Friday, March 28, 2014

Healthy Travel Tips: How to Pack Your Snack Bag

We get this question all the time:  I’m traveling for vacation/work by car/plane/train/bus and I don’t know how to make good food choices while I’m traveling.  Do you have any tips?

It’s a great question!  Eating well on the road (or in the air) can be very challenging.  I travel quite a bit, both for work and for pleasure, and the key is to plan ahead. 

Whether I’m travelling by car or by plane, I always take enough food with me to get me to my destination.  Food in airports and on the road tends to be not-so-nourishing and expensive!  When I’m traveling, I pack foods that provide a combination of protein, good fat and good carbohydrates, but won’t spoil or weigh me down.  I try and sneak in lots of vegetables, which satisfies the urge to snack, without a lot of extra calories.  Here’s what’s in my snack bag:

  • Sturdy salads, like pasta salad, potato salad (without mayonnaise), grain salads or kale salad are great, because they won’t wilt and they just get better as they sit.  Load them up with vegetables to add crunch and a nutritional punch.  Top the salad with an olive-oil based vinaigrette.  My favorite travel combination is whole wheat penne with sliced grape tomatoes or oven-dried tomatoes, olives, steamed kale, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh herbs, or brown rice (or farro) with roasted vegetables and shredded chicken with lemon and olive oil.  If you’re not going to eat the salad within two hours, you should pack it in an insulated container or lunch bag, to keep it cold (at or below 40 degrees).  I love these lunch bags, because they keep food cold for six hours.

  • Nuts and nut butters are always in my bag.  Individual pouches of peanut butter or almond butter (like Justin’s Nut Butters) are perfect for spreading on bananas, apples or whole grain crackers.  Because they are individually sealed, they won’t spill, and you can take them through airport security.  You also can’t go wrong with an old fashioned PB&J, on whole grain bread.  
  • On long trips, I also pack non-perishable cheeses, like aged manchego or gruyere, for when I get tired of nut butter.  They do need to stay cold, or the oils will start to release.    
  • Single-serving fruit, like apples, pears or bananas, as well as cut vegetables sticks, like carrots, celery and bell peppers are perfect for travel.  Fruits and vegetables can satisfy that need to snack when you’re bored of the long flight or drive.  If you have a cooler, you can pack a container of hummus for dipping.  Just don’t try to take a large container of hummus through airport security—it won’t fly.
  • Homemade granola is another staple.  It’s great for snacking on its own.  And if you’re on a plane, you can always ask for milk and turn it into a breakfast cereal.  If you’re travelling with a cooler or insulated bag, pack individual servings of plain Greek yogurt, and you have a perfectly satisfying breakfast or snack.

  • Instead of high-sugar protein or snack bars, make fruit- and nut-filled whole grain muffins, like these or these.  Spread with nut butter, these make a great breakfast or snack.

  • Dark chocolate, for when I’m craving something sweet. 
  • Water, water, water.  When you’re travelling, it’s important to stay hydrated, so keep filling up that water bottle.       

What do you pack in your travel snack bag? We’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Recap of #ExpoWest

A few weeks ago I attended the world’s largest organic, natural, and healthy foods event, The Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. It was so fun to start the day off by listening to a live performance from Michael Franti on my way to the expo hall.  I’m such a fan and it started the day off on such a happy note. Gourmet food trucks and vendors surrounded the stage, leaving me with the decision of where to begin! I grabbed a healthy breakfast which gave me just the boost of energy I needed before entering the expo hall.

Inside the convention center was a maze of booths featuring a variety of products – food, beauty products, pet supplies, and even household items. To be completely honest, it was a little bit of sensory overload! I was most excited to sample some of the delicious, nutritious foods available and meet the masterminds behind all these products, so naturally, I grabbed the first bag I could find and hit the foodie aisles. It was soon after I entered the expo hall that I realized my “little goodie bag” wasn't so little. It almost hit my knees. I hope you can visualize this accurately. So funny.

First stop, Yogi Tea! The table was decorated with colorful tea leaves and the representatives were dressed as yogis which made this booth a must-see. Plus, the samples were just what I needed. I’ve been a huge fan of Yogi tea since I took my first sip of Egyptian Licorice Mint about seven years ago. While that flavor is still my absolute favorite, you’ll find a variety of several kinds of Yogi tea in my pantry at all times.  My favorite flavor at the expo was the Cinnamon Vanilla. Tea definitely has a calming effect, even in the middle of this busy crowd. And equally as wonderful of as their flavors of tea, are the messages on their tea tags. You can see what I mean if you take a peek at the Yogi Tea Instagram Account

Next, CLIF Bar & Company! Lisa and I have openly spoken of our admiration for the LUNA and CLIF teams and their line of products. I absolutely love what the company stands for and they’re one of my go-to products when I need something to hold me over until meal time. The CLIF MOJO Coconut Almond Peanut Bars or Kit’s Organic Lemon Vanilla + Chia Seeds are on my current list of personal favorites.

