Wellness Superhero Turned Villain? Not Quite.

Setting the Record Straight on Coconut Oil

coconutRecently, the wellness community has been up in arms over the presidential advisory released by the American Heart Association (AHA) – it turns out coconut oil may not be the wellness superstar many people thought. The AHA advised that people limit sources of saturated fat, including coconut oil, because it may increase the risk of developing heart disease. However, the funny thing is – the news that sparked headlines and shook up the wellness community wasn’t really news at all.

Coconut oil is known to be a source of saturated fat. While it has been recommended for a long time to limit sources of saturated fat, the issue isn’t necessarily so clear cut. The AHA recommends limiting saturated fat to 6% or less of one’s daily caloric intake. Typically, it is recommended to consume approximately 30% of one’s calories from fat, meaning over 20% of fat consumed should be in the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated forms (although individual recommendations may vary). While saturated fat isn’t necessarily all bad (it does raise HDL cholesterol – the “good” kind of cholesterol, and we do need some in our diet because it plays an important role in the structural component of cells), it should be consumed in moderation, since it also increases LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are typically referred to as “heart-healthy” due to the cardio protective effect of these fats (for example: the Mediterranean style diet, which emphasizes leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil).

Coconut oil is touted to be helpful for weight management, digestive woes and everything in between. It’s known for it’s medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are digested and absorbed differently than other fats. MCTs are absorbed quickly and bypass the long process typically required to break down and absorb fats, so they may be used clinically for patients who have malabsorption and have even been used as an ergogenic aid for athletes due to it’s perceived quick energy. However, the research that supports the use of MCT oil typically has used an oil that is far more rich in MCTs than traditional coconut oil. While coconut oil contains more MCTs than many other oils, it is not pure MCT oil. Additionally, the link between coconut oil and weight loss is not causative – that is, we do not have any evidence that proves that increasing coconut oil intake causes weight loss. There are many confounding variables that prevent this conclusion from being drawn. It is most likely that people who start using coconut oil and lose weight do so because they are

a) making many other dietary and lifestyle changes, as well

b) feeling satiated from the calories provided by the coconut oil, which can also be provided by other fat and food sources, and possibly limiting their overall caloric intake, which can aid in weight loss.

So, to consume coconut oil or not consume coconut oil – that is the question. Coconut oil is one type of many oils that can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet. In moderation, it can certainly be enjoyed. However, do I recommend loading it up in all of your meals, snacks and coffee? No.

So, unless you plan to lather it all over your body and hair, enjoy it in moderation .

Should You Ditch Gluten If You Want To Lose Weight?

Will Going Gluten Free Cause Weight Loss?

We all know someone who “lost weight when they went gluten free”, so you should probably try it too, right? Not so fast. In order to understand this complex topic, we should first understand some gluten basics. First of all, what is gluten? Is it a carbohydrate?

Nope! Gluten is actually a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten may also be found in many foods that you may not think of (it’s often found in gravies, deli meats, cream sauces, you name it). This is because gluten has an important role in food chemistry – it is responsible for the elasticity of dough. Remember this, because we will get back to this fact later. But first…

Will You Benefit From Going Gluten Free?

The answer is not so clear. It used to be thought that someone should only go gluten free if they have Celiac Disease (also known as nontropical sprue), but now we know there are other individuals who may benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet. For example, non-celiac wheat sensitivity has now been demonstrated as a sensitivity associated with gluten or possibly another compound found in wheat. Since avoiding gluten inherently means avoiding wheat, this is likely to be an effective diet for these individuals. Also, some people may eliminate gluten (mostly – there are some exceptions) as part of the Low FODMAP diet, a widely accepted diet used for the symptom management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, if you do not have a gluten sensitivity or a condition that requires you to avoid gluten, you may want to think twice before eliminating gluten from your diet. A large, recent study1 revealed individuals without celiac disease who followed a gluten free diet were at an increased risk for developing heart disease. The researchers concluded that this was likely due to these individuals eating too few whole grains while following a gluten free diet. Whole grains are important for a lot of reasons, one of which is fiber. (Note: it is certainly possible to get enough fiber on a gluten free diet – but it is best to work with a registered dietitian to learn about gluten free sources of fiber and ensure that you are consuming enough fiber in your diet).

ben-garratt-134774So Why May People Lose Weight When They Avoid Gluten?

