The Silly Nutrition Undergrad

Archive for October 2009

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Everyday we hear dietitians and other health professionals telling us that we need to cut down on our salt intake. One of the common tips they offer is to choose low-sodium sauces. Although that seems like a simple step to take, I’ve often pondered as to how realistic is that suggestion.

Is it realistic to ask people to switch out regular sauces and use low-sodium versions instead? Can low-sodium condiments offer the same taste as regular counterparts?

Skeptical, I decided to do a blind taste test to see if low-sodium soy sauce can replace regular soy sauce. With the help of my brother, I carried out a blind taste test. I tasted three types: regular Chinese-brand one, regular Japanese-brand one and low-sodium Japanese-brand version.

Regular Chinese-brand Soy Sauce

Low-sodium Japanese-brand Soy Sauce

Regular Japanese-brand Soy Sauce

All Photos by Matthew Chung

At this point, you must be scratching your head and thinking sour aftertaste in soy sauce…that must be disgusting! Not really! The sour aftertaste from the low-sodium soy sauce was much more bearable than the sharp, deadly salty aftertaste of the regular Chinese soy sauce.

Conclusion:  Based on a simple smell and taste test, I managed to pick out the low-sodium soy sauce. In other words, low-sodium soy sauce and regular soy sauce are not really interchangeable in my food world.

But! Crazy as it may sound…after the blind test, I’m actually more appreciative for having a low-sodium soy sauce laying around in my house. I think the next time I reach for the soy sauce, I’ll grab the low-sodium kind!

What are your thoughts on soy sauce? Have you tried low-sodium soy sauce? Did you like it?

Whole Wheat rotini with Japanese-style Curry Sauce

Whole wheat rotini coated with a simple Japanese-style vegetable curry sauce. Super simple, very healthy, great taste!

Photo by Matthew Chung

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Being a busy student, I know how difficult it is to cook healthy when you’re pressed for time. So, I like to prepare basic sauces in large batches and freeze them in individual portion sizes. Then, during the weekdays, after I come home from a long day of school, I can simply pick and choose a sauce from the freezer, reheat it, and stir it into whatever grain I choose to have that day (e.g. spaghetti, rice, rice noodles, etc.). Making sauces ahead of time allows me to prepare simple and well-balanced meals during the busy weekdays and ensure that I stay on track eating fresh foods and stay away from junk food and processed foods!

I find that sauces freezes and reheats well. And by jazzing it up with some herbs and tossing in a handful of mixed veggies, I get a very satisfying and healthy meal ready in minutes!

This week I made a simple vegetable curry sauce. Although I call it Japanese style, it really is just a mix of all curry variations – I’ve added in some garam masala (Indian), a splash of coconut milk (Chinese? Asian?) and a-half-block of Japanese curry base. In the end, I decided to call my curry sauce Japanese style because it has a hint of sweetness which is a characteristic of Japanese curry!

Beware! This curry sauce contains a lot of veggies – so it’s perfect for those who can’t seem to eat enough vegetables! From the vegetables and the legumes hidden in this recipe, it’s a fiber galore, so make sure you drink lots to help with the digestion!

Japanese-Style Vegetable Curry Sauce

Makes 4 servings.

  • 1/2 cup mung beans, rinsed and soaked in water for 20 min
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium sweet pepper, any variety, diced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 – 4 pieces of ginger, minced
  • 2 chili peppers, deseeded
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 block of Japanese curry base (found in Asian markets)
  • Pinch of turmeric, cumin, garam masala
  • 1 piece dried bay leave
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coconut milk
  1. After soaking lentils for 20 minutes, pour lentils and water into small pot and let boil. When it boils, turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. In another non-stick skillet, add olive oil and sauté onions and sweet peppers until slightly softened. Add in ginger, garlic and chili peppers, continue to sauté until fragrant. Pour mixture into pot with lentils. Add in bay leave now.
  3. Reheat lentils until it boils, then let simmer until lentils become “mushy” and sauce thickens. Continue to simmer until desired consistency.
  4. Add in corn.
  5. Add in your seasonings (spices, Japanese curry base, honey) except coconut milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot!

Have it now or save it for later! You can choose to have the sauce immediately or let it cool and separate it into 4 individual serving sizes for later on. The flavour will improve if you let it sit overnight.

When to add in coconut milk? As the sauce cools, it will continue to thicken slightly. Thus, before adding it onto your rice / pasta, you can thin it out by adding in 1 – 2 tablespoons of coconut milk.