La Croix is a sparkling water brand that is manufactured right here in the USA.  Their display was simple and refreshing – much like the product! The beverages come in a variety of flavors such as peach pear, coconut, and lime. Grapefruit is my favorite. There are no artificial colors, flavors or additives used in this carbonated water which makes it the perfect substitute for soda.

The SoDelicious Booth!

“Say yes to what you love.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. There is most definitely room for the foods you love in a healthy, well-rounded diet. 

Fresh berries always have a way of capturing my attention. They were the perfect topping for these yogurt cups and the perfect pairing for granola!

After a long day of taste-testing, it was finally time to have a sit-down dinner. That large bag I grabbed at the beginning of the event quickly filled up and my shoulder was ready for a rest! The OrganicCenter hosted their 11th Annual VIP Dinner at the Natural Products Expo and I was so lucky to be able to attend. The tables were decorated with a beautiful flower arrangement and a fresh salad was placed at our seats. A buffet-style dinner included grouper, steak, roasted root vegetables, roasted potatoes, and jasmine rice. Everything was presented impeccably and was most importantly, delicious! During dinner, Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center spoke of the significant accomplishments the center has made in the past year as well as the exciting research they are currently conducting.

After dinner, it was time to go home, although I admittedly got lost in the parking lot and considered walking across the street to Disneyland to go play with Mickey and the rest of the Disney crew. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dietitian Is In: Get Your Freekeh On!

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: I’ve seen freekeh in my natural food store; what is it?

Photo courtesy of Freekeh Foods

Freekeh is quickly becoming one of the hottest food products to hit the health food market. This ancient grain has been cultivated for centuries in Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, and is quickly gaining in popularity in the U.S. due to its powerhouse nutritional profile and versatility in the kitchen. In Arabic, freekeh means “to rub,” which is fitting, as freekeh results when young wheat is subjected to a roasting and rubbing process. Typically, durum, a specific variety of wheat that is high in protein and is often found in breads and pasta, is used. While the wheat kernels develop a smoky flavor, they do not burn during roasting because of the immature seeds’ high moisture content. Freekeh is a low-glycemic, high-fiber (8 grams per cup) grain, rich in protein (4 grams per cup) and other nutrients, such as eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin. Its mild, nutty flavor and easy preparation method—it cooks up in 20 minutes—makes it a wonderful substitution for brown rice and other popular whole grains. Try adding it to soups, enjoying it as a hot breakfast cereal, or using in salads or side dishes, such as the recipe below.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Freekeh Salad

Whole meal salads are a perfect way to start the work week as they make for such great leftovers. This salad in particular is so satisfying since it’s packed with fiber and plant-based protein – and, it’s just really delicious! Serve it over a bed of leafy greens or sprinkle on some seeds or nuts for even more plant-powered punch.

1 medium sweet potato
1-2 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil
2 cups Freekeh (or other whole grain of your choice, such as quinoa, brown rice, farro, bulgur, etc.)
2 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
½ avocado
Salt & pepper to taste

For dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey

1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2.      Clean the sweet potato well, by rinsing under cold water and then patting dry. Cube the sweet potato in 1 inch pieces, and place in a medium sized bowl.
3.      Drizzle the sweet potatoes with 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Stir to coat the sweet potatoes evenly with the oil.
4.      Place oiled sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping the potatoes half-way through.
5.      To prepare Freekeh (or grain of your choice), cook according to directions on the package:
6.      Cube the ½ avocado into 1 inch pieces.
7.      Mix the sweet potato, quinoa, black beans (rinsed), and diced avocado in a large bowl.
To prepare dressing: Whisk the dressing ingredients (olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and honey). Add to the salad and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe was developed by us for Sharon Palmer’s Monthly Column, Dietitians’ Favorite Plant-Powered Meals.

The Q & A was written by McKenzie  for the July 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.

Friday, March 21, 2014

{Recipe Redux} A Play on Patties, or Zucchini and Potato Stacks

This month’s Recipe Redux challenge was inspired by the imaginative food photography being displayed on Pinterest boards and blogs, with towering stacks of everything from burgers to veggies showing the playful side of food.  My favorite stack is my friends Steve and Jamie’s beautifully precarious mountain of blueberry pancakes.

When I thought of stacks, my mind kept returning to the alternating stacks of zucchini and potato in the traditional Cretan boureki, a dish my husband and I ate several times on our honeymoon in the Greek islands last year.     

It’s such a perfect stacked dish.