It is most likely that many people avoiding gluten are losing weight because they are consuming less processed food than they were before they cut out gluten. Fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free, as are nuts and seeds, legumes and animal protein sources, such as eggs, fish, poultry and meat. So if people cut out foods like excessive bagels, breads, pasta, pizza, doughnuts and other calorie-laden foods that happen to contain gluten, and consume more of these naturally gluten free foods, they will likely lose weight.

Also, it is widely accepted that consuming fewer carbs will likely result in weight loss. Now, before you start that low-carb diet, let’s get sidetracked for a minute – while research demonstrates a low carbohydrate diet may result in weight loss, this method of weight loss is:

a) unlikely to be sustainable (i.e. you may gain the weight back, because most people are unlikely to eat so few carbs for the rest of their lives)

and

b) some of the weight lost is likely to be water weight. This is because we store glucose (the simple sugar that carbohydrates are broken down into) in the form of glycogen, which holds 3 grams of water for every 1 gram of glycogen. That’s a lot of water! So remember that the next time you eliminate carbs for a week and drop a few pounds – it’s not necessarily promoting changes in body composition (i.e. altering proportions of fat and muscle within your body).

But we digress – back to losing weight while choosing unprocessed forms of gluten free foods (i.e. foods that are inherently gluten free). The confusing thing about going “gluten free” is it is acceptable on a gluten free diet to eat processed foods that are certified gluten free. This is great for someone who needs to avoid gluten due to medical reasons – it means they have food options just like everyone else. But, remember the role of gluten in food chemistry – it is responsible for the elasticity of dough. So basically, when gluten is removed from a food that typically contains gluten, that food is likely to taste like the cardboard package it comes in. That is why fat or sugar (or both) are typically added to “gluten free” packaged foods – these ingredients will soften the food. They will also replace a protein (typically recommended in increased quantities for weight loss) with a source of fat (higher in calories per gram than both carbs and protein) or sugar (that food so many people are trying to limit nowadays) – or both!

Bottom line? If you are going gluten free and focusing on more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and protein such as eggs, lean meat, poultry and fish – great, you are adapting an overall healthy lifestyle and are likely to lose weight along the way. Just please make sure to consume gluten free sources of fiber-filled carbohydrates, such as brown rice or quinoa. But if you are replacing your bagels with gluten free bagels, don’t expect those pounds to drop so soon. Gluten itself is not likely to be hindering weight loss goals. In fact, there are many foods that do contain gluten (such as farro or whole wheat sprouted bread) that are recommended as a part of an overall healthy, balanced diet. And these foods contain fiber and protein to boot – which IS associated with weight loss.

 

  1. Lebwohl B, Cao Y, Zong G, et al. Long Term Gluten Consumption in Adults Without Celiac Disease and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Prospective Cohort Study. BMJ. 2017;357:j1892. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1892.

Cozy Chicken Chili

Homemade Chicken Chili

This chili recipe takes less than hour to make and is packed with protein and fiber to keep you feeling full. This spicy dish is the perfect, cozy, winter dinner – I like to double the recipe on a lazy Sunday so that I have extra for the busy week ahead. This is also delicious with my homemade guacamole!

chicken-chili

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 lb ground chicken breast

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 C chicken stock

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

dash salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp chipotle powder

1/2 tsp oregano

Directions:

  1. Warm 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken and season with ground black pepper and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. Once cooked, transfer chicken into a large bowl and set aside. Warm remaining olive oil in the pot and add onion and pepper. Sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add cooked chicken and sauté another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally until chicken and vegetables are slightly browned.
  5. Pat beans dry and add to pot. Add broth and spices (cumin, chili powder, chipotle, oregano and remaining salt) and stir all ingredients together.
  6. Raise to high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover and leave lid slightly off balance. Allow chili to boil for about 5 minutes, then lower to medium heat and cook for another 10-15 minutes, allowing chili to thicken. Enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Calories 353 calories, Total Fat 19 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 19 g, Fiber 5 g, Protein 26 g, Sodium 476 mg, Calcium 47 mg

