Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Familiar with Fermented Foods

Fermented foods have been in the spotlight as a power food for some time now, mostly for their probiotic properties and gut health. Our guts do more than metabolize foods, it is a huge immune system that contains millions of bacteria. Certain foods, mainly probiotics, help feed the beneficial bacteria. Perhaps the most popular and widely recognized fermented food is yogurt and cheese, but there are so many others that deserve some attention! Fermentation is not a new fad though, it is one of the oldest forms of food preservation and has been used over centuries to increase the shelf life of perishable foods. Not all cultured or fermented foods are created equal though, as many are full of added sugars and can be high in sodium and many are pasteurized so they no longer contain live and active cultures. 

Benefits of Fermented Foods
You may be wondering why you would start encorporating these foods into your diet. Fermented foods provide good bacteria (probiotics) that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract needs to counteract. Research on our microbiome (the microorganisms and bacteria in our bodies) is growing and initial research shows a close involvement in immune function, nutritional status, and potential to affect chronic diseases and cancers!The process also enhances the digestibility of the food and studies suggest that probiotics may be beneficial in diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Eating a diet high in dietary fiber (from whole grains, fruits,vegetables, legumes, and nuts) will provide Prebiotics (food for the probiotics) to ensure that the probiotics function properly. Adults should aim for 25g of fiber every day.
Here are 5 fermented foods that I love to enjoy!

Select Greek or low fat yogurts that are low in sugar and contain live cultures. The lowest sugar varieties will be plain yogurts and you can add your own fruit or sweetener (I like stevia) to adjust the sweetness. Try blending yogurt into smoothies or enjoy as a meal or snack. Consider using plain Greek yogurt in your cooking as well (can work as a substitute for mayo, sour cream, or added to soups to give a creamy texture. It is a great source of protein (Greek contains about 2x protein of regular yogurt), calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Lactose intolerance? Because the yogurt making process partially digests the lactose it is usually well tolerated, especially in small amounts. Lactose free varieties are available as well for those that are highly sensitive. 


Kefir is a cultured beverage that comes in two varieties, milk or water. Milk kefir is more widely available (found at your local co-op, whole foods etc and in most grocery stores in the natural foods section) most brands contain large amounts of several types of live cultures! It is a thick and creamy texture with somewhat of a tangy flavor. As with yogurt, look for lower sugar varieties. If you don't care for the texture on its own, try blending plain kefir with fruits into a smoothie. Most brands are 99% lactose-free and a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. 


Kombucha is a lightly carbonated, fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast that contains several strains of beneficial bacteria. It comes in a variety of flavors and most are low in sugar. I must be honest; the first time I tried kombucha I really didn't care for it. I had never had anything like it and was more acidic than expected. I finished it because I knew it was good for me, but didn't try it again for a year or so. Over the next few times I actually liked it and now it is a regular purchase for me. 


Sauerkraut and kimchee
Both of these fermented foods are popular around the world and are made with cabbage. Kimchee is a Korean fermented cabbage with chili, some varieties are spicier than others.  Cooking or pasturizing these foods will destroy the beneficial bacteria so be sure to find those that are raw and contain live cultures. Enjoy with meats, cheeses, on sandwiches, or served as a side. 

Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that originated in Indonesia. Soy foods can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. If you are concerned about GMO soy, select organic or GMO-free certified products. Tempeh is much fimer than tofu and can be seasoned and added to stirfies, salads, or sandwiches. Tempeh is a complete protein (20 g per 4 oz) and high in calcium, manganese, and iron! Since it is already fermented the vitamins and minerals are more readily absorbed. Depending on the brand and variety it can be a source of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats as well. The variety pictured below has 11 g fiber per serving!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Coconut Chicken Wings

Chicken wings, chips/dip, nachos and pizza often Sunday Football around the country. While these foods can be part of a healthy diet in moderation, indulging in a buffet of these foods every week does not do the body well! When dining out chicken wings are typically fried and served tossed in a sauce (maybe buffalo/butter or a sweet BBQ). Making them on your own (baking or pan-fried) will help reduce the amount of fat and calories in them, while still being able to enjoy them.

Whip up a batch of these chicken wings for next football Sunday or get together. The flavors are Thai-inspired, slightly sweet and mildly spicy! Each wing =75 calories vs. 110 calories (for tradional friend wings, without sauce/dressing!)

Spicy Coconut Chicken Wings

Makes 1 dozen wings



1 Tbsp canola oil or coconut oil

12 chicken wings

1/3 cup coconut milk

1 tsp chopped garlic

1 tsp chopped ginger

1 tsp lime juice

2 Tbsp Sriracha sauce

¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Sriracha sauce, for dipping.



1.       Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken wings and cook for 5 minutes per side.

2.       Add the coconut milk, lime juice, ginger, garlic and Sriracha and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes until fully cooked (internal temperature 160 degrees)

3.       Remove from heat and sprinkle coconut flakes on top. Serve hot with additional Sriracha for dipping!
Nutrition Facts: 2 wings
150 calories, 13 g fat (7 g saturated), 1 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, 180 mg sodium

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Vermont Breakfast Casserole

This dish has everything you could ask for in a hearty breakfast: lean maple sausage, eggs, cheese, French bread, and a healthy dose of vegetables! Pair with a side of fresh fruit and you hit all the food groups in one meal. Best of all it can be assembled the night before and popped in the oven for an easy brunch entrée the next day. Because it is a casserole it holds up well for leftovers for a few days. Perfect to reheat for those busy weekday mornings!