Believe it or not…According to Dietitians of Canada’s recipe analyzer, each sauce serving actually has 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 0.5 serving of meats and alternatives. The onions and peppers not only add flavour to the recipe, they also greatly boost the vegetable content. The mung bean is a good source of protein and fiber, which makes it a good alternative to meat products, with the added benefit of no cholesterol!

By using a mix of spices and Japanese curry base, this sauce has really strong and complex flavour even though it does not contain any meat products.

Try this recipe! This is the no-fuss solution to squeezing in some more vegetables into your diet – you practically won’t realize that you’re eating so much vegetables (and you probably won’t even know it until you make this yourself). So what are you waiting for? Make it!

Simple, nutritious and fulfilling quiche!

Delicious mini quiche loaded with veggies!

Photo by Matthew Chung

The Silly Nutrition Undergrad has moved. Come to Juicy Fresh Bites for new content on health and nutrition!

I made a simple quiche for lunch. Coming from an Asian culture, I have no idea what a quiche is at all. So, this is one crazy and brave attempt for me!

Instead of following a solid recipe, I was inspired by Stacy Snacks’s Quickie Quiche recipe and MindBlogging’s Mini Mushroom Quiche recipe and I ended up whipping up my own version.

The end product: a crustless mini quiche in a 6oz ramekin featuring onions and orange peppers.

How did it taste? A little flat, but with a little bit of ketchup, the flavour was greatly enhanced!

Mini Quiche with Onions and Sweet Orange Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon egg white (can be substituted for an extra tbsp of milk)
  • 1 tablespoon milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 small orange pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk scallion, diced
  • Handful of grated cheese
  • Seasoning: Dijon mustard, salt
  • Olive oil
  • Cilantro, for garnish
  • Ketchup (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Spray ramekin with cooking oil spray.
  2. Whisk together egg, egg white and milk. Add in mustard and salt to mixture. Set aside.
  3. Using olive oil, saute onions and orange peppers until slight soften.
  4. Pour egg mixture into ramekin. Scoop in sauted vegetables until 2/3 full.
  5. Stir in scallion and grated cheese (leave a small amount for garnishing).
  6. Put into oven and bake until egg sets in the center, about 25 – 30 minutes. Quiche is ready when toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center.
  7. Garnish with cilantro and grated cheese. Serve hot!

I love how versatile this dish is. You can practically add in any vegetables you have on hand, and if you want, you can throw in some meat to add flavour (or leave it out like I did). Regardless of what you add in or leave it, the quiche would still taste wonderful.

What makes this dish healthy? The egg is a good source of protein, and the vegetables will help you fit in an extra serving of vegetables (or 2 servings if you use a bigger ramekin). The grated cheese will also help to boost your dairy intake. Serve with a piece of whole wheat toast and this could be a well-balanced breakfast meal or a nutritious, fulfilling side dish at lunch or dinner!

Do you have a favourite quiche recipe? Share it here!

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What’s so great about cauliflower? It belongs to the cruciferous family which includes broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and kale. Many researches have indicated that consumption of cruciferous vegetables can help to reduce the risks of developing cancer. Sulphur-containing compounds, in particular sulforaphane, have been suggested to have a potent ability to trigger liver to produce detoxifying substances. These substances inhibit enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body and enhance the activities of other enzymes involved in disabling and eliminating carcinogens.. For a more in-depth discussion of cauliflower’s health benefits,  visit The World’s Healthiest Food.

To me, cauliflower has always seemed to be a boring food. It doesn’t have a distinct flavour and so it’s never good eaten alone.

Until one day when I was flipping through Ellie Kreiger’s amazing cookbook, The Food You Crave, I bumped into a recipe for roasted cauliflower. Tempted by Ellie’s promise that roasting will breath new life into cauliflower, I adopted her recipe for making roasted cauliflower and tweaked it slightly to my liking.

The end result? A light and delicious healthy vegetable side dish to complement my homemade cheese pizza on Saturday night (post on the pizza dinner coming soon)!

Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard-Mayo Sauce

Adopted from Roasted Nutmeg Cauliflower by Ellie Kreiger (my tweaks)

Ingredients

    • 1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into small florets
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 good long spray with my olive oil mister)
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1 -2 tablespoons Japanese mayonnaise (can be substituted with regular mayonnaise)

Directions:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350F (since I was using a toaster oven, I set the temperature higher, 400F).
    2. Place cauliflower into a large baking dish (ideally the cauliflower should fit snugly on a single layer). Toss (or spray) with the oil, and sprinkle with nutmeg and salt.
    3. Cover the dish and roast for 30 minutes.
    4. Remove the cover, give the cauliflower a good stir. If it looks dry, give it another good spray with the oil. Then, roast another 30 – 45 minutes uncovered, until the cauliflower is tender and nicely browned. Make sure to stir occasionally to ensure even browning.
    5. In a separate bowl, mix together the Dijon mustard and Japanese mayonnaise.
    6. When done, remove from the oven and mix in the mustard-mayo dressing. Serve hot!
  1. Roasted Cauliflower by Laurel Fan

    Photo by Laurel Fan — I forgot to take a picture so I borrowed one from Flickr…

The recipe is very simple and requires little ingredients. First try the cauliflower without adding in the dressing and see how you like it. When I tried it, I found it to be lacking a special kick and so I got creative and added on the dressing!

