The Silly Nutrition Undergrad

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The internet is a dazzling arena with a lot of information bouncing around, waiting for people to read and absorb. But there is one major flaw with having so much advice flying around: information overload. How do you know what to believe and what not to believe?


People are free to speak their own minds online. And when it comes to health and nutrition, everyone seems to have their own stance. Hence, in search of accurate health and nutrition advice, it is critical to read online information with the discriminating eye of a food critic, picking up hints to decide for yourself whether or not the information is credible or if the writing is merely nonsense.


To supercharge you to become a master food critic, here are four questions that can guide you to pinpoint out credible health and nutrition articles:

1. Which website did you find the article on?

The website that hosts the article you’re interested in is a telltale sign of how valid the information is. When the article is hosted on websites of credible health organizations, such as the Canadian Diabetes Association or Health Canada, you can be assured that the information presented will be accurate and valid. On the other hand, if you come across a health article written by some unknown individual, hosted on a personal website or blog, then you need to be more critical of what you see and read, and apply the next guideline to help you determine if you should continue reading the health article.

2. Who is the author of the article?

Considering that everyone can say whatever they want on the Internet, it is essential to pick out authors who write responsibly. It is hard to hold anyone accountable online for what they say, so it is best to learn a little bit about the author’s background and that will help you determine how credible that person is. One easy way to find out a person’s background is to look for any titles he / she may hold; look for abbreviations that identify them as health professionals, e.g. MD and RD. Having those titles identify them as experts in the health and nutrition field and tells you that they are a credible source for health and nutrition knowledge. Another way to learn more about the author is to read the “About” section (this is especially important when you read blogs!). Written by the author him/herself, the About page offers a quick glimpse of the author’s personal background and that will help you to better understand the motives and interests of the author. Based on that plus the feeling you get from the author’s writing style and tone, you will be able to get a pretty good sense of whether the author is sincere, or whether the author is just goofing around. Based on my own encounters, I find that authors who write in a sincere manner (doesn’t necessary mean formal though) genuinely cares about sharing their own knowledge and experience with the rest of the world and the information they present are often quite valuable in one way or another.

A Quick Note on Registered Dietitians (RD): Registered dietitians are health professionals that have received extensive education on food and nutrition. Dietitians know how food works in the body. They know how to enjoy food in ways that will maintain and promote health. They are also trained to provide nutrition support to enhance the recovery for those people who are ill. Ultimately, dietitians are truly the health experts who have a strong expertise in using food as their tools to promote optimal health. When it comes to food and nutrition, dietitians are really THE number one expert!

3. Does the article offer any evidence?

When reading the article, it is important to distinguish whether the author is merely expressing his/her own thoughts or is he/she is offering  solid advice supported by scientific research findings. Health articles that provide references to relevant scientific papers or include links to other credible sources will be a lot more trustworthy than an article that makes a lot of assumptions without citing any sources what so ever. Watch out for articles that has a heavy use of the word “I”, that often indicate that the author is inputting a lot of his/her personal comments.

4. When was it published?

The first three steps will help you pick out credible information sources. But even after you have narrowed down the reading list, there is still a ton of information that tries to address whatever concern you have, so it is important to prioritize your readings so you can get the most timely and most relevant information available. Always place most value on the most recent articles because they will give you the most updated recommendations based on the most current scientific research findings.


Knowing how to filter information based on credibility is only the first step.  To truly locate information that is helpful and relevant for you, you need to take one extra step. The advice available online does not work for everyone. So it is essential to go through what is available and highlight the suggestions that are most relevant to your situation. First read through the different sources to get different perspectives on the health topics that you care for. This will allow you to gain a thorough insight on the  topic. Then from those sources, pick out the advice that you think may be the best fit for you. Never try to force yourself into following recommendations that does not feel right for you. Keep in mind that you are the person who knows your body the best. Perhaps the single most important tip that I can offer you is simple give your best effort to dig out and highlight the advice that works for you, and not try to force yourself into abiding to anything and everything that are being suggested! Listen to your body, you know yourself best – let thyself be in charge of your body and not let someone else’s advice drive you!

Now that you are armed with great skills to identify and extract valid and insightful health information from online sources, I’ll like to introduce you to a few of my favourite websites that I frequently visit for trustworthy, accurate, and relevant health and nutrition information.

WebMD – This website covers a wide range of health topics. The articles are written by MD and RD and they always support their advice with recent scientific research findings. In addition to health articles, this website offers recipes, handy tools to keep your diet in check (food-o-meter and fiber-o-meter), and videos and slideshows that offer clear and simple health and nutrition tips. I especially love the visual guide to portion size. Overall WebMD is a well-rounded site with many credible and useful knowledge.

