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Healthiest Dishes at Sushi Restaurants August 18, 2011

Tempura style veggies are still veggies, right? Read on to learn how to make the most of healthy sushi dining without breaking your diet.

What’s the healthiest thing you can order at a sushi restaurant?

Mmmm sushi… fresh fish, sea vegetables, beautiful presentation, and thanks to Groupon, this luxury food can cost no more than any other dinner out. And it’s all healthy, right?

Not quite. If you are looking for a light dinner, “it’s just fish” doesn’t quite sum up a meal of fried, breaded (tempura) sea life, cream cheese stacked Philadelphia rolls, sodium spiked soy sauce, and hidden high-cal spicy mayo. Want to have your maki and eat it too? Here are some tips for smooth sailing for a healthy sushi dinner.

Appetizers

A cup of hot green tea is a great way to start your meal, delivering antioxidants warmth and flavor without any sugar or calories.  Edamame, shelled soybeans, are high in protein and low in calories. While they are not low in sodium, seaweed salad and miso soup are two great sushi starters. Seaweed salad is rich in nutrients, high in flavor, and low in calories. Miso soup will help fill you up on fewer calories and delivers some tasty tofu and kelp to get the meal started well. Avoid fried appetizers which will add fat and calories at the start of the meal without staving off hunger.

Sushi Rolls

Special rolls, the ones with imaginative names, are often more caloric than the basic rolls due to added sauces or “crunchy” fried elements. Salmon, octopus (tako), fresh water eel, salt water eel, shrimp, crab, scallops, smelt eggs (smelt roe), and trout are all low mercury fish. Choose these fish more often to reduce toxic effects of bio-accumulation.  Eat less of high mercury fish like yellow fin (ahi), yellowtail and other sushi-grade tunas, swordfish, mackerel, and sea bass. As far as calories go, salmon, roe, trout, shrimp, squid, and scallops served as sushi, tend to be lighter among the lower mercury options.

Vegetable rolls, salmon rolls, and combination rolls without tempura or heavy sauces a great picks. While eel and avocado are not low in calories or fat, they are also nutritious and I consider them worth the calories for the flavors they provide. My strategy: order these and enjoy them but don’t get them in every roll. If, like me, you love avocado,order one roll or two rolls that contain it and get low-cal veggies like cucumber slices or shredded carrots in the rest. You can ask to add these or other veggies to a roll even if it doesn’t normally come that way.  Stick to one roll or a couple of pieces of sashimi with your favorite caloric or higher mercury fish. Make your favorites part of the meal, just know which dishes can add up to big calories so you can keep them paired with lighter fare.

More Ordering Tips

Choose It: Brown rice, rice-less options, reduced sodium soy sauce, wasabi, ginger.

Choose brown rice when it’s offered for more nutrients and fiber. At most restaurants you will hardly be able to taste a difference but the choice is better nutritionally. (My one exception to this is at supermarkets. I have yet to find a grocery store that makes brown rice sushi that tastes good. If you know of one please leave a comment and share it!) Or, just go rice-less: Many restaurants serve rice-less alternatives. When I was in NYC last weekend I had a great salmon avocado roll, wrapped in cucumber instead of rice. It was very fresh and a nice addition to the meal. Traditional sushi, or raw fish, is often served by itself sans rice.

Skip It: Tempura, regular soy sauce, cream cheese, caloric drinks, and lots of spicy mayo.

As much as I love “spicy” rolls, I try to stick to one roll like this at the most per meal as these are made with caloric spicy mayo. Instead, make your roll spicy by loading up on wasabi, which contains some natural anti-bacterial properties.

References

Natural Resources Defense Council Guide to Mercury in Sushi
FDA Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish & Shellfish
US EPA What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

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Healthiest Budget Foods May 31, 2011

Eating Well on a Budget: This whole-wheat seafood pasta combines a can of diced tomatoes, whole-wheat pasta, broiled sardines, olive oil, green onion, capers, spinach, garlic, and herbs all for only about $2/serving.

Looking for the healthiest, easy-to-make, inexpensive foods to find at your local store? Here are some highlights from The Food Project, an independent study I worked on during my last semester undergrad at Tufts University. I will feature recipes using many of the ingredients below throughout the summer. These are great picks for college students, busy parents, or anyone who wants to eat a healthy diet without paying more. The focus is on real food. You may get a bigger bag of “Food Snacks” for the same price as a bag of frozen veggies, but if you really look at the ingredients in the “food snacks” what exactly are you paying for? Most of the time it isn’t really food. Save your cash by not wasting it on lots of processed fillers, additives, and preservatives so you can spend more on the food that will actually do something for you (and taste great!).

