Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Homemade Muesli

In a recent article for Today’s Dietitian, we shared our thoughts about cereal.

"For many consumers, the cereal aisle is perhaps one of the most confusing sections in the supermarket. There are numerous varieties from which to choose and a myriad of marketing claims printed on the boxes touting cereals’ abundant whole grain and fiber content."

One of the best ways you can avoid confusion in the cereal aisle is to make your own granola or muesli. Homemade cereals are cost-effective and contain less added sugar, fat, and sodium than commercially packaged varieties.

And while “muesli” may sound like fancy name, it’s actual quite simple. By definition, muesli is simply "a mixture of cereals (esp. rolled oats), dried fruit, and nuts, typically eaten with milk at breakfast."

For the complete article featured in Today’s Dietitian, click here.

Muesli Recipe

Adding dried fruit, nuts, and spices to your own whole grain cereal is an easy way to add fiber to a morning meal. You can easily prepare a large batch of dried muesli ahead of time and always have a hot, nutritious breakfast at the ready.

Photo by Slick at Wikimedia Commons

Serves 8

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup red currants
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup almonds, slivered
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. In a medium bowl, combine oats, currants, raisins, coconut, almonds, walnuts, and cinnamon.

2. Stir ingredients until they’re well mixed. Store muesli in an airtight container. (It can be stored for several months.)

Microwave Instructions
Combine 1/2 cup muesli with 1 cup water and add a dash of vanilla, if desired. Microwave on high for three minutes. Top with one 1/2 tsp ground flaxseed.

Stovetop Instructions
Bring 1 cup water to boil for each serving of muesli. Stir in muesli. Simmer three to five minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add vanilla, if desired and 1/2 tsp ground flaxseed per serving.

Nutrient Analysis per 1/2-cup serving of dry cereal 
Calories: 229; Total fat: 10 g; Sat fat: 3 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 0 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Fiber: 7 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 6 g

This recipe was developed by McKenzie for the December 2012 issue of Today’s Dietitian for the article, Fiber Facts About Cereal.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Going Raw: Pros and Cons

The diet world has moved beyond the low-fat and low-carb crazes of yore toward eating more whole, unprocessed foods. You can’t argue with this concept—the nutritional benefits of eating foods fresh from nature, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes, are plenty. But a new twist takes this diet principal beyond the whole food movement—to a dietary pattern based on eating whole plant foods that are cooked to temperatures not exceeding 118ºF. This means that most raw “foodists” are vegans, with the exception of a very few who also include unpasteurized dairy products or raw fish, meat and eggs.

Advantages of nature’s raw foods. A raw food diet relies heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which are rich in nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals—plant compounds often responsible for the bright colors found in fruits and vegetables that hold health-protective activities, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties Studies have linked vegan and vegetarian diets with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Supporters of this diet argue that once food is cooked, its nutrients and enzymes, which they claim are essential for optimal digestion, are lost. But there is minimal science to back this up. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that it is the body, not the food, that supplies the enzymes needed for digestion. However, it’s a fact that when some fruits and vegetables are cooked, water soluble nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin C, are susceptible to loss.

Pitfalls of a raw food diet. While raw foodists have an eating style that often reflects a vegan diet, the diet is further restricted to exclude cooked whole grains, beans and legumes, adding to the difficulty in following the diet long-term. For example, meeting the needs for essential nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins can be very challenging. And the few raw foodists who eat raw animal products open the gate for a variety of food borne illnesses and bacterial contamination concerns.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to this style of eating is that it takes a lot of work, creativity and careful planning— not to mention expense. Often raw foodists rely on costly prepared raw foods. Restaurant dining, or even traveling while on a raw food diet can prove very restrictive and difficult. There’s little science to indicate we need to eat only raw foods for optimal health, but there’s plenty of research that supports eating a bounty of whole plant foods—whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.

This article was written by McKenzie for the March 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition

Monday, July 15, 2013

Understanding Nutrition Labels

Do you want to know how much I love my job? Last week, on my birthday, I chose to spend the day educating employees at a local Los Angeles organization all about deciphering those often confusing nutrition labels.

Lisa and I have noticed that people tend to get hung up on the “numbers” – things like sugar, fat, and fiber grams. But, when you focus on eating real food – unprocessed, unpackaged food – the majority of the time, the nutrition takes care of itself. That’s why we encourage our clients to focus on enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good-quality proteins and healthy fats in reasonable portions.
With that being said, packaged products have their place too. Finding the time and resources to fuel your body and satisfy your taste buds with fresh food straight off the farm and eloquently prepared in your kitchen is not always a practical reality.

 Below I cover the items listed on a nutrition label and help you understand what they mean.