Mayo Clinic – They have a comprehensive section on Healthy Lifestyle. In particular, I really appreciate that they offer a selection of articles that gives basic knowledge and another section that provides a more in-depth discussion of the various health topics.

World’s Healthiest Foods – This website has a clear mission to identify the top 129 foods that it considers as the “world’s healthiest foods”. For each food, a detailed nutrient analysis is provided, followed by a list of proposed health benefits (with supporting evidence from different nutrition studies, of course).

NutritionData – This website hosts an extensive nutrient analysis database for almost any food you can imagine. When you search for a particular food, the accurate numerical values for the  nutrients will be listed, and there will also be a short summary of the food’s rating based on different criteria (weight loss, optimum health, weight gain) and a concise description of the pros and cons of the particular food item that you search. The website also provides a powerful search function that allows you to find foods using different filters (high in fiber, low in carbohydrates, best choice for weight loss, etc.). Additional functions are available for registered members (free to register). Members can use the website as an online food diary – record what you ate in a day and it will generate a detailed diet analysis. Members can also can input their own recipes and the website will generate a food label for that recipe. These two additional functions come in really handy when you need extra support and encourage to keep you committed to healthy living!

Everyone need to know how to find valid and accurate health information online because it can make a dramatic difference in your life.  Finding the right information and following the suitable advice will aid you to maintain and even improve your health and help you to avoid falling into the traps of misleading information that will not only not better your health, but more likely ruin your well being in the long run. Being able to distinguish the credible knowledge from silly nonsense can mean such a great deal to your health!

Do you have a favourite site that you always visit when you have a health / nutrition questions?

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To me, brown rice is craveable. I eat it everyday. Whenever I cook a dish that needs to be served over something, brown rice is my number one option. There are a lot of reasons why I enjoy brown rice and here I have boiled them down into 4 main points:

Brown rice is a whole-grain option.

As a population, we overconsume refined grains and gravely underconsume whole grains. Refined grains are highly processed food products and hence, they are stripped of virtually all nutrients (even though food manufactures will enrich their final product, the added nutrients will not completely replace what has been lost). Essentially, refined grains offer nothing but empty calories.

Whole grains, on the other hand, undergo minimal processing. Much of the nutrients are retained and they act in a synergistic manner that offers many health benefits:

Heart Health – Whole grain consumption has been shown to have strong inverse correlation with heart disease risks; the ability for whole grains to help control and lower LDL (bad cholesterol) plays a strong part in contributing to this potential effect. Brown rice is also rich in magnesium; this nutrient is involved with coordinating muscle contractions and considering that our heart is a major muscle group, magnesium will have an important role in keeping the heart going.

Diabetes management – Whole grain foods often have low Glycemic Index (GI) scores because they contain a whole lot of fiber which helps to slow down digestion and prevents rapid fluctuations in blood glucose level.

Weight management – Fiber is the major player here. The indigestible fiber bulks up the whole grain foods and make them less energy-dense. Fiber will also makes you feel fuller and more satisfied; it helps to lowers the tendency for you to nibble and stack on extra calories after your meal.

There is so many good reasons to choose brown rice more often. If you’re interested in finding out the scientific evidence about how brown rice can benefit your health, I strongly encourage you to visit WHFoods: Brown rice and to take a thorough look over at the nutritional analysis of brown rice vs white rice.

Brown rice is not just a whole-grain, it is an intact grain.

Under the new FSA guidelines, “whole grain” is defined in a more elusive manner.

“Cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components – the starchy endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis – should be considered a whole grain food.”

To consumers, what this really means is that now when you see a food product that is labelled “whole grain”, you cannot be absolutely sure that it does contain the goodness of wholesome ingredients because the food processors could have easily broken down the whole grains, processed it in crazy ways and then just added back in components of whole grains to make their products fulfill the criteria to be called whole grain.

In this recent journal article, researchers looks at the impact of the new FSA guideline. They reviewed past studies that involved whole grains and tried to apply the FSA new definition  and see if the health claims of whole grains’ ability to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases could still hold true. They found that most studies done in the past defined whole grains on broader terms. Based on only a handful of studies that fulfilled the FSA definition, the researchers were unable to find strong evidence to suggest whole grain consumption could reduce cardiovascular risks.

So, it would definitely seem to be wiser to choose whole grains that are wholesome and intact, rather than whole grain products that have been processed and packaged into a box.

The bottom line is choose intact grains, like brown rice, and pass on processed whole grains, like whole-grain pasta.

