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 .

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Presto Pesto!

Homemade Pesto With Basil, Spinach and Walnuts

This homemade pesto incorporates the goodness of spinach (which offers folate, vitamin K and vitamin C) along with omega-3 fatty acids from walnuts, which may help to reduce inflammation. While pesto is naturally caloric and a good source of fat, this version is lightened up by using minimal amounts of olive oil and cheese and is lower in sodium than many store-bought brands. I like to make it on a quiet Sunday so that I can have an easy grab-and-go topping for zucchini noodles, pasta or fish after a hectic Monday – it can stay in the fridge for a few days to save some time on days when you are busy.

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Ingredients (yields approximately 1 cup or about 8 two-tablespoon servings):

2 C basil leaves, loosely packed

1 C spinach, tightly packed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 oz shredded Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/4 C)

1/4 C walnuts, chopped (use unsalted or reduced sodium to lower salt content of dish)

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

All set to blend together!

All set to blend together!

Directions:

  1. Wash spinach and basil and pat dry with paper towel, making sure to remove all excess water. Place in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped (you may need to sweep the sides with a spoon a few times to get all spinach and basil leaves incorporated).
  2. Add minced garlic, cheese, chopped walnuts, salt, pepper and about half of the oil to basil spinach mixture in food processor. Secure the lid and turn the food processor to high for about 1 minute.
  3. Add remaining oil, give the mixture a stir, replace the lid of the food processor and continue on high until pesto is smooth. Use as a sauce to accompany your meal or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving

Calories 102 calories, Total Fat 11 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 4 mg, Carbohydrates 2 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 2 g, Sodium 267 mg, Calcium 46 mg

I served my pesto with zucchini noodles and baked salmon

I served my pesto with zucchini noodles and baked salmon

Slim Down Your Memorial Day Weekend BBQ!

Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the unofficial start of summer, although the food offered at many barbecues isn’t exactly light summer fare. My blue cheese burger with caramelized onions and baked sweet potato fries will give you that summertime barbecue feeling (and fullness)  – without all of the calories and fat!

Blue Cheese Burger With Caramelized Onions 

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Ingredients (serves 4):

16 oz ground sirloin (look for lean or extra lean)

1 large egg, scrambled

2 medium onions, chopped

4 oz blue cheese crumbles

4 whole wheat rolls

1 Tbsp oil (canola or olive oil work well)

Directions:

1. Warm up a grill, griddle or a pan (I like these best on the grill).

2. Combine egg, ground beef and a small handful of blue cheese crumbles (should be about 1/4 of the blue cheese). Form four patties with your hands and set aside.

3. Warm oil in pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally.

4. Place burger patties on grill and cook until cooked through (about 4-5 minutes on each side for medium doneness, although grill time may vary).

5. Add rolls to grill for 1 minute. Remove rolls and place one patty on each roll, along with blue cheese and onions. Enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (1 burger):

Calories 438 calories, Total Fat 21 g, Saturated Fat 9 g, Carbohydrates 26 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 37 g, Sodium 616 mg, Calcium 200 mg

Baked Cinnamon Sweet Potato Fries

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Ingredients (serves 4):

3 medium (~5″ long) sweet potatoes

2 Tbsp oil (canola oil works well)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

3/4 tsp cinnamon

Dash salt

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Spray casserole dish with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray.

3. Slice each sweet potato in half, lengthwise, then cut into fry-shaped strips

4. Transfer fries to casserole dish, toss with oil and spices and bake in oven for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Once fries are softened, broil for about 2-3 minutes, until browned. Serve and enjoy!

the Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:

Calories 136 calories, Total Fat 7 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Carbohydrates 18 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 2 g, Sodium 69 mg, Calcium 37 mg

A Very Veggie Black Bean Quinoa Burger

Veggie Black Bean Quinoa Burger

A veggie burger is a great meatless alternative for summer days, but they can sometimes be loaded with breading, fillers and oil and actually be less healthy than other burger options. This version is made with good-for-you ingredients and is held together with red quinoa – a tasty whole grain. Fill up with protein, fiber and a handful of vitamins from this lightened-up veggie black bean quinoa burger!

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Ingredients (serves 8):

1 C red quinoa, dry

1 zucchini, sliced and sliced again into quarters

1/2 C chopped white button mushrooms

1 small onion, chopped

1 can (15 oz) black beans (*Note: Try to find a “No Salt Added” variety and drain beans under water in a colander.)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1.5 Tbsp olive or canola oil

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

IMG_1305Directions:

1. Cook quinoa according to box directions (you will likely need 2 C tap water to boil with the quinoa). Once quinoa is ready, set aside 3/4 C (cooked) for this recipe. Store remaining quinoa in an airtight container and use leftovers within a few days (quinoa is great in salads, as a side dish or combine it with sautéed veggies or fruit!)