#1. Ingredients

Check out the ingredient list first – it is usually located just below the Nutrition Facts panel. We like Michael Pollan’s food rule:  it’s best to avoid ingredients if you can’t pronounce it or don’t recognize it. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight; meaning the ingredient that makes up most of the product is listed first.

Sugar: Products with high amounts of added sugar can offer a lot of empty calories, so try limiting these (more on sugar below).

Whole Grain: If a product is truly whole grain, the first ingredient listed must be whole grain.

Trans Fat: To be confident that your product has NO trans fat (the kind of fat most harmful to your heart), check the ingredient list and look for the words “partially hydrogenated.” If you see these words, the product has trans fat -- and we recommend you steer clear.

#2. Serving Size
The serving size is important as it identifies how much of the product is in an individual serving. Remember all the information listed below about calories, fat, etc. is the amount in one serving of the product.

#3. Calories

Calories give us energy, but when our calorie intake exceeds our calorie expenditure, it can lead to weight gain. We also want you to keep in mind that not all calories are created equal.  For example, 50 calories from an apple also provides us with nutrients, phytochemicals and fiber, whereas calories from candy or soda simply provides carbohydrates in the form of added sugar.

#4. Fat

Nutrition experts are beginning to understand more and more that it is not the amount of fat in our diet that is of concern – is the type of fat we choose to eat. Saturated and trans fat, when consumed in excess, can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Try to limit your intake of these types of fat and instead, focus on eating healthier dietary fats such polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats can actually improve your cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

#5. Cholesterol
Studies have found that dietary cholesterol found in animal products such as dairy products and meat can put your heart at risk for disease, too. Aim for less than 300mg of cholesterol per day if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

#6. Sodium
The American Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting our sodium intake to less than 2,000 mg per day – the average American is almost doubling that amount! One helpful tip in reducing your sodium intake is to choose mainly unprocessed foods. But, when buying a processed product, check the ingredients label. In order for a product to be considered “low sodium” it must have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Also beware that many low-fat products in the market often contain more sodium than their counterparts to make up for flavor loss.

#7. Total Carbohydrate
The total carbohydrate portion of a nutrition label can be especially helpful for those with diabetes, wanting to moderate and balance their carbohydrate intake throughout the day. By looking on the nutrition label, you can see exactly how many carbs are in one serving, which can help you choose appropriate products and plan your meals or snacks accordingly.

#8. Fiber
Fiber helps to reduce cholesterol, prevent diabetes, helps with weight management, and yes – keeps us regular! The average American consumes less than 14 grams of fiber per day while current recommendations suggest we have a daily fiber intake of about 25 – 35 grams dayFiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and is not typically found in animal and dairy products. “High fiber products,” those that have 5 grams or more of dietary fiber per serving, may help you get your daily recommended intake.

#9. Sugars

Sugar occurs naturally in some foods like fruits, milk, and other dairy products. Added sugars, on the other hand, are those that are added to food and beverage products during processing and production to improve taste. Having too much added sugar on a regular basis can be of concern as it can cause tooth decay, poor nutrition, and increased triglycerides. Products like cereal, yogurt, cookies, candy, and soda are often culprits of having a high amounts of added sugar. According to the American Heart Association, we should aim to keep our added sugar allotment to about 25g-35g per day; that translates to approximately 100 -150 calories. 

#10. Protein

Protein is an important part of our diets. The amount of recommended daily protein depends on your age and health. We recommend incorporating a good quality protein at each meal & snack. Protein helps to maintain a feeling of fullness and helps to keep you satisfied in-between your meal & snack time. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Return to Israel

Elie and I got home a few weeks ago from another trip to Israel, which looks like is going to be an annual adventure.  I love it there.  This year, we took my Mom, Carolyn, who also immediately fell in love with the country, the people, the history, the religious significance.  And of course, you can’t help but fall in love with the food. 

After last year’s trip to Israel, I gave a cooking class at Ciao Thyme, sharing some of my favorite Israeli recipes.  At the beginning of the class, I asked if anyone had been to Israel.  One gentleman raised his hand and said, “I traveled to Israel this year.  I took the blog post you wrote about your last trip, and I went to all the restaurants you recommended.”


So, I thought I’d share a few of the restaurants and sites we discovered on this trip.  Visit here or here for more suggestions.

