The Silly Nutrition Undergrad

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Few months ago, I briefly mentioned several ways to help you boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. One of the strategies was to rework the classic mashed potato by either adding in pureed cauliflower or substitute in mashed sweet potatoes. Many people will probably have doubts as to how successful these substitutes are since mashed potato is one of the highly ranked comfort foods that is dear to many people’s hearts and cannot be easily replaced. In this post, I will go into greater details as to how well cauliflower and sweet potato can serve as healthier alternatives to the classic buttery and creamy mashed potatoes.

Pureed Cauliflower

In the past, I’ve tried pureed cauliflower on its own and I found that it cannot mimic mashed potato but it does have its unique place in a well-balanced diet. I find that it has a much more “liquidy”, less starchy and more fluffy texture to it. Plain pureed cauliflower does not taste very exciting, but it can be a very suitable complement to a creamy, rich topping. The plain vegetable puree acts as a blank canvas which will accentuates the topping’s flavours, and the lightness of the puree will balance out the richness well. Plus, don’t forget that you’re boosting your vegetable intake too! Pairing a calorie-dense sauce or topping to a vegetable-based, low-calorie puree is a great way to showcase a flavourful sauce, allowing you to truly indulge without adding additional, non-essential calories.

My favourite combination: pureed cauliflower + Italian meatballs with spicy salsa = long-lasting satisfaction without needing spaghetti to fill me up!

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes come in many varieties, some are more mushy and sweeter than others. Finding the variety that is starchy and slightly sweet will yield the best mashed sweet potatoes. Starchy varieties will give the most creamy texture when mashed. For me, the best way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is to have it plain because somehow the natural sweetness of it really has me hooked on it – I keep eating one bite after another! Mashed sweet potato is not the same as mashed potato by any means. But to me, it can be an equally satisfying and comforting side dish because of its luscious, creamy mouthfeel and its unique sweet flavour that makes it surprisingly cravable!

My favourite preparation method:

  • Peel and rinse sweet potatoes, cut into large cubes
  • Use a microwave steamer to steam the sweet potato cubes until fork tender
  • While hot, mash with a fork or potato masher (if desired, add milk to thin out)

The Ultimate Winner: pureed cauliflower with mashed sweet potatoes

This combination best mimics the texture and taste of mashed potatoes. The starchiness of the sweet potatoes yields a creamy texture and the blandness of the cauliflower will balance out the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Together, this composition has just the right texture and the perfect clean (but not boring) flavour. This can be the ideal substitute for those who have been longing for a lighter, healthier yet delicious alternative to mashed potatoes!

So how good is it really? Well, I did a little experiment on my brother! I served this over Italian Meatballs and tomato sauce, and told him that it was meatballs with mashed potatoes. He finished the whole dish and literally scooped every last bit from the plate. Only when he finished that he casually mentioned that the mashed potatoes seemed lighter and not as dense than the usual. So, although my brother did detect a slight difference between this faux mashed potatoes and the real thing, he still had a very satisfying meal and did not feel missed out on regular mashed potatoes. In short, pureed cauliflower and mashed sweet potatoes can truly be the ultimate healthy comfort food!


But you just hate cauliflower…

Pureed cauliflower may not work for everybody, but that doesn’t mean you cannot make mashed potatoes a little more healthier. Start by incorporating just a tiny amount of sweet potatoes (or cauliflower, or whatever other vegetable puree that you fancy) into your mashed potatoes and see if you like the taste and the texture. If you enjoy it, then you can experiment further by adding a little more; or if you dislike it, then explore with other vegetables!

It does not really matter how much or how little of vegetable puree that you are adding to mashed potatoes, the key is that you are doing something to improve the nutrition profile of mashed potatoes and that thought alone puts you one step closer to embracing a lifelong habit of healthy eating!


