Monday, February 13, 2012

Have Your Chocolate...And Enjoy it Too!

We’re going to share our favorite recipes to help you make a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for your sweetheart—or even just for yourself.  Remember, it’s important to love yourself, too! 

But first, we’re going to talk about fats.  Because fats get a bad rap and fats are an important part of any Valentine’s Day celebration. Think chocolate. 

So, here we go. 

Registered Dietitians also get a bad rap. 

 We’re often considered the ‘food police,’ professionals sucking all the pleasure and joy out of eating.  When people find out we’re Registered Dietitians, they hide their plate of french fries or chocolate bar, saying, “I don’t usually eat like this…”

We’re here to change the way you view Registered Dietitians—and the way you view food—and fats. 

We don’t focus on what you can’t eat—we focus on what you can eat.  And what you can and should eat is real, delicious food—including fats—in moderation, of course. 

Fats are an essential part of our diet and are necessary to help our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K).  They are a great source of energy and essential to glowing skin and shiny, healthy hair. 

We know all of the nutrition information out there can be confusing, so we’ll try to make this as simple as possible. 

There are three main fats that we eat--unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fat All real foods are made up of a combination of unsaturated and saturated fats, with very little naturally occurring trans fats.

Unsaturated fats are made up of both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.  From a health standpoint, monounsaturated fats give you the biggest bang for your buck and may be the best choice for heart health.  Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and may actually help to raise HDL (good) cholesterol.  Sources include avocados, many nuts (like almonds, peanuts, cashews and hazelnuts), olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and olives—all good and good for you! 

Polyunsaturated fats also help lower total cholesterol.  Sources of polyunsaturated fats include trans-fat free margarine and mayonnaise, walnuts, some oils (corn, flaxseed, grapeseed, safflower, soybean), and seeds (flaxseed, pumpkins seeds and sesame seeds).

Omega-3 fatty acids are also a type of polyunsaturated fat, and are found mainly in cold water fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and halibut.  Omega-3 fatty acids may help to lower blood pressure and reduce the level of triglycerides (fat) in the blood.

Saturated fats are those fats that are solid at room temperature—with sources like bacon, butter, cream, hard cheeses, coconut and fat in meats.  Saturated fat has taken a beating over the years, named as a primary culprit in the development of heart disease.  This relationship is debatable, and the evidence between saturated fat and heart disease actually suggests that highly processed foods (think hot dogs, lunch meats and processed bacon and sausages) that are also high in saturated fat, are likely to blame.    

We approve of using naturally derived saturated fats (like butter, lard or coconut oil) over artificial fats.  Butter is always, always a better choice than margarine or any sort of fake butter.  Butter contains Vitamins A and D, and fatty acids--butyric acid and lauric acid—shown to have numerous health benefits, including boosting HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.  Coconut oil is also high in lauric acid, and can be a delicious baking alternative for those looking for a vegan cooking source. 

On the other hand, trans fats—contained in many margarines and processed baked goods— should always be avoided, when possible.  Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been chemically processed to turn a liquid fat into a semi-solid state and can raise total cholesterol and have been linked to heart disease.  To recognize trans fats, it is important to read labels!  Look for the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredient list—if the food has a hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list, it contains trans fats.   

And, since this is Valentine’s Day, what about chocolate?

The fat in chocolate—cocoa butter—is made up of both monounsaturated and saturated fats.  The monounsaturated fat in cocoa butter is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil.  Research shows the saturated fat in cocoa butter has a negligible effect on cholesterol levels.  So go ahead, eat small amounts of chocolate—with at least 70% cocoa content—when the craving strikes

Image reprinted with permission from and
Real food is always better than fake food.  Or at least, we can’t think of a reason to ever eat something fake.  When it comes to fats, we trust cows and pigs and plants more than chemists. 

Hopefully this primer has helped you understand a little bit more about fats.  If your eyes glazed over through the details, just remember this:  Eat real food—including fats—in moderation, and enjoy them with those you love.

And now, for Valentine’s Day recipes that will make your sweetie’s heart—and your heart— happy.

Pomegranate & Beet Salad

Beets are very high in antioxidant-rich flavonoids, which studies show may help to prevent cancer.  Beets are very nutrient dense, high in folate, which is crucial for brain functioning, metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, and very important during child-rearing years.  Betalains, the red and yellow pigments in beets, may help to reduce inflammation in the body.

Image reprinted with permission from and
Serves 4

2 medium beets
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 head butter lettuce leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Place beets in baking dish with water.  Cover dish with foil and roast beets until beets are tender, about 50 minutes – 1 hour. Cool. Peel beets and cut into 1/3-inch-thick wedges.

Whisk pomegranate juice, vinegar, mustard, honey and olive oil in a large bowl to blend.  Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.  Add sliced beets and pomegranate seeds to vinaigrette in bowl.  Toss. 

Top butter lettuce leaves with beets and drizzle with vinaigrette. 

Pan-Seared Wild Salmon with Red Currant Salsa Verde

Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fat), which can help lower triglyceride levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.  Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fat, which can help lower total cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. 

Serves 4

4, 4 ounce wild salmon fillets
Zest of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat a cast iron or heavy-bottom skillet over medium high heat.  Coat the skin of the salmon with olive or canola oil.   Place the salmon, skin side down, in the cast iron skillet.  Cook for 4 minutes.  Turn the fish over.  Cook another 4 minutes for medium salmon and 5 minutes for salmon that is completely cooked through.  Remove from heat.  Serve with Red Currant Salsa Verde.

Red Currant Salsa Verde

2 tablespoons currants
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
Zest and juice of one lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons of olive oil

In a small bowl, cover red currants with boiling water.  Let set about 5 minutes to soften, and then drain.

In a medium bowl, combine parsley, oregano, capers, currants, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Whisk in olive oil.  Serve over seared wild salmon.

Cauliflower Puree

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, which are high in antioxidants and may have cancer-fighting properties.  Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C, with 1 cup containing almost as much Vitamin C as an orange. And Vitamin C is a known mood-booster!

Serves 4

1 large head cauliflower
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut cauliflower into florets and place florets and garlic clove in a steamer basket.  Fill a medium pot with about 2 inches of water.  Bring to a simmer and place steamer basket with cauliflower and garlic over pot.  Cover and steam about 20 minutes, or until cauliflower is very tender.  

Put the florets and garlic in a food processor. Add the olive oil.  Puree until smooth.  Season with sea salt and black pepper.   

Add back to the cooking pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries

While chocolate is best enjoyed in moderation, studies show that having a serving of dark chocolate is actually good for your heart. Dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.  The cocoa bean is high in a subclass of antioxidants called polyphenols that help to counteract the damaging effect of free radicals in the body.  Dark chocolate also contains serotonin, a natural mood-boosting anti-depressant and helps to stimulate the pleasure-inducing endorphins.

Serves 12

6 ounces dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
12 large strawberries

Chop the chocolate into pieces and place in a small glass bowl in a microwave for 20 seconds. Stir the chocolate and continue to microwave for 20 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny.  Do not overcook.

Dip each strawberry into the chocolate and place on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.  Set aside until chocolate hardens, about 30 minutes.

Enjoy this meal this Valentine’s Day, with the one (or ones!) you love.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent health tips simply stated and great recipes!