2. Warm oil in medium pan (it helps to have one with sides, since it will get full) over medium heat.

3. Add onions to pan and cook 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook another 5 minutes.

4. Add garlic, 1 C black beans and spices to pan. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Place veggies in food processor. Add 1/2 C quinoa. Process mixture until pureed, about 15-30 seconds. Add mixture to large bowl and fold in remaining quinoa (for this recipe) and black beans.

7. Spray two 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray. Take 1/4 C dry measuring cup and scoop mixture into hands, forming balls and pressing down to form patties. You should be able to fit about 4 patties in each dish.

8. Bake patties 15-20 minutes on each side, until the outside is browned and crispy. Serve over bed of greens or a bun and enjoy!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

I put my burger on a bed of greens with tomato, cucumber and pepper - just  top with patty and dressing!

I put my burger on a bed of greens with tomato, cucumber and pepper – just top with patty and dressing!

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (1 serving = 1 patty)

Calories 165 calories, Total Fat 4 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Carbohydrates 25 g, Fiber 5 g, Protein 7 g, Sodium 301 mg, Calcium 43 mg

 

Guilt-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes, you just want a cookie. My favorite kind is peanut butter, but I prefer to bake my own, since I know this treat can actually be surprisingly guilt-free if made the right way. Using natural peanut butter and only a handful of ingredients, these cookies take no time to bake and are actually made with ingredients you can feel good about eating (minus the sugar – but they’re still cookies)! Who says you can’t have your cookie and eat it, too?!

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Ingredients (yield 20 cookies)

1 C natural peanut butter (*best when refrigerated – make sure it is stirred so all of the oil is not sitting at the top)

1 C sugarIMG_0902

1 lage egg, beaten

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 C semisweet chocolate morsels

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

Now give it a stir!

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Add peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract to a medium-sized bowl. Stir well until all ingredients are combined. The batter should be mouse-like.

3. Fold the semisweet chocolate morsels into the batter.

4. Spray baking sheet (or tin foil) with nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray.

5. Take small spoonfuls of batter and roll each spoonful into a ball before placing on baking sheet. Balls should be approximately 1 inch in diameter. Leave approximately 1-2 inches between balls on baking sheet.

6. Flatten each ball into a small circle with a fork – I like to make a decorative pattern with mine by either leaving the lines from the fork tongs or criss-crossing them back and forth (as shown).

7. Bake cookies for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are slightly browned. Let cool completely before removing from baking sheet, as these cookies fall apart easily if handled too much while warm. Enjoy!

Almost done!

Almost done!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving: 

*1 serving is 1 cookie

Calories 140 calories, Total Fat 7 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 9 mg, Carbohydrates 14 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 3 g, Sodium 46 mg, Calcium 2 mg

Ready to bake in the oven - just a few minutes until peanut butter-y goodness!

Ready to bake in the oven – just a few minutes until peanut butter-y goodness!

 

 

A Muffin You’ll Be Nuts About: Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Muffins

Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Muffins

This chillier weather makes me want to bake and enjoy the scent of warm, freshly baked muffins filling my apartment with some hot tea. I slimmed down banana walnut muffins by swapping out some all purpose flour for whole wheat flour, replacing oil with fat free Greek yogurt and increasing the amount of bananas, so the muffins stay moist and sweet – naturally! These muffins are great as a snack to pack for work or school, or amazing with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. A great bonus? walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease inflammation. Who says you can’t have your muffin and eat it, too?

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Ingredients (yields 18 muffins):

1 C whole wheat flour

1 C all purpose flour

1.25 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

4  medium, overripe bananas (*note: it is important that the bananas are almost entirely brown on the outside, or else your muffins will not be sweet)

2/3 C honey

still chunky mashed bananas

still chunky mashed bananas

1/3 C light brown sugar

3/4 C 0% fat, plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage)

1 large egg

2 large egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 C walnuts, crushed or chopped

almost ready!

almost ready!

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium sized bowl. Set aside.

3. Mash 2 bananas with a fork until just mashed (bananas should remain slightly chunky)

4. Beat remaining 2 bananas with honey and brown sugar (about 2 minutes). Add yogurt, eggs, vanilla and beat well for another 30-45 seconds.

5. Mix in about half of the dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula. Add remaining half of dry ingredients. Fold in nuts and mashed bananas to batter.

6. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners. Spoon batter into muffin tins so that each cup is about 3/4 full.

7. Bake for approximately 25 minutes (until the muffins pass the “toothpick test” – a toothpick should come out of each muffin mostly clean). Serve warm or at room temperature.

oven-ready!

oven-ready!

The Goods: What’s Inside?

Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (1 serving is 1 muffin from a batter that makes 18 muffins):

Calories 159, Fat 3 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 10 mg, Carbohydrates 31 g, Fiber 2 g, Protein 4 g, Sodium 168 mg, Calcium 20 mg

warm, fresh baked banana walnut muffins!

warm, fresh baked banana walnut muffins!