And you just love mashed potatoes…

Here are a few of my favourite ways to lighten up mashed potatoes (without sacrificing flavour, of course):

  • Instead of using Russet potatoes, try mashing Yukon Gold potatoes. They stay moist and fluffy when cooked and mash beautifully, giving you that heavenly creamy texture!
  • Hold the butter as you mash potatoes, instead add a dollop of butter as you serve. Seeing the butter melt into the mashed potatoes satisfies you visually and helps you to taste that buttery flavour better
  • Use brown butter. It has a more intense, nuttier flavour so you only need to add in a small amount to jazz up the dish (Here’s a short video on how to brown butter).
  • Substitute lower-fat milk or buttermilk for cream. Yukon Gold potatoes will mash into a creamy texture naturally so you don’t need cream to add on the richness.
  • Sprinkle in herbs and spices to add flavour, rely less on butter. I like to add in a few cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper and a small pinch of nutmeg.
  • Serve it with a lower-calorie topping. Instead of serving a fatty sauce like gravy over mashed potatoes, I like to top it off with spicy salsa (I love that extra kick!).

These options are only a few of the many methods that you can try to transform mashed potatoes from being the ultimate comfort food to a more nutritious dinner table staple. Play with these options, add in your own creative touch and soon or later, you’ll discover a whole approach to eating mashed potatoes (or better yet, you’ll fall in love with my faux mashed potatoes!).

How do you like to enjoy your mashed potatoes?

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

I’ve been craving spaghetti with meatballs lately, especially after stumbling upon Christine’s recipe for Italian meatballs. I scanned through the ingredient list, realized that I had everything on hand, and so I immediately dove into making these mini meatballs.

What I love about this recipe is Christine’s choice of using extra lean ground beef with breadcrumbs and fresh herbs; that combination works really well together to yield the ultimate juicy, flavourful meatball that is a lot more heart-friendly than regular store-bought meatballs (less saturated fats than meatballs made with regular ground beef, pork and veal).

The recipe was easy to follow and was a lot of fun! Be prepared to use your hands and get messy!

I followed the recipe exactly and made 25 two-bite meatballs.

Two-Bite Italian Meatballs

Source: Christine’s Corner

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with milk. Set aside to allow crumbs to fully absorb milk.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, gently mix together the ground beef, onion, garlic, egg yolk and Parmesan cheese using clean hands (or with gloves).
  • Add the breadcrumb mixture and fresh oregano to the mixture. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well.
  • Form mixture into small balls (roughly the size of ping-pong balls), make sure the balls are roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Place onto baking sheet.
  • Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes.
  • Use immediately, or let cool and freeze (lasts up to 3 months).

I tasted one right after it came out of the oven – the meatball was juicy and meaty, plus the taste of the fresh oregano was really prominent, adding a whole new flavour dimension to the meatball. I really enjoyed it!

I served these meatballs over faux mashed potato with a salsa and cheese topping to my brother for his pre-dinner snack. He loved it and he scraped every last bite of food off the plate — a telltale sign that the meatballs (and my faux mashed potato) was a definite success!

As for the recipe for my faux mashed potato (which my brother didn’t suspect to be anything else until he finished his last bite), I’ll be sharing that on my next post. Stay tuned![Update: here’s the post on faux mashed potatoes!]

Question of the Day: What is your favourite way to eat meatballs?

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

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

Calling out to all who are not doing any form of physical activity right now: what’s stopping you from getting active?!

The awesome benefits of getting more active:

  • Reduces risk of developing chronic diseases (including diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, etc.)
  • Assist in weight control
  • Improves your mood – release stress and stimulate production of “happy hormones
  • Reduce risks of developing various types of cancers
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joins
  • Strengthens your cardiovascular system – your heart and lungs work more efficiently, boosting your energy level to do things you enjoy
  • Promotes better sleep – help you to sleep faster and deeper
  • Meet new people, make new friends
  • Boosts your self-esteem
  • Lots of fun! – Who said exercising is always boring and dry, it can be as fun and as interesting as you make it to be!

These are only a glimpse of the positive aspects of exercising regularly. The list can go on and on…

By reading through the ever-growing list of health benefits shown above, you will be able to get a very clear idea that exercising is a very cheap yet effective way to prolong your productive years and to help you achieve greater happiness and a deeper appreciation for life.
Getting active doesn’t necessarily mean hauling yourself to the gym every other day and sweating madly on the treadmill. It can be as simple as walking, doing gardening or just completing a home workout for about 30 minutes each day. Plus, you don’t even need to complete the whole 30 minutes in one session; you can split 30 minutes into 2 or even 3 mini workouts and squeeze those sessions into your busy schedule.

