but can cause illness, so it’s best to cool foods quickly and purchase a refrigerator thermometer. [1] Second, foods that will not be cooked, such as fruits and vegetables, should live above riskier foods, such as raw meats. These hazardous foods should reside in sealed containers on bottom shelves. Likewise, crisper drawers are appropriate places for fruits and vegetables – they preserve freshness by maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity. Third, items should not be packed so tightly in the fridge that cold air cannot circulate around foods to maintain freshness. Finally, the FSIS recommends wiping up spills immediately, particularly from raw meats, and going through the fridge weekly to discard potentially hazardous or old food. [2]

Now that spring and summer fresh fruits and veggies are abundant, make sure your refrigerator is a happy, healthy home for them – and you. Salud!

 
1. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/fighting-bac-by-chilling-out/ct_index
2. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/refrigeration-and-food-safety/ct_index

Don’t Be a Yo-Yo!

RBP9037046 Woman with PearThat dreaded time of year is here again – swimsuit season. I have helped countless people lose weight, including myself, and despite many new and radical diets, the science still points to one principle: To lose weight, expend more calories than you eat. Sounds simple, right? Nope. What this doesn’t take into account are cravings, lack of motivation, hormones, metabolism, boredom, emotions, workplace and social saboteurs… Should I continue? Unfortunately, many experience the yo-yo effect, losing weight, gaining it back and having to start over again. For lasting weight loss, small changes must be made and maintained over time for true behavior change – and to end the weight loss/regain cycle.

Research from the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of more than 10,000 people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off, points to a variety of factors. The average weight loss for those on the registry is 66 pounds (range 30 to 300 pounds), maintained for an average 5.5 years (range 1 to 66 years). Most participants report maintaining a low calorie, low fat diet and four common trends, 1) eating breakfast, 2) getting on the scale at least once weekly, 3) watching fewer than 10 hours of television each week, and 4) exercising – participants exercised one hour/day on average. [1] Noted early in the research, once weight loss was maintained for 2-5 years the chance for longer-term maintenance improved dramatically. Not surprisingly, those who did regain weight reported significant decline in physical activity, increased consumption of calories from fat, and decreased restraint in food choice. [2, 3]

So, how can you put these principles into practice? Get moving, fill up on healthful foods that are generally lower calorie – particularly fruits and vegetables – and make small, sustainable changes!

1. http://www.nwcr.ws/Research/default.htm
2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/222S.full.pdf+html
3. http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(13)00528-X/abstract

Love Your Heart!

HERO red pear with heart check logoThis Valentine’s Day, love your heart! Have you heard of phenols, flavonoids, and antioxidants? Phenols and flavonoids are families of phytonutrients, nonessential nutrients found in plant foods that provide color, flavor, and health benefits, particularly as antioxidants. In the body, antioxidants inhibit molecules that cause damage to body cells. Because of these antioxidants and other nutrients, increased fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to decreased risk for many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. Does this mean pears are good for your heart?

Well, a systematic review of pears and health published in the November/December 2015 issue of Nutrition Today supports what I’ve been saying all along. To be specific, pears contain many nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C (an antioxidant!), potassium, and phytonutrients that act as antioxidants – in particular, pears provide between 27 and 41mg of phenolic compounds per 100 grams (1 small pear). Many antioxidants are found in pears, and those with high phenolic and flavonoid contents – such as the anthocyanin in the skin of red pears – had significantly higher antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities. Does this mean that pears may fight heart disease? It’s possible. One study by Mink et al included in the review found that dietary intake of foods rich in flavonoids, particularly pears and apples, was associated with a reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.

Did you know that the Anjou and Red Anjou pear was recently certified as a Heart-Healthy Food by the American Heart Association? So this Valentine’s Day when you and your loved ones are surrounded by love and candy hearts, do something good for your actual heart and eat a pear!

Six Simple Habits for the New Year

Woman Texting In Kitchen

A new year brings many things, a fresh start, a year of possibilities, and broken resolutions… We often set lofty goals and envision working out every day looking cute in our gym outfits, not the sweaty messes we really are. Visions are easy, reality is usually harder. Picking a healthy habit to work toward, rather than a resolution, might be simpler and more realistic. Give it a shot!

1. Make a plan. Whether you want to exercise more or lose fifty pounds, have a plan in place. Make it simple, such as walking 20 minutes twice a week or prepping meals on Sundays. Simple is easier to stick to and gives your schedule more flexibility.

2. Add a fruit or veggie. It’s not news that Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 13% of Americans eat the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 9% eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables. Keep it simple: pick up a pear or some baby carrots to munch between meals.

3. Move more. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested inactivity may impact health more than obesity! But you don’t have to run a marathon, or run at all, to be active. If you don’t currently exercise, work steps into your day or walk 30 minutes each week. If you’re already active, add one more workout each week. Small steps lead to big changes.

4. Don’t like exercise? Grab a buddy! Working out with someone may increase motivation; it may even improve intensity or performance. I have a gym buddy: We motivate each other to exercise and have much more fun doing it. For someone who used to be obese and hated exercise, I actually look forward to our work outs now!