The sharp mustard was balanced out by the mild Japanese mayo and the end result was delicious! The mustard added just the special kick I wanted, and the dressing really enhanced the flavour and the dish felt much more full-bodied and fulfilling. Yum!

Try this dish out! The key step of this dish is really to make sure the cauliflower browns nicely. When that is done right, the cauliflower will taste good no matter what spices or what dressing you add to it!

The next time I make this, I think I’m going to give it an Oriental taste by adding in turmeric, curry powder, and cumin seeds.

How do you like to eat cauliflower? Share your recipe here!

Pizza

Photo by Sebastian Mary

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A slice of deep-pan pizza loaded with cheese and topped with your favourite toppings is heavenly! Yet, knowing that a single slice from a large 14″ pizza will contain about 300 calories or more, and is high in fat and sodium, we tend to tell ourselves that it is forbidden food and so we can only enjoy a tiny slice with guilt. But, as long as we take action to make the rest of the meal more healthy, we can indulge in pizza and get the full pleasure minus the guilt.

Here are simple steps that I do to lighten up pizza dinners:

Choose thin crust.

A deep-pan slice can have up to 3x as much calories as a thin crust equivalent. So, If you choose to have a slice from  a thin-crust pizza, you’ll be saving yourself some calories (and stomach space) to enjoy other foods on the dinner table (and perhaps, dessert too if it’s a special day).

Less cheese! (or choose reduced-fat cheese)

Cheese is an absolute essential part of a pizza! Thus, to truly enjoy and savour a slice of pizza, you have to have cheese on it. However, to lighten up the caloric intake, you can choose to have less cheese or use reduced-fat cheese to cut calories. If you’re ordering pizza, ask them to go light on cheese or ask if they offer reduced-fat cheese. If you make your own pizza at home, try substituting reduced-fat cheese – it melts well and it still has lots of flavour (warning: never use fat-free cheese…it honestly taste like rubber!)

Load up on Veggies.

When you chose to indulge in a high-calorie and high-fat food like pizza, you know you’ve got to give up something else. So let’s cut out the high-calorie mashed potatoes and swap in some nutrient-dense and low-calorie vegetables to help you make the meal slightly more healthy.

Good options include roasted peppers, steamed broccoli or mashed cauliflower (you can disguise it as mashed potatoes – here’s a simple recipe ).

Hold the dip!

Before you dip your pizza crust into the creamy dip, ask yourself do you really want dip the high-fat, high-calorie pizza crust into another high-fat, high-calorie creamy sauce— If eating the crust is your favourite part of the meal, then allow yourself to indulge in a few bites to satisfy your craving, but don’t let yourself pig out! Or, how about try switching your creamy dip for a lighter version one to save some extra calories.

Downsize.

Do you always order a large because it seems like a better deal— Think again. Ordering a large pizza will often tempt you into eating more than you want since you see a lot of food in front of you which naturally provokes you to eat more, and so you end up overeating beyond satisfaction. Ordering more than enough will also mean that you get leftover pizza for the next day which may hinder your ability to choose healthy foods for the next few meals because you keep thinking you have to finish pizza and you keep seeing it every time you open your fridge!

Personally, when I know I’m going to have pizza for dinner, I often eat light and healthy on the other 2 meals because I want to balance it out — 2 healthier meals for one not-so-healthy dinner.

Seriously calorie-conscious and yet, craving pizza? Here’s a lighter, healthier pizza from Ellie Krieger on Food Network. Making your own pizza gives you total control of what to put on it and how much to put on it. You can tweak it to your likings! Plus, it will be super fresh and you will get to enjoy it directly hot from oven (no need to wait for delivery or drive out to pick it up!).

What strategies do you use to prevent caloric overload at pizza dinners?

milk

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Recent study shows that most Canadians are not meeting the serving recommendations set by Canada’s Food Guide, especially in the dairy and fruits and vegetables section.

Most people have no problem adding in fruits into their diets, but if you find it challenging to have more veggies, read about my suggestions on how to increase your vegetable intake.