The bottom line is: you just got to start moving and do it consistently!

So here I have prepared a list of activities that you can easily fit into your day, whether you have 10 minutes, 15 minutes or even 2 minutes.

The one exercise tip that I have for you is you simply just got to have a “Just Do It” mentality. When you have that mindset, you’re already more than half way to achieving your fitness goal.

General Fitness Resources:

  • ActNowBC: Physical Activity – A great website packed with different resources to help you learn about different aspects of healthy living. The section on physical activity offers an extensive list of articles that answers many of the fitness questions you may have.
  • Fit-in 15 – customize your own 15 minute workout from a list of simple activities that target strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health.
  • MizFitOnline.com – A great resource on fitness and healthy living. When you have a minute or so, just click on one of the many exercise demonstration videos and learn a new move to tone your body.
  • BodyRock.Tv – Looking for an intense at-home workout that going to make you sweat like mad? Here’s the ultimate place to go to for workout routines. I visit it a lot when I need inspirations for new workout moves and when I need motivation during the days when I just don’t feel like moving. Check it out!

Specific Workout Ideas / Routines:

  • 4 Quick Arm Toners – When you’ve got about 10 – 15 minutes (for example, when you are watching TV), you can easily tone your arms and chest with these 4 simple moves.
  • 15-minute Ab Workout – The belly area is often a trouble zone for many people. Sparkpeople has put together a Youtube Video that targets the abdominal area. The instructions are given in a clear and easy-to-follow manner and those moves definitely work the abs!
  • One Hundred Pushups – Pushups can be a great way to train many muscles in your upper body. So, try this challenge! It is an easy way to assess and improve your current physical strength.

These links have helped me tremendously when I started to exercise on a regular basis, and hopefully you will find them useful too.
As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get moving, just do it!

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

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

Everyone should eat oatmeal! It is such a wonderful breakfast option – healthy, simple and delicious! Oats is a whole grain with many essential nutrients and a whole lot of soluble fiber which can have a cholesterol-lowering effect in your body. Plus, it is super easy to make and you can pretty much add in any food you want and it will taste great.

To prepare basic oatmeal, all you need to do is:

  1. Boil 2 cups water in a pot.
  2. When water boils, stir in 1 cup oatmeal (quick oats, regular oats, steel cut oats – whatever you like).
  3. Turn down the heat to minimum and let the oatmeal simmer until it absorbs the water and becomes a thick goo (it becomes slightly chewy and gives a very creamy texture!).
  4. if you like it creamier, add a bit more water and boil it until the water is absorbed.
  5. While the oatmeal is hot, stir in the desired ingredients to create your personalized oatmeal breakfast!
  6. If you have leftover, just place into a container and put it in your fridge when it’s cool. When you want oatmeal again, simply reheat it in the microwave.

3 savory (crazy!) flavours:

  1. My childhood favourite: ground beef and egg. Add marinated ground beef when the oatmeal is almost done. Make sure the ground beef is cooked thoroughly. Then, while constantly stirring, add in a beaten egg to get streaks of egg immersed in the oatmeal (make sure you are stirring the whole time or else you get big chunks of egg and the egg flavour will become too overwhelming!).
  2. My recent new attempt: cheese. Grate some old cheddar, or your favourite cheese, into the bottom of your bowl, then pour in the hot oatmeal. Stir well and enjoy! To me, cheese oatmeal is  like eating a healthy version of Mac n’ Cheese.
  3. Unbelievable tasty: soy sauce + scallions. Stir in 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of soy sauce into 1 cup cooked oatmeal and then stir in about 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped scallions for an Oriental flavour. Don’t skip the scallions, it adds aroma and a lot of flavour. If you skip it, your oatmeal will taste funny…  By the way, try to use low-sodium soy sauce to prevent sodium overload!

Oatmeal is so versatile. It is actually possible to have it everyday and you will not get bored because you can have different flavours each day! Because it doesn’t have a strong flavour itself, you can really play with the flavour by adding in whatever you want and the oatmeal will adapt to what you add in.