Brown rice is the ultimate substitute for white rice.

If you are a huge rice lover, brown rice is definitely the choice for you.

Don’t even think about white rice — it’s a refined grain and it is no different from dumping white sugar straight down your throat. Brown rice is a lot more nutritious for you (re-read the long list above!).

It’s really simple to kick the white rice habit. All you got to do is pick up a bag of brown rice from the grocery store today. Then, you just prepare it like you would with white rice (rice-cooker, stove-top or oven-baked, you name it). Just keep in mind that brown rice is chewier and so if you’re looking for a more soft, more mushy mouth-feel, just add more liquid and cook your rice longer.

Brown rice can replace white rice in any recipes. This exchange will not reduce your dining pleasure. In fact, it will most likely enhance your meal, making it taste more full-body, more satisfying and more deliciously healthy!

Brown rice taste good!

Let me repeat myself: it taste good! You have to believe me on this. I come from a Chinese background where I lived and breathed white rice my entire life. Considering that I’ve been fed white rice all my life, and now I say that brown rice is more tasty than white rice, then it definitely is! Period. No doubt about it.

If you say you’ve tried brown rice before and it just didn’t taste good, it’s probably because it wasn’t prepared in a way that brought out the goodness of it. Give it one more chance and bake it – it is the foolproof method for making brown rice sing.

When I first made the switch to brown rice, I prepared it with a rice cooker. It tasted similar to white rice, nothing extraordinary. Then, I tried the stove-top method using chicken stock instead of water; that method made brown rice more aromatic and gave it more flavour, but it also made it slightly too salty for me. Then, I tried the oven-baked method by Alton Brown. The method was easy; it required only water and salt and 1 hour unstirred and covered cooking time in the oven. And the result? Unnnnbelievably flavourful brown rice that was not too chewy nor too mushy, just right. This method is truly a 5-star method. Try it and you’ll love it.

Brown rice is seriously better tasting than white rice. If rice is a blank canvas that allows a dish’s flavour to shine, then brown rice is the top quality canvas that has the magical power to turn a ordinary dish into a good dish and turn a good dish into a remarkable dish. Trust me on this one! And if you are still not convinced, read what Siri has to say about brown rice!

Conclusion: Buy brown rice now and start cooking!

If the idea of eating more healthily has crossed your mind lately, then you should making brown rice the first thing on your to-do list for tomorrow! Adding brown rice to your diet or substituting it for white rice is only a small change in your diet, but it can really make a huge difference in your health!

As a bonus, here are two recipes that pair perfectly with brown rice: Ginger, Jalapeno & Coconut Cauliflower and Creamy Coconut Tofu Rice. YUM!

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To celebrate the end of the school term and to reward myself for the hard work I’ve done, I decided to make a small batch of biscotti (this was really just an excuse, I just wanted to bake during the weekend!). I had lots of dark chocolate chips and peanut butter at home, so it was only right that I made the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscotti from Food Network.

This was my first time making biscotti and it was super easy to make. It was very fun and if you haven’t tried before, I highly recommend trying this recipe out. Simple ingredients, easy steps, exceptional flavour!

I made a few small changes to the original recipe. I added in a tablespoon of cocoa powder (gives it that extra chocolaty flavour) and substituted in walnuts instead of peanuts. The original recipe makes 3 logs, I roughly modified the amount of the ingredients to make 1 log. The recipe posted here reflects the amounts I used for my recipe.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscotti

Slighted modified from Food Network

What you’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4/5 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/5 cup sugar
  • 2/3 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 40g (40ml) peanut butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Melt butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. The butter will foam and when the foaming subsides, the butter will brown fairly quickly. When it starts to brown and develop a nutty aroma, quickly remove from heat and let cool slight. This step should take about 5 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.
  • In a large bowl, beat the egg with an electric mixer until light and pale yellow. Gradually add sugar while beating. Then, slowly add the butter and vanilla extract until evenly mixed. Add the peanut butter and mix until combined.
  • While mixing slowly, add the dry ingredients to the wet, in 2 additions, mixing just until absorbed.
  • Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips (it will look like an awful lot amount when you dump it into the batter, but trust me, the amount is just right!).
  • Dump the dough onto the parchment paper. Using clean hands, shape the dough into a fat log (about 2-inches wide and 15-inches long).
  • Bake until set and brown around the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Cool log on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lower the oven temperature to 325°F
  • Remove log from baking sheet and place onto cutting board. Cut crosswise at a 45-degree angel into 12 to 14 pieces using a long serrated knife.
  • Place cookies cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake until crisp, about 8 minutes. Flip the cookies over and bake until golden brown, about 8 more minutes.
  • Cook them on the baking sheet. Makes 12 – 14 pieces.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Store well in the freezer for up to 3 months.

