Pick a Peck of Peppers – Stuffed!

What bell pepper is the most nutritious?   Well the quick and simple answer is – it depends.

Many will say that the red are the most nutritious, because they are on the vine the longest.  A red pepper starts out green, but then the longer it is on the vine it may transition to either the color red or to white, then purple and then red. Longer vine times mean a greater amount of Vitamin C.  Plus the peppers taste sweeter!

NUTRITION BY THE COLORS:

1 large RED bell pepper provides 103% of our recommended daily amount of Vitamin A, 349% of Vitamin C, 10% potassium, 24% Vitamin B6 and is a really good source of fiber.

However, the YELLOW ones do give the red ones a run for their money.  1 large yellow pepper provides more Vitamin C (569%) and potassium (11%) and is a good source of Vit A, B6, potassium and fiber.

Don’t discount the GREEN ones yet, as 1 large one still provides 220% of our daily recommended amount of Vitamin C, 12% Vitamin A, 8% potassium, 18% Vitamin B6 and are a good source of fiber. Plus, they generally cost less as they are harvested quicker and are at less risk for spoilage in the field.

Most growers will tell you too that the nutritional content is dependent on the soil they are grown in, the varietal or type of pepper, how long they are kept on the vine before harvesting among many other factors.

Peppers come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, hotness and colors! This includes, green, orange, yellow, red, purple, pink, blue, white, black and brown and even rainbow ones (the transition stage from one color to the next). Bell peppers are great in the fall because they are most likely in season and so naturally taste sweet. And baby bells are some of student’s favorites!

Plus, they have really cool names like “Golden Summer”, “Purple Beauty”, “Chocolate Brown or Mulato.”

One of the cooking activities you can do with students is to give their typical bell pepper recipe a makeover by replacing higher calorie, fat and saturated fat ingredients with healthier ones. This recipe takes a little longer to make then most of our recipes, but well-worth the time and effort. If you don’t have enough class time to make it, you can prep the ingredients one day and make the recipe the next. Students can work in teams of 2-4 to complete it.

NUTRITIONALLY SPEAKING:

Peppers by themselves are pretty low in calories. A large pepper contains less than 50 calories for the whole pepper.  Plus they are naturally low in fat and saturated fat.

However, what you stuff in it can have a huge impact on its nutritional value. For example, a typical Italian stuffed bell pepper is generally packed with meats, cheeses and salt. On average one serving contains almost 1,000 calories, 46% of your daily recommended amount of fat, 64% saturated fat and 157% of daily recommended sodium or salt.

To give it a healthy makeover, we replaced the meat with red lentils and dried green split peas (our favorite healthy protein!) and the cheese with omega-3 packed walnuts and black olives.  One serving of the recipe below contains only 389 calories, 22% of your daily recommended amount of fat, 13% saturated fat and 38% of daily recommended sodium or salt. It also is an excellent source of fiber (10 grams!), Vitamin A and C and iron, plus a great source of potassium and contains calcium.

Here’s the made-over recipe:

Bell Peppers

Italian Stuffed Peppers

Serves: 4

Ingredients: 

  • 1 24-oz. jar of marinara spaghetti sauce – I like to use the spicy kind!
  • 4 large different colored bell peppers – cut off about an inch from the top and scoop out the inside flesh and wash to remove the seeds.  Keep both the tops and bottoms for baking.
  • 2/3rd cups dried green split peas, rinsed
  • 1/3rd cup dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 cup wild rice blend
  • Water for rice steamer
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 regular size shallot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup baby broccoli or broccolini
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 each chopped kale leaves
  • ¼ cups walnuts
  • ¼ cup whole black olives
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle of no-salt granulated garlic
  • 3 each chopped Italian parsley leaves

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400º.  Oven temperatures vary and you may need to raise or lower this temperature depending on whether or not you are in altitude.
  2. Cook wild rice, split peas and lentils together in a rice cooker until soft.
  3. Prepare peppers.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add peppers and cook for about 1 ½ minutes. Remove peppers from water and let cool.
  4. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the shallot, celery and garlic to the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Next add the baby broccoli and cook for another 3 minutes.
  6. Add in the zucchini and kale and cook for 5 minutes more until zucchini is soft and kale is wilted. Add a sprinkle of granulated garlic and another sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  7. Lastly, add the walnuts and black olives and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat.
  8. In a large bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the rice and peas/lentils, ½ jar of spaghetti sauce and the chopped parsley.