Splurges for Busy Budget Shoppers
My favorite “splurge” item if your busy is a nice bottle of salsa. Not only are most salsas low in sodium and low or fat-free, they are packed with flavor and wonderful natural ingredients that give you a great nutritional boost. If you have the time and knowledge of how to make salsa from scratch go for it, but if not, this is one item that great  to buy pre-made  in a jar.  Another worth while splurge: Low-Sodium Vegetable Juice or (Fruit/Veggie Fusion Juice). If you are struggling to get in the rest of your daily vitamin needs and extra veggie servings a little bit of low-sodium veggie juice can go a long way. V8 also makes some good tasting fruit/veggie fusion juices. Look for varieties that do not contain corn syrup or added sugar.Walnuts & almonds: Although nuts tend to be expensive, numerous studies tell us that these are an extremely healthy part of a balanced diet in small servings when eaten regularly. Walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids and almonds are rich in vitamin E. Both of these nuts provide the body with heart-healthy fats and protein as well as vitamins and minerals.

Click “more” or click HERE to see the healthy budget foods grocery list you are on the main blog page or can’t see the list below!

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The Food Project May 11, 2011

How much do you spend on food in a day? In a week? A month? Think about the check last time you ate out at a restaurant. How often do you go out? How much do you think you spend on groceries for a typical week?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor 2009 survey of Consumer Expenditures, the average U.S. consumer spends about 12.4% of salary on food. For those with a large income, this can be quite a generous allowance. For others on a tight budget, food spending can be stressful and challenging.

My Challenge: Create a food plan that meets the U.S. Dietary Guideline standards using only $155/month (roughly 12.4% of minimum wage salary of $8/hour for one month working in Massachusetts 40 hours/week).

So far, I have managed to meet this budget, achieving nearly all of the daily values (DV) for vitamins, minerals, macro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein) using a 3-day diet average analysis. Two minerals (potassium and iron) were less than 100% but above 90%.

The project continues. You can help if you are interested by taking a 5 minute survey to help me learn more about people’s food buying habits! You can find the survey here: WHAT DO YOU EAT?

Stay tuned for more info about the project!

 

Healthiest Dishes at Indian Restaurants March 5, 2011

What’s the healthiest thing you can order at an Indian restaurant?

 

Healthy Indian Food Ordering Tips: The key to finding healthy dishes on the menu at an Indian restaurant is to look for entrées that use flavorful spices, herbs, and vegetables and limit those with lots of cream or butter (Makhni or Ghee), cheese (Paneer), or oil (fried foods). A lot of the healthiest appetizers at Diva Indian Bistro, a local restaurant near Tufts University, are listed on the menu as “side orders.” Raita and Papadum are less caloric than samosas and pakoras. For dessert, try ending your meal with Masala Tea. The tea, made with Darjeeling tea, boiled milk and spices, has a chai-like flavor but was less sweet. It was a tasty, warm way to end the meal.

Healthy Starters

Tandoori Roti is a less-caloric, whole-wheat version of Naan. One order comes with two servings of the warm, soft, flatbread. Raita is a cool mixture of yogurt, shredded cucumbers, potato and mint. The combination work harmoniously. You can easily share one order of the Roti and Raita with a friend and enjoy dipping the bread in the yogurt sauce. Save the rest of your Raita to help cool your palate in between bites of a spicy entrée later.

Raita is a cool complement to spicy dishes and a delicious dip for Tandoori Roti (flatbread).

Entrée Picks

The Tandoori cooking style (baked in a clay oven) tends to use less oil or butter than other dishes so this is a good word to look for on the menu for various meat or seafood entrées.  Diva has a section on the menu called “Tandoori Specialties” with many healthy picks. Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Vindaloo, Tandoori Salmon Tikka, and vegetarian dishes such as Aloo Gobhi,and Baingan Bharta are also great choices.

The photo featured here is of Diva Indian Bistro’s Tandoori Chicken Dalwala, my recent pick for a serious of healthy restaurant reviews for Tufts Dining Services.