Many people tend to think the dairy food group does not provide much health benefits and hence, I is easily neglected in our diet. However, consuming dairy products not only helps us to meet our calcium needs, it also plays a supportive role in reducing the risks of chronic illnesses, including osteoporosis, and certain types of cancers. Thus, getting enough milk products is not just about keeping our bones strong, it is also about keeping optimal health!

In tackling the problem of not eating any dairy, the possible list of solutions shrinks. The problem is slightly more complex than adding in more vegetables since lactose intolerance seems to bother most adults these days and for others, they just don’t really have new ways to enjoy dairy products (I’m one of them!). Thus, instead of offering solid ways to significantly boost your dairy intake, here I can only offer you a few methods that I’m trying out to boost my dairy intake.

Substitute milk for water in cooking.

Instead of cooking 1 cup oatmeal with 2 cups of water, I try to substitute half in 1 cup low-fat milk. The result yields a slightly sweet flavour (due to the presence of natural sugar in milk, lactose) and the colour of the oatmeal becomes more creamy and it actually tastes more creamy too! If you prepare a big batch of oatmeal and reheats it the next day, you can add in a bit more milk to thin it out.

Add cheese to your meals or snacks.

Try added some grated low-fat cheese to your main dish or side dishes – not only will it enhance the flavour, but it will be a quick calcium boost too. Or how about adding a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese to your fruit salad snack. The protein in the cheese will slow down digestion and prevent sugar spikes from the sweet fruits.

Instead of drinking juice, try a yogurt drink.

At many occasions, we tend to choose fruit juice over other beverages thinking that it will add to our fruits and vegetables intake (which it does, but provides minimal benefits in comparison to consuming whole fruits). In many cases, the health benefits that fruit juice offer is very minimal compare to the negative health impact that it can have. Very often, commercially prepared fruit juice are loaded with sugars and hence, we’re basically tricking ourselves to think that consuming sugar-coated fruits and vegetables are good for us! Thus, it may actually be smarter to substitute dairy beverages. This is especially suitable for those who have lactose intolerant (the fermentation process in yogurt consumes most lactose in the milk, with only trace amounts remaining).

In attempt to boost my own dairy consumption, these are the three easiest ways for me to include more dairy products in my life. How do you boost your dairy intake?

To find out more about dairy consumption and calcium intake, here are a few helpful resources:

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Why are vegetables important? They contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of fiber which keeps the digestive system healthy. They also deliver phytochemicals and  antioxidants which are essential for preventing cell damage and removing toxins from our body.

Canada’s Food Guide suggests that the average adult should eat about 7 – 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. For some people, meeting this guideline can be a huge challenge (especially those of us who aren’t big salad eaters)! However, by planning ahead, you can easily incorporate more vegetables into your meals and add on a few more servings of vegetables to your diet.

Here are three simple tips to sneak in more vegetables into your meals:

Make your own tomato sauce. Tomato Sauce

Instead of using store-bought, chemical-laden tomato sauce which are often high in sodium, try making a homemade version (here’s a simple recipe to try — Five Minute Tomato Sauce). Making your own sauce gives you the freedom to add in more vegetables, such as onions, bell peppers, carrots and celery. By adding in extra veggies, you enhance the sauce’s flavour and give it an instant nutrition boost! Experiment with different herbs and spices and use it as pasta sauce, pizza sauce or meatball sauce…the list is endless.

Curry by [cipher]

Puree vegetables into curry sauce.

Caramelized onions is the ultimate best option because it adds a lot of sweetness to the sauce. Other good options include carrots, bell peppers and corn kernels. Pureed vegetables will give a creamy texture to the sauce and the additional sweetness will definitely help to offset the spiciness of the curry flavour. By pureeing vegetables, you will be able enjoy the benefits of consuming more vegetables without risking to ruin the texture and flavour of the food.

Try mashed sweet potatoes or add in mashed cauliflower.Mashed Sweet Potatoes by Foodista

Most people can’t resist rich and creamy mashed potatoes. Although it is a vegetable option, the healthiness of it decreases as you stir in the butter and milk. However, by adding in some mashed cauliflower, you can add back in some healthiness. Another option to mashed potato would be mashed sweet potatoes. The flavour and texture will be similar, with an added hint of sweetness and a great boost in fiber and beta-carotene (essential nutrient for keeping your eyes, skin and immune system healthy!).

If these options still cannot encourage you to eat more vegetables, perhaps it’s time to try through cookbooks that offer fail-proof recipes for more ideas on sneaking in healthy fruits and vegetables. Here’s two websites to get you started: The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious.

What are some tricks you use to incorporate more vegetables into your meals?