Assemble the peppers: 

  1. Add a layer of the spaghetti sauce to the bottom of glass cookware or any other baking pan.  I like to also add ¼ can of fire-roasted tomatoes (drained) to the sauce, but this is optional.
  2. Place the peppers in the cookware cut-side up and then using a tablespoon, stuff the peppers with the combined mixture.
  3. Top each pepper with some spaghetti sauce, leaving some aside for serving. Add pepper top to each pepper and then cover glass cookware with lid or foil.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes until peppers are tender.
  5. Serve on a plate with additional spaghetti sauce and a variety of fresh or dried Italian herbs. 

We highly suggest that you take pictures of students with their finished peppers as they are so colorful and your network will adore them.   And/or we would love it if you shared your favorite bell pepper shots on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AnOunceofNutrition/ , so that other teachers can enjoy!

 

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“Netted Gems”

The orange ones protect your eyes!  Yep, that’s right, the orange colored fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in our bodies to help protect our eyes. And the orange flesh-colored cantaloupes are no exception to this rule. 1 cup of cantaloupe provides 120% of our daily recommended amount of Vitamin A.

Why do we need Vitamin A? When we eat foods rich in Vitamin A, they become part of a protein known as Rhodopsin. This protein converts light into a signal that is sent to our brain to create an image, which allows us to see in dim light or at night. It also helps our eyes adjust to darkness – think dark movie theatre!

Vitamin A Deficiency: So knowing that Vitamin A helps us see in the dark, it makes perfect sense that a deficiency in this important nutrient could make it difficult for us to see at in the evening, a condition known as night blindness. This ailment makes it extremely challenging for drivers to see at night!

Vitamin A also strengthens our eyesight by nourishing our corneas and helps prevent xerophthalmia or dry eyes.

History: I like to give students a little bit of history on foods grown locally, so that they have a better idea of where their food is coming from. For example, the burpee company introduced these “netted gems” in the 1880’s and Colorado has been growing them since that time. Although cantaloupe is grown all over the state, the majority are grown in the Rocky Ford region (about an hour southeast of Pueblo). This area has been coined the “sweet melon capital of the world,” because they also grow another extremely popular summer melon – watermelon. Consider doing some research on locally grown cantaloupe in your area (if applicable) and share with your students.

Now is a great time to have students prepare recipes using these netted gems as they are in-season right now and taste so sweet and juicy – yum!

Personally, I just like to cut up cantaloupe and eat as is (I could literally eat a whole cantaloupe in one sitting – it tastes so sweet!), blend it by itself to make cantaloupe juice or even freeze it to make a cantaloupe sorbet. However if you want to introduce students to new and different ways to use cantaloupe, here are a couple of recipes to try.

Cantaloupe Creamsicle Smoothie

 Cantaloupe Creamsicle Smoothie

Image courtesy of: http://www.kitchenfrau.com/creamsicle-smoothie/

Servings:  3

Ingredients:

  • ½ medium cantaloupe
  • ¼ cup plant-powered milk (I prefer soymilk because it makes it creamier, but you can also use almond milk.)
  • ¼ cup fresh pressed orange juice – no sugar added and not from concentrate.

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry (if possible use a fruit and vegetable wash) the cantaloupe rind before cutting it. This may help reduce your risk of food poisoning.
  2. Then cut and dice your cantaloupe. This article does a good job of explaining the necessary steps to cut a cantaloupe http://www.onceuponachef.com/how-to/how-to-cut-a-melon.html.
  3. Add diced cantaloupe to a blender and then add plant milk, and orange juice. Blend until desired smoothness. Some like it smooth and even juice-like, while others like it a little thicker.

Nutrition Facts: Here is the nutrition label for this recipe.  As you can see, per serving this recipe provides 104% of your daily recommended amount for Vitamin A and as an added bonus, it provides 85% of your daily recommended amount for Vitamin C. Plus it is a good source of potassium and contains iron.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3
Per Serving % Daily Value*
Calories 52
Total Fat 0.6g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.1g 1%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 25mg 1%
Potassium 311mg 7%
Total Carb 10.9g 4%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 9.8g
Protein 1.6g
Vitamin A 104% · Vitamin C 85%
Calcium 1% · Iron 3%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Recipe analyzed by  Very Well

If you have a little bit more time, here is another fun, simple recipe to make with students.