I scored a great deal on Diva’s delicious fare using Groupon . Check out the site for great finds on Indian restaurants near you.

Reference: American Heart Association


Tandoori Roti is a less-caloric, whole-wheat version of Naan. One order comes with two servings of the warm, soft, flatbread. Raita is a cool mixture of yogurt, shredded cucumbers, potato and mint. The combination worked harmoniously. You could easily share one order of the Roti and Raita with a friend and enjoy dipping the bread in the yogurt sauce. Save the rest of your Raita to help cool your palate in between bites of a spicy entrée later.

 

Healthy Eating in Hodgdon January 25, 2011

The post below is a guest feature from Brent Abel (Tufts ’13), Vice President of Tufts Culinary Society:

Nutrition Tips for Hodgdon: Convenience with Health

With 15 minutes left till your next club meeting and a stomach begging for food, you walk into Hodgdon searching for the most compelling food options that add-up to just the right sum of money. But as you glance at the lines for burritos and Chinese, does good nutritional value always pop into your mind? Here are some quick tips for getting the most at your Hodgdon run, at least nutritionally-speaking:

Mexican: Add refried beans or black beans and sautéed onions and peppers to your creation for a more nutritious meal. Freshly-diced tomato and the pico de gallo can boost the nutritional value of your meal as well.

Chinese: Enhance the nutrition quality by adding a side of vegetables. Though the fried rice has fewer calories and more vitamins, the lower fat and sodium content of white rice make white rice a healthier option as a starch, especially if paired to a side of vegetables.

BBQ: One of the most underrated locations for nutritious, satisfying food. Take advantage of the roasted white meat chicken, baked sweet potato halves, and other fresh options offered daily at this station.

Italian: Look for the daily pasta specials: sometimes they contain a lot of vegetables to offer a healthy Italian option.

Lunches: Do not overlook the delicious daily lunch special that offer lean proteins with tons of vegetables. The fresh mozzarella and tomato half-sandwich is another great option for a nutritious lunch on-the-go.

Sandwiches and Wraps: Choose a wheat roll for a healthy option.  Boost the nutritional value of your creation by adding fresh vegetables like sliced tomato, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, bell peppers, and shredded carrots.

Salads and Soups: Be aware of the hidden fats and sodium in salads, like cheese, olives, canned baby corn, and especially salad dressings. Hearty broth-based soups and chili can be both nutritious and satisfying during the cold winter months.

Drinks: Fruit juices and Gatorade have a lot of sugar. Try Crystal Light to reduce calorie intake or skim milk to bolster the nutritional value of your meal.

Breakfast: Low-fat yogurt and instant oatmeal provide healthy options for a quick breakfast.

Snacks: Opt for extra pieces of fruit and carrots rather than sugary snacks you may regret later on. Packages of sunflower seeds are low in sodium and offer a healthier alternative to chips.

For more information on the nutritional value of foods offered at Hodgdon, check out Tufts Dining Website.

 

Goals for 2011: Eat More Vegetables December 24, 2010

Frozen Veggie Side Dishes help make it easier to eat more of the good stuff

My 3-day diet record (part of a nutrition class assignment) revealed that despite my efforts to eat enough greens, I am not up to par with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendations. According to my log, I was consuming about 2 cups of veggies/day. The minimum veggie intake per day is at least 2.5 cups.

Goal #1 for 2011: Eat More Veggies.

Here are my strategies for reaching this goal on a college-friendly budget for both time and money:

1. Stock up on frozen. Frozen vegetables are easy, cost-effective, and retain their nutrient content better than fresh vegetables that don’t get eaten soon enough. Green Giant makes a variety of microwave-ready vegetable mixes that you can just pop out of the freezer, heat up, and eat. Some varieties don’t score very well on Guiding Stars food finder because they have a fairly high amount of sodium added in their seasoning but, personally I don’t think the sodium content is too terrible and they taste so good that I know I will actually eat them. My favorite is the Garden Vegetable Medley. The mix of roasted potatoes, snap peas, and bell peppers is so tasty that I love eating the mix as a snack  or even at breakfast (not just as a side dish to lunch and dinners). Generally the packages are listed as having 2 servings per box, but at about 50 calories/serving you can easily enjoy the whole box guilt-free.

