Tags: balanced plate, DSME, fruits and veggies, health myths, healthy eating, nutrition, nutrition myths
By Josann Nichols
MGH Dietetic Intern
You don’t have to break the bank to have a healthy diet. Below you’ll find tips and tricks to eat well on a tight budget.
- Get produce in season. Buying produce in season and from local farmers is often less expensive. More corn on the market means competition, which drives prices down. For example: 4 ears of corn in season costs about $1 from local sources compared to $18 on Amazon during the winter. Produce you buy in season is also picked at peak ripeness, which packs in more flavor and nutrients.
- Try frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce is a cheaper alternative to many fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re also picked at peak ripeness, meaning they have the same nutritional quality as fresh produce. You can also store it longer, leading to less food waste which saves money over time.
- Stock up on canned fruits and vegetables. Canned fruits and vegetables are a very cheap option and can be stored longer than either fresh or frozen produce. Make sure to buy fruit canned in its own juices to avoid added sugar. To reduce sugar and salt, rinse before eating.
- Don’t give up on meats. There are many cheaper cuts of meat available such as brisket, skirt, flank and top rump. Typically, these cuts are cheaper because they are a bit tougher but don’t be discouraged! Cooking meat like pot roast in fluid for a long period of time can make it so tender it falls off the bone! Another money saving tip: check with your local grocery store for sales on older meats. These should be used within a few days or immediately frozen.
- Substitute other protein sources for meat more often. Plant-based protein sources are inexpensive, contain fiber and higher-quality fat than meat and will last longer in the kitchen. Beans and lentils for example are usually purchased canned and/or dried. Use them as a substitute for meat in stews, salads, casseroles and side dishes to help your dollar go a little farther. Peanut butter, seeds and eggs are also excellent sources of protein. Add an egg to your breakfast for only $0.25!
- Try canned fish. A healthy diet includes seafood, which can often be pricey. Tuna is one cheap alternative, but if mercury is a concern try sardines. Not only are sardines rich in protein, they’re another source of anti-inflammatory fats. Again, watch out for added salt!
- Go whole grain. Fiber is your friend! It helps manage blood sugar levels and keep your digestive system healthy. Whole grains have more fiber than white flour products and can be affordable. Instead of expensive specialty grains, try switching to old-fashioned oats, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Buy in bulk. This can include frozen, canned or dried whole foods. The larger the quantity the cheaper the price per unit, so even though you pay more up front you end up saving money over time.
- Choose generic brands. These typically have significant price cuts. Check the ingredient list, though, to make sure you aren’t losing any quality of the product.
- Take advantage of sales and coupons. Stores frequently have deals on fresh, canned and dried foods.
- Don’t feel pressured to buy organic. Organic farmers do not use chemicals on their crops, but that doesn’t mean non-organic produce is full of chemicals. Many non-organic farmers use little to no chemicals on their produce and simply can’t afford to get the organic certification. Research has also shown that conventionally grown organic and non-organic produce does not differ in nutritional content. So you can be just as healthy eating non-organic foods while saving big bucks at the checkout line.
- Follow the Balanced Plate Model. Protein-rich foods tend to make the largest dent on your wallet, compared to starchy foods and vegetables. By maximizing plant-based foods and limiting your meat portions, you’ll improve the quality of your meals and make your dollar stretch farther.
Just follow the tips above to mix and match your protein, starch and vegetables to maximize your dollar and eat healthy!
Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE
Tags: dirty dozen/clean fifteen, DSME, fruits and veggies, healthy, organic, USDA
By Lauren Beth Cohen
A lot of confidence is put in the word organic. When playing the word-association game, you might hear things like: health, nutrition, clean, natural, expensive, and safe. But is that always the case? Before we fully answer this question (spoiler alert: the short answer no), we should breakdown what “organic” actually means.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies and labels certain foods as organic if they are produced “using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” Pesticides and antibiotics are used to extend shelf life in the grocery store, reduce plant spoilage and mutation, and prevent illness in livestock. They are GRAS, or Generally Recognized As Safe to consume by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
So, should you eat it? Well, the choice is yours.
Not a lot is known about the how these pesticides and antibiotics affect the human body. What we do know is that organic can be a great option, but is not always essential.
In an attempt to help you save some cash and become a more savvy shopper, let’s introduce you to the “dirty dozen.” These foods, tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), show a higher amount of pesticides than average and, if given the option, should be purchased organic. They include: apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach/kale/collard greens, sweet bell & hot peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.
Next time you head to the grocery store, go in armed with some of these helpful tips:
- Buy organic for the “Dirty Dozen” and conventional for the “Clean Fifteen,” which includes; avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
- Prioritize buying local over organic. Often times, local farmers are producing products in an organic fashion but can’t afford the accreditation. Support your local farms!
- Check the country of origin. The United States only imports certified organic foods from Canada, EU, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, and Switzerland. Any other country with “organic” on the label may be a trick to get you to spend more!
- Milk and seafood do not need to be purchased organic.
- Remember: A cookie is a cookie. Even if it’s 100% natural and organic – it doesn’t make it a magically healthy cookie.
(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)
Tags: apple, barley, fall, fruits and veggies, healthy eating, salad, whole grains
Pearled barley cooks quicker than hulled barley (hulled barley still has the bran of the grain attached and takes about an hour to cook). Though pearled barley is technically not a “whole grain,” it is still a good source of fiber. Avoid buying white pearled barley, it is more processed; instead, look for the variety that is “lightly pearled.” Lightly pearled barley will be tan in color and has more fiber.