I was surprised to see the varying amounts of fat in different brands of sausage. Compare the grams of fat on the nutrition labels to find a lower fat product. I also encourage a local variety without fillers if possible. You could use turkey, chicken, or veggie sausage as well for a lower fat dish.

Vermont Breakfast Casserole
Makes 12 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes, Bake time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 5 mins

1 pound of maple breakfast sausage, casings removed
1 red pepper, chopped
5 cups fresh baby spinach
8 eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
6 cups cubed French bread- (about ½ large baguette)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I love Cabot’s Seriously Sharp)
½ cup sliced green onions (scallions)
Pepper, to taste

1. Break the sausage up into smaller pieces and cook over medium-high high until browned. Drain out the excess fat. Add pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add spinach and cook 1-2 minutes, until wilted. Set aside.
2. Whisk eggs in a large mixing bowl. Mix in milk and stir well. Mix ½ of the cheese into the egg mixture. 
3. Assemble the casserole: Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Evenly spread the cubed French bread on the bottom of pan. Add the sausage and vegetable mix on top of the bread. 
 4. Pour egg mixture evenly over the ingredients. Sprinkle with reserved cheese and green onions. 
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (can be done right before cooking or the following morning)

Nutrition Facts: 1/12th of the casserole 
230 calories, 14 g fat (6 g saturated), 11 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 15 g protein, 550 mg sodium

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Favorites: Pumpkin Risotto

This pumpkin risotto was a huge hit in my house, I’m sure most pumpkin-lovers would agree. It is definitely something I will be making again soon! Risotto is a creamy textured rice that is made from Arborio rice, a short grain variety. I buy it in the bulk section of the grocery store/natural food store to save some money! You may be surprised to find there is no milk or cream in this recipe. It is perfect without it. Pair with your favorite vegetable or salad.


The risotto is satisfying on its own, but can be paired with meat as well. For a autumn inspired meal pair with cranberry baked chicken or turkey or pork chops with apples! Using butter (a high saturated fat) in small amounts gives foods a wonderfully creamy flavor, you just don’t want to go overboard!


Pumpkin Risotto

Total time: 1 hour, 15 mins

Makes 8 servings



¼ cup olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tbsp chopped garlic

2 cups Arborio rice

6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

2 cups pureed pumpkin*

½ cup grated parmesan

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Salt, pepper, to taste


* I used pie pumpkins that we grew in our garden that I baked and pureed, but plain (unsweetened) canned pumpkin would do the trick as well!



Heat oil over medium heat in a medium-large saucepan. Add chopped onion, garlic and sauté until onions are soft (about 3-4 minutes). Add the rice and continue to stir until rice is coated.
Add 3 cups of the broth, stirring often until the liquid is absorbed. Add broth in 1 cup measures and cook until it is absorbed into the rice, stirring often, repeat until the broth is used up and most of the liquid is absorbed. (The rice should look creamy, slightly al dente)
Add pumpkin and reduce to low, cook for 3-4 minutes. Add parmesan cheese and butter and stir well. Serve warm.


Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (3/4 cup)

280 calories, 7 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 46 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 8 g protein, 140 mg sodium

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

October is here and once again pumpkin flavored products have flooded the market. You can find everything from coffee and espresso drinks, to pumpkin muffins, pancakes, cookies, and even poptarts (Trader Joes). Though they contain pumpkin (a nutritious  harvest vegetable) many of these foods and beverages are sugar bombs in disguise. Most of these products don’t have nutrition labels and you have to search to find the nutrition facts. If unaccounted for, these types of treats in your diet can lead to unintended weight gain. For example, a medium Dunkin Donuts pumpkin latte will run you 350 calories and 54 g of carbohydrates (most of those coming from added sugar). As unhealthy as the latte is, it is actually a good choice compared to the Dunkin Donut pumpkin muffin which runs 550 calories, 24 g fat (5 g saturated fat), and 78 g carbohydrates (41 of those grams from added sugar).  


Instead of reaching for a pre-sweetened coffee beverage, consider a brewed pumpkin flavored hot coffee and use a small amount of milk/creamer and your preferred sweetener.


This pumpkin pie smoothie recipe is a healthy option for a meal replacement or post-workout treat. Best of all, you can drink it and know that you are making a healthy and filling choice for a healthy diet. I use a sugar-free protein powder, but ¾ cup of Greek yogurt would do the trick as well!


Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

½ cup canned pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling) or cooked pureed pumpkin

1 scoop sugar-free vanilla protein powder

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1 cup ice cubes

½ banana

½ cup water, skim milk, or dairy alternative (almond, soy, coconut milk)

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.


Nutrition Facts  

1 smoothie (made with water/sugar- free protein powder)

200 calories, 2 g fat, 26 g carbohydrates, 24 g protein