Cantaloupe Sorbet

Cantaloupe-Sorbet-4-527x794

Image courtesy of: http://thekitchenmccabe.com/2014/06/23/cantaloupe-melon-sorbet/

Servings:  4-5

Ingredients:

  • ½ medium cantaloupe (approximately 2 cups)
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry (if possible use a fruit and vegetable wash) the cantaloupe rind before cutting it. This may help reduce your risk of food poisoning.
  2. Then cut and dice your cantaloupe. This article does a good job of explaining the necessary steps to cut a cantaloupe http://www.onceuponachef.com/how-to/how-to-cut-a-melon.html.
  3. Place diced cantaloupe onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in freezer. Freeze for a few hours to overnight.
  4. Place frozen cantaloupe, lemon juice, honey and water into a food processor. Blend until it has a sorbet or ice-cream-like texture.
  5. Serve immediately.

I use this recipe as a starting point and then add other ingredients to make it even more spectacular. Try replacing the water with 6 ounces of blueberries or check out an additional recipe at the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/CFVGA/

 

 

Lime in the coconut – really a bellyache? The AHA thinks so!

The American Heart Association (AHA) is fighting back on the claim that “butter is back” (started by Time magazine’s cover article “Eat Butter” in 2014) by stating that saturated fat really does contribute to heart disease. And they’re taking it on in a big way – slamming coconuts! Well not coconuts really….coconut oil.

So many people, including dietitians are fired up about this statement. “What do you mean, coconuts are not healthy? Not only do I drink their milk and water and use their oils, but also put coconut creams and makeup on my face. How could this be?”

As a dietitian who reads just about every single label and nutrition fact on food, I never understood what the hoopla was about the coconuts; milk, water or oil anyways.  There really isn’t any nutrition in them – except polyphenols, which I will get to in a minute.

The point that AHA is making is that coconut oil raises your LDL or “little devils”, the not so good cholesterol. This tropical fat contains saturated fats, which have been shown to raise LDL levels. We know that saturated fats raise your not so good cholesterol levels more than anything else and are strongly connected to heart disease.

Even Dr. Esselstyn, the renowned cardiologist who promotes eating vegan to prevent heart disease, recommends against coconut oil – or for that matter all oil.

So is the AHA correct in what they are saying? Well maybe…

One of the important items that the AHA didn’t address in their report is how the coconut oil is refined. When it comes to coconut oil, I think this is a critical component to consider.  Some of the commercial brands of coconut oil are made by bleaching and deodorizing them. They may be extracted from the skin using a chemical solvent (e.g. hexane) and sodium hydroxide may be added to extend shelf life. This type of processing often kills the beneficial antioxidants in the coconut oil that help prevent heart disease and may contribute to other diseases.

I did wonder about their hasty decision to recommend other highly refined oils instead like soy or canola oil, so decided to dig a bit.  One of their panel members receives significant grant money from Ag Canada and the Canola oil council and the AHA itself just received a huge grant ($3.9 million) from the Monsanto (GMO soybean seeds) Fund to reach 120 early care centers.  I’m not saying this played a part in their recommendations, but it certainly may have contributed.

What the AHA is missing is that unrefined coconut oil contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in coconut and other oils (think olive!) that have positive effects on LDL cholesterol – they lower it. They also reduce inflammation, contain antimicrobial components (protect against disease-causing bacteria) and may even protect our bones. A number of studies have shown that when people consume diets high in phenolic compounds it actually reduces their risk of coronary heart disease.

The AHA admits that clinical trials showing a direct relationship between coconut oil and heart disease have not been reported. They are only basing it on the fact that it raises LDL levels.

My point has always been that most food is a combination of nutrients and ingredients that add pluses and minuses to our health. Our bodies do a good job of balancing these out. So focusing on one ingredient in a food (even though it is sky high!), may not be a valid approach until we have evidence that there are no other components that are working to balance it out.

So what do I recommend? As usual, my recommendation is to eat coconut in its whole form. This means coconut meat (the edible white part of a coconut). I read somewhere someone referring to it as “the other white meat.” Coconut meat is extremely high in fiber (excellent source!), and contains polyphenols, both which have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. As a bonus, it’s high in iron, phosphorus, selenium and is a good source of zinc!

 

Say it isn’t “Soy”

PART 2 OF 2

Soymilk

What the research is telling us about soy?

Of course you can certainly find studies that support your views on any topic. And the research on soy is “mucky” at best.