Baked Spinach Artichoke Protein Pasta

Baked Spinach Artichoke Protein Pasta

Meal Prep is easiest when you can make a large batch of one thing that can last through the beginning of a crazy week. One of my favorite foods to prep in advance is pasta – it’s always great warmed up and holds up well in the fridge or the freezer. This recipe was originally presented at a Culinary Workshop class I recently helped to lead, and I adapted it, pumped up the protein with legume-based pasta and Greek yogurt and used my Skinny Spinach Artichoke Dip as a base to make it my own. The result was creamy, spinach artichoke deliciousness – and a ton of leftovers – perfect for a busy week ahead!

spin-art-pasta-3

Ingredients (Serves 8):

8 oz legume-based pasta, dry (I used Banza pasta- a chickpea pasta with added pea protein!)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 C plain, 2% Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 C parmesan cheese, grated

3/4 C part-skim mozzarella, shredded

2 Tbsp smoked paprika

2 tsp garlic powder

1 can (about 15 oz) artichoke hearts, drained well (if salted, rinse and drain to remove excess sodium)

3 Cups frozen, chopped spinach, thawed

1/4 C low sodium vegetable broth

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Nonstick oil cooking spray

spin-art-pasta-1

Now just stir in pasta!

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil (add a dash of salt if desired).
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. While water is boiling, squeeze out any excess water from the spinach and artichokes (they must be dry before adding to recipe). Set aside.
  4. Heat oil in medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add onion, stir and sauté for about 4-5 minutes. Add minced garlic, stir, and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Add pasta to boiled water and cook according to directions on package, stirring occasionally. Watch the pasta closely, as many legume-based pastas can get mushy quickly! Be careful not to overcook.
  6. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, flour, spices (paprika, garlic powder, ground black pepper), parmesan cheese and about 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese. Add spinach, artichokes, onion/garlic mixture and vegetable broth and stir until ingredients are well combined.
  7. Once pasta is cooked, drain in a colander and add to mixing bowl. Stir all ingredients until pasta is coated well with yogurt mixture.
  8. Spray a casserole dish (9 x 13 inches) with nonstick cooking spray, add pasta and yogurt mixture to dish and spread evenly with a spoon or spatula. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove from oven, add the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the pasta and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve and enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving: Calories 262 calories, Total Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 4 g, Cholesterol 15 mg, Carbohydrates 29 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 19 g, Sodium 318 mg, Calcium 274 mg

spin-art-pasta-2

Ready to bake in the oven!

Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

Cauliflower Fried Rice

This “fried rice” takes care of that comfort-food craving, without all of the calories. This veggie-filled dish is topped with eggs and chicken – lean protein sources that are sure to fill you up – and comes in at about 300 calories per serving!

cauliflower fired rice

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 1/2 lbs. cauliflower “rice” (you can buy this at many grocery stores, or you can simply cut a large head of cauliflower into small pieces)

1 lb. chicken breast cutlets

1 medium sweet onion (or you can use scallions), chopped

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

3/4 C carrots, sliced

1/2 C frozen peas, thawed

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp rice vinegar

3 Tbsp teriyaki sauce ( I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki) – just watch out for sodium and sugar!

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

Dash ground black pepper

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, scrambled (raw)

chicken stir fryDirections:

  1. Cut chicken into small pieces. Spray large saucepan or wok with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray. Add 2 tsp olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add chicken and 1 1/2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce and cook until cooked through (about 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  2. Steam carrots (you can use a steamer or place in microwave safe bowl, add a splash of water, cover and cook on “high” for about 2 minutes, until softened and bright.
  3. Add 1 tsp olive oil to pan and warm over medium heat. Add onions, zucchini, yellow squash and spices (ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder) and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add minced garlic, peas, carrots and another 2 teaspoons teriyaki sauce. Cook another 5-7 minutes, remove from pan and add to dish with chicken.
  4. Add remaining olive oil and remaining  teriyaki sauce to pan and warm over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower “rice”and sauté for approximately 5 minutes. Add scrambled eggs and stir until cooked through. Add chicken and veggies, stir until well combined and remove from heat. Serve and enjoy!

veggies stir fry

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 300 calories, Total Fat 9 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 112 mg, Carbohydrates 23 g, Fiber 7 g, Protein 35 g, Sodium 431 mg, Calcium 96 mg

 

The Easiest (And Tastiest) Homemade Tomato Sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Sometimes you just want some comfort food – but when that comfort food is a nutrient-rich, low calorie, veggie-filled treat, it’s even more comforting! This sauce is simple, nutritious, and tastes as delicious as the scent of your kitchen while it’s cooking! Don’t have all day to simmer sauce? Good – neither do I! Give me about 30 minutes, I’ll give you the best sauce you’ve ever tasted!

sauce

Ingredients (serves 8):

1 small sweet onion, chopped

10 Roma tomatoes, cut into eighths (or quartered if you prefer your sauce chunkier)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes (no salt added)

1 C water

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

optional: red pepper flakes to add some heat (I usually add about 1/2 tsp) and basil leaves

Directions:

  1. Warm oil in saucepan or pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are slightly browned.
  2. Add tomatoes, cover and cook until tomatoes soften and light sauce forms (5-7 minutes). Add minced garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add crushed tomatoes, water, honey, spices (salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder) and bring to a boil (uncovered), allowing sauce to boil for approximately 3-4 minutes). Cover again, reduce to a simmer (add optional red pepper flakes and/or basil at this point) and continue to simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes).

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 80 calories, Total Fat 3 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 11 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 3 g, Sodium 150 mg, Calcium 46 mg

eggplant lasagna

Noodle-Free Eggplant Lasagna – one of my favorite dishes to make with my homemade sauce!

Chocolate Banana Walnut Muffins

Chocolate Banana Walnut Muffins

These chocolate banana walnut muffins only taste decadent – they’re actually loaded with nutrition for under 150 calories each! Filled with fiber, protein and lower in fat than most muffins, these are the perfect on-the-go breakfast, or great to have with tea as a mid-afternoon snack to keep you going!

choco muffins

Ingredients (serves 12):

3/4 C whole wheat flour

1/2 C all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 C plus 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp butter or butter substitute (I like Earth Balance), at room temperature (option: swap this out for coconut oil)

1/4 C honey

1 Tbsp dark brown sugar, packed

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 egg plus 1 egg white

1/4 C low-fat (1%) milk

1/4 C 0% fat, plain Greek yogurt

1 oz dark chocolate (at least 72% cocoa), melted (about 2 Tbsp melted)

2 overripe medium bananas, mashed until mostly smooth (about 3/4 C mashed banana)

1/4 dark chocolate chips

3 Tbsp chopped walnuts

Nonstick vegetable oil coking spray

batter2

Batter – ready to be mixed!

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients (whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon) in a medium bowl.
  3. Combine butter (or coconut oil), dark brown sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, honey, milk and yogurt in a large bowl. Mix  with a large spoon until well combined. Add dry ingredients from smaller bowl and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Add melted chocolate and mashed bananas to mixture and mix well with a spoon. Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Spray muffin tin with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray. Use a spoon or an ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into each muffin tin cup, filling it about three-quarters of the way full.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes (check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of each muffin and ensuring that it comes out mostly clean – melted chocolate is alright!). Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before tasting! Store in an airtight container or plastic bag for about 3-5 days

The Goods: Whats Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (1 muffin)

Calories 146 calories, Total Fat 5 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 16 mg, Carbohydrates 23 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 4 g, Sodium 226 mg, Calcium 26 mg

oven2

Almost ready – just 25 minutes in the oven!