I just had a biscotti today after a long walk in the cold, chilly winter afternoon. It was SO good! Nothing can be more relaxing and heart-warming than a crunchy, chocolaty, homemade biscotti dipped in a glass of hot, frothy cocoa! SO good…

How do you like to eat biscotti?

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A while ago, Craig from Gettin-Ripped asked me for my thoughts on protein and here’s my response.

~~~~+~~~~

What is the first word that appears in your mind when I say “protein“? Did the word “meat” pop up in your mind instantly?

Indeed, meat is a key protein source for many people, but there are actually many other great protein options out there that have long been overlooked (or forgotten). In this post, I’ll like to introduce you to my top 5 protein food choices:

Tofu

150g tofu is roughly a serving of meat alternative under Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating. Tofu is not only rich in protein, it can also a good source of iron and calcium. A serving of firm tofu contains about 11g protein, 30% of the daily value for calcium and 15% of the daily value for iron. Plus, tofu is plant-based, so you don’t have to worry about consuming too much saturated fats or cholesterol when you golf down that block of tofu (you won’t have to picture your arteries getting plugged up by blobs of floating fat in your blood vessels! Yay!) To find out more about the awesome health powers of tofu, visit WHFoods: Tofu. Miso-marinated tofu (same method as mis0-marinated eggplant) makes a delicious main dish for a simple weekday dinner, and make sure you grill extra so you have some tofu left for next day’s lunch (great on a bed of brown rice or a special spinach salad topping).

Beans and legumes

Beans and legumes is another great protein-rich meat alternative. A 3/4 cup portion size counts as one serving, which contains about 8g – 14g protein, nearly 30% of the daily value for iron, and a whole lot of fiber! A serving will give you about10 – 13g of fiber — that’s a huge boost in helping you to get the recommended daily fiber dose of 25g). Fiber has multiple health benefits. The obvious benefit of keeping you regular and helping your body to maintain good digestive health. Fiber can also help to slow down digestion and hence plays a role in regulating blood sugar level. It will keep you full for longer, help to diminish the craving for nibbling and avoid the evil sugar spike that makes you tired and sleepy. Among all beans and legumes, my favourite choice is edamame. Shelled edamame comes in convenient frozen packages. So whenever you need a protein quick-fix, you  simply take it out from the freezer and throw it into whatever you’re cooking without needing to thaw or do any preparation beforehand. How convenient! Try adding edamame to tofu oatmeal for an additional protein punch to jumpstart your morning.

Eggs

Eggs are the ultimate fuss-free, healthy and protein-rich on-the-go snack. They can be prepared within minutes and it can be incorporated into different dishes. The simplest way to enjoy eggs is to cook up a big batch of hard-boiled eggs and keep them in the fridge (they keep well for about a week). Then, when you’re hungry after a hard workout, you can easily open the fridge and get a quick protein boost by peeling some eggs. Reaching for eggs instead of going for a protein bar will satisfied your protein needs (each egg contains about 5.5g protein) and provide additional good-for-you nutrients. In particular, eggs is an excellent source of lutein, which is an important nutrient that helps to maintain eye health and  skin health. Although lutein can be found in other sources, the lutein found in eggs is much more bioavailable (a.k.a. the body can readily access the lutein in eggs, absorb it and use it). For more information on eggs, visit WHFoods: Eggs.

Yogurt

An 8oz container will give you about 10 – 14 grams of protein, and it will also count as a dairy serving, fulfilling your calcium needs for strong bones and teeth. I prefer yogurt over other dairy foods because it is a fermented dairy product that has added bacterial culture. These bacteria helps to improve the overall health of the digestive system by altering the environment of the small intestine so that it favours the growth of the “good” bacteria and makes it less desirable for the “harmful” bacteria to cultivate. To get optimal health benefits from yogurt, make sure to choose yogurt with probiotics and consume it on a regular basis to keep the digestive system healthy! To get an extra protein boost, try topping low-fat, plain probiotic yogurt with granola or nuts. To learn more about the goodness of yogurt, visit WHFoods: Yogurt.

Nuts / nut butter

I’ve written an extensive article on the goodness of nuts before — nuts are seriously that good for you that they deserve a separate post dedicated to praising them! I really enjoy tossing in a quarter cup of nuts into my salad or my morning cereal because they give an extra crunch plus an additional flavour. Nuts are also easy to carry around – I like to pack a small handful of nuts with me when I’m on the road so when I get hungry, I can munch on nuts instead of blindly rushing into a fast food store around the corner. Adding in a quarter cup of nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter is an easy way to add 4g – 5g protein to your diet. Honestly go nuts with nuts! 🙂