Layers of very thinly sliced zucchini and tomato, sandwiching creamy ricotta cheese and extra virgin olive oil, fresh mint and smoky pieces of oven-dried tomatoes.  It’s heaven.

Don’t be shy with the olive oil in this dish.  It’s a necessity. 

The boureki is delicious served warm for dinner, or cold the next morning for breakfast (I tested that theory, just to be sure).  I hope you enjoy, preferably with someone you love.

Boureki {Zucchini & Potato Gratin}, from the Island of Crete

Serves 4 - 6

1 pound russet potatoes
1 pound zucchini
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ - ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups homemade ricotta cheese, or good-quality purchased ricotta
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
8 halves oven-dried Roma tomatoes, chopped* (see recipe, above)
2 – 4 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a mandolin (or your knife), thinly sliced the potatoes.  Place in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of flour and a pinch of salt.  Again, using a mandolin (or knife), thinly slice the zucchini.  Place in another large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of flour and a pinch of salt.

Take a casserole or baking dish (I use one that is 10” x 8” x 3”) and coat the bottom with olive oil (3 – 4 tablespoons).  Cover the bottom of the casserole dish with a layer of the potatoes and then a layer of the zucchini, using about ¼ of each of the vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place ¼ of the tomatoes  and ¼ of the mint, and then top the layer with ¼ of the ricotta and ¼ feta.  Repeat this process three more times, ending with ricotta and feta.  Pour about 1/3 – ½ cup of olive oil over the top (enough to cover the top in a thin layer).  Don’t be shy with the olive oil!  Place in the oven and bake for about an hour, or until the potatoes and zucchini are very tender and the boureki is browned on top.  Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

*If you don’t have the oven-dried tomatoes on hand, you could grate fresh tomatoes

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

12 Roma tomatoes
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise.  Squeeze each half to remove the seeds, and discard the seeds/pulp.  Place the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with sea salt and olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), to coat.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy clean-up).  Place the tomatoes cut-side down on the baking sheet and roast for about an hour, or until the tomatoes are soft and starting to caramelize.  Remove and let cool to room temperature.  Store any leftover tomatoes in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, up to 4 days.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are you falling short in this mineral? It may surprise you.

Iodine: We’re Falling Short Again
Once iodized salt became available for Americans in 1924, per request of the government, thyroid-related issues resulting from iodine deficiency seemed to become a thing of the past. But, more recently, iodine concerns have cropped up again. A report, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Children’s Study, found that urinary concentrations of iodine in 2009-2010 were significantly lower than in 2007-2008.

Why the drop in iodine levels? Salt used in processed foods is not typically iodized, and as Americans increasingly rely on these foods, intake of iodized salt is decreasing. Even iodized salt may not hold its promise: a 2008 study in Environmental Science & Technology found that over half of the 88 samples of salt analyzed did not contain the amount of iodine recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.

Iodine is important. Our bodies are not able to produce or store iodine, an essential element, and therefore, we must consume it on a regular basis. Once consumed, iodine molecules join together to produce the thyroid hormones, T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine), which are primarily responsible for thyroid function and metabolism. If your intake falls short, your body is unable to produce these hormones, which may result in hypothyroidism and its associated symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, constipation, and even confusion. In the extreme, the thyroid gland may become enlarged, forming a goiter, as it attempts to capture more iodine from the bloodstream. Deficiency during pregnancy may have even more devastating effects, for it increases the risk of miscarriage as well as mental, physical, and behavioral concerns of the newborn.

Getting your iodine. Iodine can be found in a variety of foods, such as fish, dairy, eggs, and seaweed. However, the iodine content will vary greatly, depending on the soil in which the crops are grown, and where the animals—fish, cows, chicken—found their food. In fact, seaweed iodine levels can vary dramatically, depending on species and where it is harvested. One-quarter teaspoon of iodized salt provides about 70 micrograms of iodine.

Food (serving)
Iodine (mcg)*
Percent DV
Seaweed, whole or sheet (1 g)
16 to 2984
11% to 1989%
Cod, baked (3 oz)
Yogurt, plain, low-fat (1 c)
Iodized salt (1/4 tsp)
Milk, reduced fat, 1 cup
Bread, white, enriched, 2 slices
Shrimp, 3 ounces
Ice cream, chocolate (1/2 cup)
20 %
Egg (1 large)
Source: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements; Note: g=gram, mcg=microgram, oz=ounce, DV=Daily Value, based on 2000 calories per day
*Because it is difficult to provide exact iodine content found in food, the values are approximate.

Getting enough
The iodine recommendation
for adults and adolescents
over 14 years of age is 150
micrograms (mcg) per
day; this recommendation
jumps to 220 mcg per day
for pregnant women.

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