5. Dust off your knives and cook a little. You don’t have to win Chopped to get a little creative in the kitchen. Plus, cooking with friends or family may improve dietary quality and enjoyment of meals. And if you’re preparing food at home you’re less likely to grab take out, right?

6. Finally, get back up again. Everyone has fallen short of goals or fallen off the wagon – sometimes many times. Life isn’t suddenly better when you reach the top, so stop beating yourself up. Get back up, brush yourself off, and jump back on that wagon. Happy New Year!

Make Time for You

Lonely SeckelI have an influx of stressed calls and emails this time of year, mostly from clients and students trying to manage health and holiday stress at the same time. I know how frustrating this time of year is, I struggle with the same problem! Don’t fret, there are simple solutions to help you have a healthy holiday season.

First, make a schedule and stick to it. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it, if you schedule time for exercise, food preparation, and sleep and you follow the schedule, you’re better equipped to take care of yourself and manage stress. Second, eat before events and move away from the treat table! At my friends’ parties, we always stand around the food, chatting and snacking. This is such a hard habit to break, but if you eat ahead of time and pull your friends away from the table you’re less likely to overeat. Third, make time to decompress. Whether you enjoy stretching, reading, games or simply sitting quietly, allow yourself at least 10 minutes every day for quiet time and positive thoughts. Finally, and most importantly, be kind to yourself! Nobody is perfect and there is always tomorrow. Remember that the holidays are about celebrating family and friends, so allow yourself to splurge a little, then get back on track the next day. Happy Holidays!

Hangry IS A Real Thing

Pear and toast

The Oxford English Dictionary, the quintessential guide to the evolution of the English language, just added a few trendy words as new entries including awesomesauce, mic drop, and hangry. This last one is of particular interest to me, since it’s related to hunger and nutrition. You’ve probably heard someone say hangry or perhaps you’ve felt hangry, bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. Although it may be a popular descriptor, it is a fact of life. What causes one to become hangry? The likely cause is low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia.

The body, particularly the brain, primarily runs on glucose, a carbohydrate. So, when you skip a meal, eat less than usual, exercise, or have certain conditions or medications, you may run out of fuel. This drop in available energy causes a stress cascade that can trigger fatigue, depression, irritability, anger, or worse. Sadly, if you’re prone to low blood sugar, you may not even realize that your blood sugar is low and that you’ve become hangry. What is the solution? Unfortunately, high-sugar snacks cause blood sugar to spike and may lead to a dramatic drop. Therefore, regular, small snacks that include carbohydrate plus fiber, protein, or fat will help sustain normal blood sugar over time. Try pears sliced with cheese or a handful of nuts to stay even, focused, and hopefully, happy!

Successful Mornings Start Here!

coffee-cup-bed-bedroomIf you’re like me, you’re busy…all the time. Sometimes I wake in the wee hours of the morning, my mind racing about what I have to accomplish the next day. ACK! So what can we do to make sure our mornings are more successful, that we have a positive day and a little peace of mind? Start here.

  1. Start with breakfast and don’t skip meals! Your brain and body need fuel. Low blood sugar is often the culprit for bad moods, low energy, and attention deficit. Try prepping breakfast and packing your lunch, or plan where and when you are going to eat the next day to make sure you don’t fall into this slump! Likewise, several studies have found that skipping breakfast leads to negative consequences, such as weight gain.
  1. Exercise three times (or more!) each week. Activity naturally reduces stress hormones and increases endorphins, our feel good hormones. Exercise can also improve mood and sleep!
  1. SLEEP. This may be the most important thing you can do to reduce stress, maintain weight, and have a positive attitude. Eight hours may be a dream, but shoot for a minimum of six.
  1. Find time for a little peace and quiet that isn’t sleepRelaxation, whether it’s sitting quietly, stretching, or simply unplugging, allows your brain to switch off and unwind.
  1. Finally, if you’re like me, before getting into bed write down everything that is bugging you or that you have to accomplish the next day. Hopefully, if it’s on paper, it’s off of your mind!

Time to don your thinking cap!

 

barlett_almond_butter-2183Children and school buses have started roaming the neighborhood; I can’t believe we’re already back to school. No matter the age of the student, those of us in nutrition and education know that what fuels brain power is food! This means healthful meals, but maybe more importantly, healthful snacks throughout the day. All of us, but especially children and adolescents who are growing – yes, this includes college students – need to eat regularly to maintain proper blood sugar levels, aka energy, and essential nutrients that power the brain and body. Think about it this way: The body (and especially the brain) is generally like the engine of a car. The engine parts are proteins, fat is the oil that allows the parts to function together, and carbohydrates are the fuel that drives the engine. Just like the parts of an engine rely on each other, protein, fat, and carbohydrate work together for optimal performance.

Eating whole foods, those that are minimally processed and naturally contain essential nutrients, every 2-3 hours is likely the best strategy to meet nutrient needs. This means snacks and packing extra food into a backpack are musts, rather than relying on schools to provide snacks. Remember that nutrients in the body work synergistically, so combine items that contain a variety of nutrients: Consider fresh fruit plus nuts, seeds, single-serve items such as cheese or pretzels, or low sugar granola bars. Happy snacking equals happy studying!