For my next crazy attempt, I’m planning to mix oatmeal with mashed Kabocha squash with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Any other wild combinations that you can think of but never had the courage to try? Share it with me and maybe (just maybe!) I will be brave enough to test it for you…

Question: How do you like to enjoy your oatmeal? Sweet or Savory? What do you add in?

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

Recently I’ve helped a registered dietitian to prepare a short presentation on cholesterol, so I thought I could just use that as the first informative entry of this blog! I’ve tried to keep the facts really simple so people who have heard about cholesterol but know nearly nothing about it will be able to read and found out the basic facts. At the end, I’ve listed several places that people can look to find further information. Hopefully, everyone who ventures to my blog and read this page will be able to learn a new fact or know where to go to find more detailed information.

What is it?

  1. Type of fat that all animals produce (that includes humans!)
  2. essential building block for every cell

Where can it be found?

  1. In animal foods
  2. In our body in different areas

The total amount of cholesterol in our bodies comes from 2 sources: self-produced and obtained from animal foods.

Cholesterol becomes a concern when it flows in the blood at a high concentration.

Why should we care?

Cholesterol is a two-edged blade.

It is necessary to have enough cholesterol so that our cells can maintain their functions. But when we have too much of it, the excess will accumulate in the bloodstream, and increase the risks for getting cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke.

How to find out if your cholesterol level is hitting the danger zone?

Firstly, it is important to note that cholesterol is carried in the bloodstream in 2 forms: HDL & LDL.

LDL carries the cholesterol from the liver to all parts of the body via the bloodstream. When it lingers in the blood, it can stick to the walls and narrow the passageway.

HDL brings excess cholesterol back to the liver; it “cleanses” the blood.

Secondly, we measure the concentration of HDL and LDL to determine if cholesterol levels are in the tolerable range. Generally speaking, the higher the HDL value the better and lower the LDL value the better.

Thirdly, we also need to take note of the total cholesterol level in the blood. The exact normal range for each individual may differ depending on their risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Four ways to maintain / lower cholesterol levels:

  1. Eat less food that contain saturated fats and/or trans-fat foods. Saturated fats can be found in fatty meats, homogenous milk and other animal foods. Next time you eat toast, instead of spreading butter, try putting on non-hydrogenated margarine, or try jams. Trans-fat is often hidden in baked goods and processed foods. Try to pick out food products that have zero trans-fat or try doing your own baking to control what ingredients to put in.

  1. Try to eat more of the foods that contain unsaturated fats. Soybean oil and canola oil are good sources of unsaturated fats, why not try using those for cooking next time. Nuts, another great source of unsaturated fats, make a great snack that’s not only tasty but healthy! (Remember, only a handful a day is enough! Nuts are high-calorie foods, and eating too much will make you fat!)
  2. Do exercise on a regular basis. When you exercise, the HDL level will increase, lowering the possibilities of LDL depositing on the blood vessel walls.
  3. Increase the intake of dietary fiber, namely soluble fiber. Soluble fiber becomes gel-like inside the intestine; it traps bile and eliminate it from the body. The body will then use blood cholesterol to make new bile, replacing the lost amount. Thus, total blood cholesterol in the body decreases. Soluble fiber is present in foods such as brown rice, oats, apples, legumes and root vegetables. Always try to include high fiber foods in your diet – choosing whole-grain foods is one option because it goes through very little food processing (in some cases, no food processing at all). During food processing, fiber is gradually lost and so it is important to eat natural and fresh foods to get the most fiber out of it.

Other places to visit to find out more about this topic:

Here is a Chinese Cholesterol Fact Sheet for my Chinese readers. Enjoy!

Stephanie.

Hello World!

Who am I?

I’m the Silly Nutrition Undergrad. I study Nutritional Science at UBC and I work as a Health and Wellness Consultant Assistant for a consulting dietitian in Vancouver, Canada.

What do I want to do?

Combine and integrate all the nutrition information that I come across and illustrate them into simpler terms.

Why?

When ideas are presented in simple ways, people can easily relate the facts, remember what they read, and understand the nutrition ideas.

When will I update?

I will try my best to write new posts each week and hopefully link interesting health articles from other websites.

Stephanie.