Friday, August 30, 2013

Does Buying Organic Really Matter?

The organic industry is hot; it's the fastest growing sector of the supermarket, increasing in sales from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion between the years of 1997 to 2011. The topic of organic foods has received even more attention recently in response to a study released from Stanford University in September 2012, which concluded that there isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods.

The study set off a firestorm of dialogue among both consumers and nutrition professionals, as they discussed a larger meaning of whether choosing organic foods is the best strategy for your health, as well as for the environment.

Debate on Nutritional Payback

The Stanford researchers reviewed a collection of about 240 previously published studies, developing a statistical compilation of these findings. The studies they examined were performed over multiple years and took into account the nutrient and bacterial, fungal, or pesticide contamination levels in various foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs, as well as its impact on humans.

For most vitamins and minerals, no significant difference between organic and conventional produce was found in nutrient content, with the exception of phosphorous, which was higher in organically grown varieties. Yet, researchers did find organic produce to have a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination, and organically farmed chicken and pork to have lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Despite these findings, other studies have documented health and environmental advantages of organic foods compared to their conventional counterparts. A similar analysis of studies conducted by researchers at Newcastle University in England found higher levels of vitamin C and phenols (plant antioxidants) in organically grown crops.

In a study published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which examined the effects of organic and conventional cropping systems for spinach, researchers found the organic variety to have higher levels of certain flavonoids and vitamin C.

Beyond Nutrition

One of the main attractions for eating organic goes beyond increased nutrient content to lowering one's exposure to pesticide residues.

"Don't buy organics to increase phytochemical intake, but (buy them) because organics generally have lower levels of pesticides," urges Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., professor and food chemist at the University of California-Davis.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives detailed a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposure to pesticides among 23 elementary school children who participated. They were fed organic food items as substitutes for the conventional foods in their diet.

"Although the FDA assures that pesticide residue on individual food samples are within safe limits, what we do not know is how that cumulative load of organophosphorous pesticides affects children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and seniors," says Angie Tagtow, M.S.. R.D., L.D., dietitian and owner of Environmental Nutrition Solutions, LLC, a company that focuses on environmental approaches to food and nutrition.

Impact on Mother Earth

The organic food movement also takes into consideration how agricultural practices affect the environment. The Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial is the longest-running U.S. study to compare conventional and organic agricultural practices. The project found that organic farming uses 45 percent less energy, produces 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, and better supports soil organic matter compared to conventional systems.

Additional evidence-based studies indicate organic farming methods create healthy soils, which yield crops that are consistent with, or better than, those grown by conventional agricultural methods.

Cost Comparison
Sure, organics may have some documented benefits, but are they worth the additional dollars? To help you gauge the price vs. benefit, here's a look at the average cost-breakdown for four commonly consumed foods:

Apples (per fruit): organic, $2.35; conventional, $1.34

Canned black beans (per 15-ounce can): organic, $1.77; conventional, $1.16

Eggs (per dozen): organic, $4.79; conventional, $2.65

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (per pound): organic, $8.63; conventional, $3.49

 (Note: Cost analysis calculated from average priced of products in three popular supermarkets in Los Angeles County, California)

Organic Food Considerations:

Consider these factors when deciding whether to go organic in these food categories:

1.      Fruits and vegetables. When it comes to eating your daily quota of fruits and vegetables, it may be best to start at square one by simply focusing on increasing your daily intake. According to a 2010 report released by the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, only six percent of people are eating enough vegetables and only eight percent are eating enough fruit each day.

2. Junk foods. When health is a priority, it's important to keep in mind the type of food eaten, not just the farming or production method it undergoes.

Surveys continually report that consumers believe organic food--regardless of its ingredients--is nutritionally superior to conventional foods. Spending your money on low-nutrient organic junk foods, such as cookies, chips and sugary beverages is not the best use of your organic dollars.

3. Dairy. Because of organic regulations, organic dairy farmers are prohibited from using antibiotics or synthetic hormones, including the artificial growth hormone rBST or rBGH, and cows must feed on organic pasture at least four months out of the year; organic pasture has been associated with higher omega-3 fatty acid content in milk, which have been linked to protection against heart disease and cognitive decline.

4. Meat. Like organic dairy, animals used for the production of organic meat cannot receive synthetic hormones or antibiotics. The less-confined organic cows on organic farms are given space to roam freely, reducing their potential to contract disease, which also gives the meat a better fatty acid profile than animals living in confined spaces.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates the regulations behind any food with the "organic" label by using a third party certification system.

According to the USDA, organic foods support biologic diversity and ecological balance by fostering a system of recycling resources and nutrients into the soil. Organically labeled foods restrict the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and prohibit the use of sewage sludge.
This article was written my McKenzie for the January 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We're in L.O.V.E. with Peanut Butter

Whether it’s chomping on peanuts at a summertime baseball game, savoring a gooey peanut butter and jelly sandwich on your lunch break, or breathing in the delicious smell of homemade peanut butter cookies at Grandma’s house, there’s no doubt about it—peanut butter is an American favorite food. And what’s not to love? High on the totem pole in regards to taste, nutrition, convenience, and affordability, peanut butter is a “must-have” on our list for stocking a healthy kitchen. 