  • Claim #1: Soy promotes breast cancer – High levels of estrogen in the body have been linked to breast cancer because cancer cells attach to estrogen causing them to grow and multiply. Because soy contains “phyto” estrogens, some have speculated that they will have the same effect in our bodies. However, phyto-estrogens are not the same as body made estrogen. PE are naturally formed dietary estrogens found in plants. Most research indicates that soy in its “whole, organic, food” form exhibits weak estrogenic effects and does not lead to breast cancer growth or development. Instead, some studies demonstrated that it has a protective effect and may even decrease the risk of breast and other hormone-related cancers.
  • Claim #2: Soy causes hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t make enough of certain kinds of hormones. This can result in severe fatigue, weight gain, a puffy face, depression and even goiters (abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland). The mineral iodine, mostly found in foods from the sea (e.g. seafood and seaweeds), but also in iodized salt is essential to produce thyroid hormones. Soy has been shown to lower the amount of iodine in our body, which eaten alone could certainly lead to hypothyroidism.  However, with the “enormous” amount of iodine consumed in most people’s diets from iodized salt, deficiency of this nutrient is rare.
  • Claim #3: Soy blocks the uptake of essential nutrients – Soy contains phytic acid (phytates), an anti-oxidant found in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid has been shown to interfere with the uptake of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Interestingly enough, no scientific evidence shows that this leads to deficiencies of these nutrients, so the impact is unclear. Phytic acid is also deactivated when cooked, although the degree of deactivation is debated.

In conclusion to these three claims, eating large quantities of any single food or excessive supplementation may cause imbalances or even health issues. Our best advice is to eat soy (or any other food for that matter) in moderation, so that you can incorporate other healthful foods along with it.

What is moderation for soy? The recommendations are 1-2 servings a day. 1 serving is 1 cup of soymilk or ½ cup of tofu or whole soybeans. If you are interested in the least processed soymilk possible, you can make your own.

Here is a simple recipe:

Soymilk Recipe 3

HOMEMADE SOYMILK

Serves: 4 (1 cup servings)

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup whole dried soybeans
  • 2-3 cups water for soaking beans overnight
  • 4 cups water for blending
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Place dried soybeans in a bowl. Cover with 2-3 cups water and soak overnight.
  2. Pour soaked beans into a colander and drain water.
  3. Rub beans between fingers to remove skins. Discard skins.
  4. Place skinned beans in a blender. Add 4 cups of water, vanilla, sea salt and honey.
  5. Blend until smooth.
  6. Strain the blended mixture by pouring it through a jelly or nut bag into a large pot.
  7. Twist the bag tightly to squeeze out the liquid completely.
  8. Pour mixture into a pitcher, let cool and then refrigerate until chilled.

Serve over oatmeal, cereal or drink plain.

The bottom line is that you can certainly find studies for or against eating soy or any other food for that matter. Easy to do! The important thing to remember is that your body is in a constant state of adding and subtracting nutrients all the time through a variety of different foods. So the key is to eat the right-size portion of a wide variety of “real” foods every day. This will add pluses that balance out the minuses to promote health and reduce deficiency.

Black Garlic…if you please!

Black garlic is a 4,000 year old Korean recipe for curing garlic in order to preserve it and now their latest health trend product.  It went mainstream in the U.S. in 2008 and is growing in popularity.

BG is made by a fermentation-type process of exposing garlic to high heat and high humidity for more than a month (usually 35 days). The high heat causes what is known as a Maillard reaction* a caramelization reaction that causes the garlic to turn black.

*The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and sugar brought on by the addition of heat.  This process results in the browning or caramelization of food.  

Although this type of fermentation process does not produce “live bacteria” like probiotics, it does produce a significant amount of disease-fighting anti-oxidants. The most common one being S-allylcysteine; a water-soluble component easily absorbed by the body.

S-allylcysteine is known to naturally lower cholesterol levels, prevent strokes, work as an anti-inflammatory or immune booster and may help reduce diabetic complications.

Black garlic produces as much as 3 times the amount of anti-oxidants as regular garlic, plus it doesn’t exude the strong, “off-putting” odor!

The optimal fermentation time for BG is 21 days as that is when anti-oxidants are at their peak.  After that time, they decline a little every day up to the 35 day fermentation period.

Chefs like to use black garlic to make sauces, purees and salad dressings.  They also use it as a sandwich spread, in deviled eggs and even to make ice cream. Check out their recipes at http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/09/what-to-do-with-black-garlic.html.

Picture courtesy of restaurantgirl.com