There you go! My top five protein choices.

At this point you may think I dislike meat? No, no, no! I enjoy meat, but I just tend to choose these foods more often because they offer a lot more than just protein.


I find that these foods will not only satisfy my protein needs, but also give a dramatic nutritional boost, making it a lot more easier for me to adopt a healthier lifestyle.Next time you dive into your huge steak thinking it’s the only way to get enough protein, look around and think again! Have a yogurt with nuts, or serve beans as a side dish — try to get protein from different sources.

Expand your diet, get healthier!

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I think I just found a new favourite way to eat my steel cut oats.

During the last month or so, I got totally obsessed with adding kabocha squash puree to my oatmeal, along with a handful of dried cranberries and a drizzle of maple syrup. But after eating that for breakfast for a month straight almost, I must say that the sweet combination hast lost the wow factor. And so I started to crave savory oatmeal now.

So this morning when I opened the fridge and saw a tube of silken tofu, I instantly knew that would be the star ingredient in making savory oatmeal today!

The end result? The melt-in-the mouth tofu made the oatmeal extra creamy and a small handful of chopped scallions added a refreshing Asian touch to the oatmeal. Absolutely delicious!

Oatmeal with Tofu

What you’ll need:

  • 3 oz silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup edamame
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 3/4 cup cooked steel cut oats (I’ve written about how to prepare stove-top oatmeal before)
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Soy sauce, to taste

What to do:

  • I’ve assuming that you have already cooked up a big patch of steel cut oats and have them in individual servings sizes alright — If not, follow these instructions and make some now!
  • In a small pan, add in all the ingredients, except the egg and the scallions. Break the tofu into chunks and stir the mixture well. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer until the tofu is heated thoroughly. Add in some water if mixture gets too thick (the longer you cook the oats, the more water it will absorb and thicker it becomes).
  • Once oatmeal is heated well, slowly pour in the egg while slowly but steady stirring the oatmeal (like you’re making egg drop soup). Bring mixture to a boil again (to make sure the egg gets cooked).
  • Remove from heat and stir in scallions. Serve hot with a splash of soy sauce, if desired.

The bowl of tofu oatmeal was surprisinglysatisfying. This simple meal really hit the spot for me! 🙂

If you’re tried Mark Bittman’s Savory Oatmeal with Scallions before and thought that was pleasant, then you’ll definitely fall in love with this recipe!

It’s honestly THAT good.

I’ve been having a crazy busy week so far…so I will probably not be posting any new recipes for this week (hopefully I’ll find energy to explore a new recipe during the weekends! :)) Stay tuned!

And during the next little while, I’ll probably write a short post on how I’m still trying eat healthily despite the many time-consuming commitments that I have chasing me at the moment!

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I like eggplant. But I don’t like the fact that it absorbs too much oil when I stir-fry it. So, I decided to find new recipes to cook eggplant in a less greasy manner. On One Hot Stove, I found a recipe for grilling eggplant.

Miso-Marinated Eggplant

What you’ll need:

  • 1 Asian eggplant, sliced into thick rounds (any variety will work, but I find Asian eggplants are naturally sweeter)
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish

Marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon white miso
  • 1/2 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (apple cidar vinegar will also work)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
  • Hot water

What to do:

  • Turn on the broiler. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • While the oven preheats, prepare the marinade. Simply combine all the ingredients and stir well. Add in hot water slowly to thin out marinade to desired consistency (I like the consistency of a thick yogurt).
  • Dip eggplant rounds into marinade, making sure both sides are well coated. Place eggplant slices on a single layer on cookie sheet. Sprinkle sesame seeds on each piece.
  • Broil for 20 minutes, turning once, until eggplant rounds are nicely browned and cooked thoroughly.

My thoughts: This is my first attempt at grilling eggplant, and it sure tasted different from stir-frying eggplants. By marinating eggplant in miso sauce and then broiling it in the oven, eggplant comes out tender, soft (not mushy!) and takes on an unique, completely new flavour that just kept me eating one after another!

What’s so great about eggplant? Eggplant belongs to the nightshade vegetable family (other members include: bell peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes). It is loaded with different nutrients, especially phytonutrients which have potent antioxidant properties. These compounds have protective effect on the heart and protect our cells from free radical damage. Find out more at WHFoods.