Peanuts Pump Up the Protein

There’s no underestimating the importance of protein. In the body, protein is converted to amino acids, which are the building blocks for the body’s cells and tissues (think: bones, skin, hair, nails, intestinal tract lining, blood cells, etc.), as well as immune cells, digestive enzymes, and some hormones that allow our bodies to run like smooth-operating machines – without us even thinking about it! Best known for its ability help build and repair muscles, protein is especially well-appreciated by active individuals. A two tablespoon serving size of peanut butter packs in a hefty 7 grams of protein, making it a great dietary staple to ensure you receive adequate nutrition to fuel your busy body. 

The Perks of Plant-Based Protein & Fats

Plant-based eating is getting a lot of attention in recent years, and it’s incredibly hard to argue against a style of eating that is in favor of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. The wonderful thing about plant-based foods – such as peanut butter – is that they are naturally loaded with healthy compounds such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Peanut butter, in particular, is also packed with heart-healthy unsaturated fats while being low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in peanut butter have been shown to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and protect your precious heart against disease. By spreading a layer of peanut butter on your toast, adding a scoop to smoothies or stirring into your yogurt, you’re not only getting protein, you’re getting the added perks that come along with plant-based protein and healthy plant fats.

Peanuts for a Healthy Weight

Including an ounce of peanuts or about half a serving peanut butter into your daily diet has been shown to help maintain a healthy weight.  Packed with satiating protein, fat, and fiber – peanut butter may help to curve cravings and help moderate a voracious appetite. A study conducted by Harvard researchers found that when compared to a low-fat diet, a moderate-fat diet including peanut butter is much easier to stick with and results in more sustained weight loss. Keep in mind that a healthy eating regime is most likely to become a habit when it is maintainable, sustainable, and when it tastes really good. The incredible taste of peanut butter is able satisfy your taste buds while also being kind to your body.

Live Better with Breakfast

Yes, you better believe it – breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  Multiple studies show people who eat a healthy, balanced breakfast—including some protein, good fat and carbohydrates with fiber—have a more nutritionally complete diet, concentrate and perform better at work and school, have more strength and stamina for sports activities, and have lower cholesterol levels.  Even more compelling, a recent Harvard study showed people who skipped breakfast had a higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) compared people who ate breakfast, independent of their weight.  That’s motivation!  Packed with both protein and good fats, peanuts and peanut butter can help make breakfast quick and easy, like a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat toast or a spoonful of peanut butter in a banana smoothie.  See our other breakfast ideas, in the recipes below.

Peanut Butter is Versatile

Keeping a jar of peanut butter in your pantry means a healthy and satisfying breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks—or dessert!—is never far away.  Peanuts and peanut butter can be used in both sweet and savory dishes; the ideas are endless!  For breakfast, try peanut butter and raisins stirred into hot oatmeal.  While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional PB&J, try something new for lunch, like a Thai chicken wrap make with leftover chicken tossed in peanut sauce and stuffed with lots of crunchy raw veggies. Delicious!  For dinner, substitute the croutons on your salad for toasted, chopped peanuts, or try making creamy peanut soup for something new.  Our go-to snack is always apple slices dipped in peanut butter or the childhood favorite—ants on a log.  And for dessert—you can’t go wrong with an old fashioned peanut butter cookie! 

Peanut Butter is Affordable

At less than 20 cents per serving, peanut butter is an affordable way to add important protein and healthy fats to your meals.  Even better, a jar of peanut butter can last up to two years (although ours would never last that long!), so you can also save money by preventing food waste.  Our Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie, for example, is less than $1 per serving!  And at less than 300 calories with 10 grams of protein and five grams of fiber, this smoothie provides a nutritionally-complete, power-packed breakfast.   

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

It’s hard to resist that classic favorite combination of chocolate and peanut butter. Creamy and oh-so satisfying, this power smoothie will be sure to energize you first thing in the morning.

Serves 1

1/2 cup milk
1 frozen banana
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. 

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

This slightly-sweet and savory banana bread can be a treat all on its own.  Or, smear a toasted slice with a thin layer of peanut butter and you’ve got a delicious, fiber- and protein-packed breakfast with a sweet edge.

Makes one 9×5 inch loaf

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas, about 4 bananas
1/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

 In a large bowl, whisk together flour, flaxseed meal, baking soda, and salt.

 In a medium bowl, whisk together mashed bananas, yogurt or buttermilk, peanut butter and melted butter. Whisk in eggs, sugar and vanilla.

 Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold together with a spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and top with chopped peanuts.  Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

 Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting the bread onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 This bread lasts, well-wrapped at room temperature, for up to 4 days. It is also great to store, well wrapped, in the freezer.

This post was sponsored by the Southern Peanut Growers. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

(a healthier) Banana Split

In honor of Dole’s observance of (a healthier) National Banana Split Day, we went to work in the kitchen to create our own nourishing recipe.

According to Valley Dairy, the original banana split recipe calls for:

“A fresh banana loaded with big scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, topped with chocolate, strawberry and pineapple, finished with clouds of whipped cream, chopped nuts and a cherry. Just what the doc ordered!”

Our recipe takes a fun and healthy spin on this classic favorite.

The result is a baked banana split, centered on the wholesome goodness of bananas, featuring heart-healthy whole wheat flour, good-for-you plant fats, and satiating protein.  Enjoy this recipe on the last days of August (preferably with those you love) and treat yourself to something that is truly “what the doc ordered!”

Baked Banana Nut Split

1 large banana
2 egg whites
1 ½ cups frozen Greek yogurt
¼ cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoon walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon skim milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutella

1. In a medium bowl, mash the banana.
2. Add egg whites, flour, and milk to the bowl and mix well.
3. Combine walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and Nutella. Add to banana-flour mixture.
4. Fill ramekins with 1/3 mixture. 
5. Place in the oven and let bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Serve with a scoop of frozen yogurt.

Nutritional Analysis:
Calories 278
Total Fat 8 g
Saturated Fat 2 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 11 mg
Sodium 97 mg
Carbohydrate 45 g
Fiber 2 g

Protein 8 g

This award-winning recipe was developed by our intern & contributing blogger, Jaime.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

In the Kitchen with Greek Yogurt

You will always find Greek yogurt in both of our fridges. In fact, I even came close to having it on My Top 5 Foods I Can’t Live Without list. Lisa’s been known to add it as a topping to her homemade tortilla soup. I love Greek yogurt topped with berries and little bit of homemade granola, stirred into my oatmeal for an extra protein boost in the morning, or as an alternative to sour cream on my baked sweet potatoes.
One of our favorite dips is also this Avocado Yogurt Dip that can transform any boring and bland sandwich or wrap into an absolutely creamy and satisfying one. It also makes the best topping for our favorite fish tacos.

Last week, Chobani completely spoiled me by sending samples of their new yogurt flavors. After hearing all the ways that Lisa and I use and love Greek yogurt, it may not be surprising to hear that I was beyond excited. I love Greek yogurt because it tastes great and is packed with muscle-repairing and cell-building protein.
Our intern, Jaime was equally excited and quick to jump at the chance to experiment with Chobani’s new, exciting flavors. Here’s what Jaime came up with.

Chobani Coconut Chicken

Eating coconut sure does have a way of making you feel as if you’re on a tropical island. When Chobani came out with their coconut-flavored yogurt, I stood in my kitchen imagining myself lying on a white-sand beach surround by nothing but palm trees. Since I am in Los Angeles, surround by a bunch of meat-eating men, I made a paradise-inspired recipe…coconut yogurt glazed chicken.

Makes 2 servings
2 skin-less chicken breasts
6 ounces Chobani coconut yogurt
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
A few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Preheat grill to medium-high. Spread olive oil and chopped garlic on the grill and let cook until golden brown.

Combine salt and pepper.  Rub each side of the chicken breast with mixture.
Place chicken breasts on the grill and let cook for approximately 10 minutes on each side.  Make sure the inside is cooked all the way through.

Take chicken off the grill and pour on the coconut yogurt.
Top off the cooked chicken and yogurt with chopped parsley. Serve and enjoy with the ones you love.

Mixed Berries, Oats, and Honey & Ginger Medley

Ginger is commonly seen at a variety of Asian restaurants as a side dish or garnish.  I am a huge fan of this spicy, aromatic root, but most choose to toss it to the side. Incorporating ginger into a flavor of yogurt, paired with fresh fruit and oats, tames its pungent taste to create a sweet and delicious meal everyone can enjoy!

Ingredients for Yogurt Bowl:

6 oz. Chobani Bite Honey and Ginger Yogurt
1 cup mixed berries
2 tablespoon walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for toasted oats:
½ cup oats
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Dash of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine oats, syrup, and cinnamon.

Spread oats out onto a baking pan and let cook for approximately 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine sliced fruit, walnuts, yogurt and cinnamon.
Top it all off with a handful of toasted oats!

Jaime Ruisi is a passionate and motivated student in the field of nutrition.  Her experience involves culinary and nutrition communications work with leading experts in the field.  Jaime plans to inspire others to reach their health goals as a future registered dietitian. Connect with Jaime on Facebook, Twitter, and Noms McGee. 

Disclaimer: We were not paid to endorse Chobani. We gladly promote products and companies that align with our food philosophy and that we believe in. While we receive Chobani products from time to time, we were not asked to promote the brand. We just like it!