We spent the first week in Tel Aviv, staying in the Nina Café Suites Hotel, a boutique hotel in my favorite neighborhood, Neve Tzedek.  The quaint, winding streets are lined with small boutiques and cafes, our favorite being Café Dallal, where we went for coffee most mornings.  They happen to have the absolute best ruggelach ever.  And darn good chocolate chip cookies.
sign to Cafe Dallal
best ruggelach
None of us could shake the jet lag on this trip, waking between four and five am each morning, the only advantage being we usually got up for an early morning walk on the beach.  I’m sure most people don’t associate Israel with beaches, but Tel Aviv was built from the dessert, on the sands of the Mediterranean Sea.  You can hear all about the fascinating origin of the city at Independence Hall Museum. It only takes about 30 minutes, and can be a good respite from the heat. Make sure to call ahead for times and availability.

The award for best coffee of the trip belongs to Café Sonia Getzel Shapira (also mentioned in my last post for shakshuka—still a good recommendation).   

People born in Israel are referred to as sabras, referring to the cactus fruit that is prickly on the outside, but sweet on the inside.  It’s certainly true, especially when they’re driving any sort of motorized vehicles.  Don’t drive unless you have nerves of steel.  But, Israelis exude a spirit of genuine hospitality and warmth under the sometimes brusque exterior.  And they love to share their love for their country. 

On a tip from a stranger who overheard us looking for a spot for a light lunch, we found the vegetarian-friendly cafe, Meshek Barzilay.  We liked it so much, we went twice, enjoying simple, fresh salads in the lovely outdoor courtyard.
lunch at Meshek Barzilay
From Tel Aviv, we took a colorful one hour cab ride to Jerusalem, where we stayed in an apartment rental on Agripas.  The living room window, aside from having a beautiful view toward the Old City, also happened to overlook the courtyard of the home Elie’s grandparents lived in, the home where his Mom grew up.  Elie and his family used to visit every other year, and he had grown up playing in the yard.
morning prayer, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem
Elie’s saba—grandfather—was a butcher in the town’s market, called a shuk.  No trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to the Mahane Yehuda Market and the restaurant that honors the market, Machneyuda.  Elie and I had such a fun meal on our last trip, we wanted Mom to have the same experience.  We weren’t disappointed.  The food was even better than the first time, and the raucous environment makes it impossible not to dance in your seat.

beets and squash, stuffed with lamb & a fresh tomato salad in the back

Persian Lamb Stew
By the same owners of Machneyuda, restaurant Mona has a completely different atmosphere—more serene—and a less inventive, but delicious menu.        

I had read that Yotam Ottolenghi—one of my favorite cookbook authors, and a native of Jerusalem—recommended the traditional Middle Eastern lunch spot, Azura, in the Iraqi section of the shuk.  Don’t be put off by a long line out front—it moves quickly.  Azura is known for its kubeh—a vegetable stew with dumplings stuffed with ground meat.

hummus, kubeh and meatball (in back)
Kubeh pairs well with a Gold Star.

Gold Star, Israeli beer
Of course, some of the best meals you can have in Israel are in people’s homes.  Shabbat dinner with Elie’s family featured his Doda Suzie’s bourekas.  On our next visit to Israel, I’m arriving for dinner earlier, so I can learn the recipe.  Stay tuned. 

Shabbat Dinner
Most of our time in Jerusalem was dedicated to visiting the Christian sites in and around the Old City, including a breathtaking panoramic view from the Mount of Olives and the quiet reverence of the Garden of Gethsemane.
view from the Mount of Olives

Garden of Gethsemane

While in Jerusalem, we took a day trip to scale Masada and then soak in the healing waters of the Dead Sea.

I think Mom’s favorite moment of the trip was reaching the top of Masada, after climbing the snake path in almost 100 degree heat.

walking up the Snake Path, to the top of Masada
at the top!
We visited the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi Spa Beach, although I would take the description of spa lightly.  Although the facility does offer massages and fish pedicures, the building resembles more of a water park than a luxury spa.  Don’t be put off, however.  A short train ride down to the beach and you can scoop mud from the banks to coat your body in a mud mask and then float in the salty water.  Definitely a check on the life list.
floating, pre-mud bath

We spent our last few days in Israel in the Galilee.  On the way north from Jerusalem, we took a detour toward Moshav Yodfat to visit Goats with the Winds Farm, an organic goat farm that serves a beautiful lunch featuring well-crafted yogurt and fresh and aged cheeses, homemade wine and other foods from the farm.  It was an adventure getting there.  After a dozen u-turns over washed out roads and as many phone calls to the owner, Daliah, we finally found the farm.  Hint:  it’s through the WE ARE FREE sign featuring the Jamaican flag colors. 

It was worth the hassle. 

Lunch at Goats with the Winds rivals any fine dining restaurant—except you’re seated on Turkish carpets under a canopy of trees overlooking the valley below.  Spectacular.   And delicious.

lunch begins with homemade bread and lavender-scented labneh
the dining room
You can also play with the kids.