If you’re trying to cut back on sodium (another goal I’m trying to work on), you can mix the box veggies in with some unseasoned veggies to help cut back on your salt per serving ratio. For example, the Garden Veggie blend that I like takes great mixed with some  plain frozen peas. I just cook the mix as directed. Then pop some frozen peas in the microwave in a covered dish with just a bit of water. Microwave on high (time varies so check your microwave or package instructions).  Mix the peas and veggie mix together, dish out your desired serving and scoop the rest in a container to store in the fridge for a future snack.  You can also stick to plain, unsalted frozen veggies to really cut back on your sodium intake and make your own seasoning to add flavor with garlic, herbs, and olive oil, and pepper.

Green Giant's "Garden Vegetable Medley": A mix of roasted potatoes, snap peas, and bell peppers makes a satisfying, nutrient-rich 100 calorie snack.

2. Keep a plate of ready-to-eat fresh veggies handy. If they’re not easy to eat, they probably won’t be the first thing you reach for when you want a snack. During the summer, I always make a “cool plate” of washed, sliced fresh vegetables such as yellow and red bell pepper slices, baby carrots, and thin cucumber slices to serve as a side dish to meals for my family. I make more than enough so that we can keep the extras on a plate with saran wrap in the fridge to snack on throughout the day. I haven’t been as good about making these this fall or winter but I’m going to try to reinstate the plate. If it’s too much work, or you don’t have access to a lot of fresh veggie choices, buying a bag of baby carrots (which require little more than a quick rinse) can still achieve this purpose. The goal is to make the veggies in your fridge easily accessible.

3. Splurge on Salads. If I’m going to eat a fresh salad I want it to taste good. For me this means splurging on a good quality lettuce (organic mixed greens and spinach are my favorites) that looks appetizing enough that I know I’ll actually eat it. I love adding avocado slices, nuts, beans, artichokes, and a flavorful grilled chicken, light tuna, or goat cheese or Parmesan. Seasonal fruit tossed in can also liven it up nicely. Right now Bosc pears are my favorite fresh fruit in season. Buying all of your fresh ingredients can motivate you to eat everything before they go bad. Think of it as lowering your cost/serving every time you make a salad that week. Choosing a low-fat or non-fat dressing can be helpful to keep calories in check but check the label to make sure the manufacturer doesn’t try to compensate with extra sugars or salt.

 

An Interesting Rating Tool December 8, 2010

After my nutrition controversy group finished our end-of-semester presentation on “Nutrient Profiling” methods, I find that my interest in the subject continues. Nutrient profiling systems, are food rating systems designed to compare foods based on their nutritional values to provide quick insight to shoppers looking to make healthy choices. There are dozens of nutrient profiling systems out there, some with substantially better methods of rating foods than others, but all imperfect… at least for now.

 

The Guiding Stars Online Food Finder allows you to compare foods instantly for their nutritional value

The system I focused on was the “Guiding Stars” system, implemented by Hannaford Supermarkets in 2007. Guiding Stars is now used by 1,300 grocery stores, two universities, and one public school. The system gives foods 0, 1, 2, or 3 star ratings based on how their nutritional contents measure up. 3-star products are considered the healthiest products within their categories.  Of course, what is healthiest is not always the same for every person. The star ratings are based on what would be best for the general population, most of whom could benefit from controlling or losing weight.  For those in the population who are on the low-end of the weight spectrum or who are underweight, I do not think these star ratings will necessarily benefit in several cases.  Most of the criteria used to evaluate the foods seem like good ones to me based on my studies of what constitutes a healthy diet. The one glaring problem that I have with the system is that it does not deduct points from non-caloric sweeteners. While these do not add calories to a food, the health consequences of heavy use of these artificial sweeteners are not entirely known and may be harmful. For diabetics, artificial sugars can be very useful but for others I do not see them as beneficial and may cause more problems than their worth.

With that being said, I do see the value in Guiding Stars as a general, user-friendly reference. Few of us have the time or energy to critically evaluate the labels of everything we eat, so a system that does the work for us has its appeal. Try comparing some of the foods you buy on the online Food Finder site. You may find that some foods you thought were healthy aren’t really as great as they seem and others that you thought weren’t so great are actually quite good for you!

Try it at home: Visit http://food.guidingstars.com/

Want to get the nutritional facts for the foods you eat at Tufts? Try Tufts Nutritional Analysis Program.