Be sure to call in advance and make reservations.  I noticed they updated their website with directions since our visit. 

In the Galilee, we stayed at the charming, old world hotel and spa, Mizpe Hayamim.  Perched near Rosh Pina, high in the hills overlooking a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee, the hotel has an organic farm and gardens, perfect for quietly wandering before parking yourself in a deck chair on the balcony for a nap.

garden path at Mizpe Hayamim
I’ve never met a buffet I liked—until Mizpe Hayamim.  The breakfast and dinner buffets are nothing short of amazing, featuring products grown and produced on the farm.  The cows on the farm are milked first thing in the morning, providing milk for breakfast.  All the cheeses—probably a dozen varieties—are made from their own cow and goat milk.  It’s quite remarkable.

a selection of fresh cheeses, fresh from the farm

a few of at least a dozen salads
Only a short drive from Rosh Pina, the Mount of Beatitudes is one of my favorite places in Israel.  While many sites from the New Testament have been ornately enshrined over the centuries, the Mount of Beatitudes remains tranquil, a place where you can hear the wind.  Mom and I sat in the garden, and read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, one of my favorite moments of the trip.  We walked through the grounds, singing old hymns and reflecting.

Mount of Beatitudes
We also walked a piece of the Jesus Trail, a 65 kilometer trail from Capernaum to Nazareth, tracing important sites from the life of Jesus.  We hiked an extension of the trail, winding north from Capernaum and hugging the banks of the Sea of Galilee.

Map of the Jesus Trail, carved on a stone
On our last day in the Galilee, I met with a Druze woman in her home in the village of Maghar to learn to cook authentic foods of the Galilee.  Pnina did not speak English, but her warmth and humor needed no translation, as we cooked for over three hours in her kitchen, making traditional dishes she serves to her own family. 

Mom and Elie dropped me off at Pnina’s house, and I cooked while they went to explore the village of Safed (Sfat).  They returned to have lunch with us, a feast of kebabs cooked in tahini, lentils, stuffed grape leaves and stuffed courgettes (a type of zucchini) cooked in goat yogurt, tomato salad and Elie’s favorite—little yeasted pancakes filled with sweet cheese or walnuts and cinnamon that are fried and then dipped in a simple syrup scented with rose water and lemon.  It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.       

stuffing courgettes
stuffed grape leaves and courgettes

Elie's favorite dessert

family lunch

Pnina, sharing her family photo album
The most amazing part of cooking with Pnina was to experience how she lives, close to her land and in close community with the people in her village.  We cooked with olive oil pressed from pungent green olives from trees she inherited from her parents. The chicken in the kebabs came from her backyard.  She made the goat yogurt and cheese with milk from a neighbor’s goat.  In her cellar, Pnina had shelves of ingredients she had bottled or prepared—za’atar from herbs she had grown and dried, freekeh from wheat she had dried on her roof, bottles of olive oil from her own grove.  We brought home olive oil—secured in plastic Fanta bottles—along with large containers of olives and the fragrant za’atar.

Pnina's za'atar

Pnina's freekeh
I found the experience with Pnina through Galileat, a company that sets up culinary experiences in the Galilee.  Paul Nirens, the owner, met me at Pnina’s and was available to translate. 

It was amazing.  Perhaps if everyone cooked together like that--sharing stories and meals together, despite differences in language, religion and culture--we might achieve peace through food.

The whole trip was amazing, actually, exploring, eating and walking under endless sunny blue skies.  For Mom and me, connecting to our faith.  For Elie, connecting to his mother’s country.  For all of us, spending time with people we love.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Dietitian Is In! Whole Food Supplements

When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!

Question: Are “whole food” supplements better than regular supplements?

Answer: There’s little argument that a healthy, well rounded diet is superior to a poor diet with dietary supplements filling in the gaps. Regardless, the supplement industry is booming, raking in over 28 million dollars in 2010 alone. While research indicates that isolated nutrients, such as vitamin C and B12, may help prevent deficiencies like scurvy and anemia, evidence that supplements offer the same health benefits as real food is lacking. In response to our growing appreciation for the health benefits found in whole food, some supplement manufacturers are marketing “whole food” supplements, derived from whole foods, such as vegetable juice powder and pulp from carrots, beets, kale, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables. Though it may seem like these supplements provide nutrients closer to the way nature intended, there’s little evidence backing up their benefits over conventional supplements. Consolidating all the benefits of plants, from vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemials, into a single pill—no matter its source—is highly unlikely. And whole food supplements are costlier than regular supplements; about 90 cents to $1.00 per dose vs. 10 – 20 cents per dose, respectively.

This Q &A was written by McKenzie for the "Ask the Expert" section in the April 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.