½ cup lightly pearled barley, uncooked
1 tsp salt, divided
½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp black pepper
2 stalks celery, diced
1 apple, skin intact, diced into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
2 bunches arugula (about 6 cups)
Combine barley in a saucepan with 1½ cups water and ½ tsp salt and bring to boil (or see directions for cooking barley on package). Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until water is absorbed and barley is tender. Use a strainer to drain any excess water. Allow barley to cool.
Meanwhile, whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, remaining ½ tsp salt and black pepper. Toss with celery, apple, mint and cooled barley. Divide arugula between bowls and top arugula with barley salad.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition Information per Serving:
Calories: 195 • Protein: 5g • Sodium: 650mg • Carbohydrate: 30g
Fiber: 6g • Fat: 6g • Sat Fat: 1g
Recipe adapted from Real Simple
Tags: fruits and veggies, kale, NNM, nutrition, recipe
By Toni Ambrogio, Dietetic Intern
While many leafy green vegetables are full of healthful nutrients, kale has recently taken the spotlight for its versatility in the kitchen. While kale may start as a crunchy, leafy vegetable enjoyed in salad, it can be easily softened into a soup or stew, or transformed into kale chips for a healthier snacking option.
What Makes Kale Healthy?
Kale contains beneficial nutrients like beta carotene, Vitamin K, and Vitamin C. Beta carotene plays a role in vision and immunity; Vitamin K aids in proper clotting and coagulation of our blood; and Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are molecules that attach to free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals can negatively impact our bodies by causing damage to cells. Kale is also known as a “diabetes super food” due to its low glycemic index.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.
Put the kale leaves in a bowl. Lightly pour the olive oil over the kale until the kale is glistening and coated (do not apply too much oil).
Transfer the kale to a baking sheet and spread it out for even cooking. Lightly season with salt. For a kick of citrus flavor, sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. Create a bold, new flavor by sprinkling the kale with chili powder and garlic powder. You can be very creative!
Bake until crispy, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your oven. Cool and serve.
Ribollita – The Italian Minestrone
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
4 – 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 15 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, low sodium
6 cups water (or vegetable stock, low sodium)
2 15 ounce cans small white beans, low sodium
4 cups chopped kale
- If vegetables are canned, rinse under water until water runs clear to rinse away some of the sodium.
- Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the EVOO. Add the garlic, three-quarters of the chopped onion, the carrots and zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook the veggies for 7 to 8 minutes, then add the wine to deglaze the pot. Stir in the tomatoes and stock and bring up the heat. When the soup boils, reduce it to a simmer and stir in the bread and beans. Pile the greens into the pot and wilt them into the soup.
- Simmer the ribollita for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring the soup as it simmers, until it thickens to a dense stew-like consistency. Turn off the heat, adjust the seasonings and ladle into shallow bowls.
- Additional – top each bowl with some of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, an additional drizzle of EVOO, a spoonful of the reserved raw onion and some basil.
Tags: farmers' market, fruits and veggies, produce, shopping on a budget, spring, storage
By Erin Boudreau
Summer is right around the corner, and with the warmer weather comes an increase in available fruits and vegetables. These products are colorful, flavorful, and nutritious, but they also spoil very quickly. Quality and flavors of all produce will begin to diminish the moment they are picked, so it is best to enjoy as soon as possible after purchase. Proper storing will help extend their life and also has a major impact on quality and taste. Most fruits and vegetables can be stored in the fridge, with a few exceptions. Many products can also be frozen to extend their life even further. Remember, even with proper storage techniques produce will still spoil quickly, so be sure to buy only as much as you can enjoy in a few days to prevent waste.
- Store bananas, pineapple, citrus, and other tropical fruits in a cool, dry area. They should NOT be stored in the fridge. Citrus fruit will absorb the odors of the fridge but will last for a long time at room temperature. The sugar is most concentrated at the base of a pineapple, so store it upside down for a few days in order to allow the sugar to distribute throughout the fruit.
- Potatoes will keep fresh for a couple of weeks if stored in a cool, dry, ventilated place (not the fridge). Cold temperatures can turn the starch in a potato to sugar, creating a sweeter potato while warmth and light will cause them to sprout. Sweet potatoes are more delicate and should only be kept for about a week.
- Garlic and most types of onions should be kept in a well ventilated area at room temperature or cooler, but not refrigerated. Vidalia onions have higher water content and can be stored individually wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator.
- Tomatoes are very finicky. Refrigeration can give them an unpleasant, mealy texture, and can alter their taste and aroma. They’re best stored unwashed at room temperature.
- Mushrooms should be kept in a cool, dry place and lightly washed immediately before use.
- Asparagus should be stored in the fridge with a damp paper towel wrapped around the stems. You can also stand them in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around the tops to keep them crisp.
- Store carrots in a plastic bag in the fridge to hold in moisture. Wash and peel right before using.
- Herbs should be washed, dried completely, and stems clipped prior to refrigeration. Store in a glass of water or with a damp paper towel wrapped around the stems. A plastic bag or paper towel can be wrapped around the leaves to lock in moisture.
- Break off lettuce leaves and dip them in a large bowl of cold water. Dry completely with paper towels or a salad spinner and store in a plastic bag with paper towels in the fridge.
- Apples will keep in the fridge for several months.
- Mangos, peaches, plums, and pears can be ripened at room temperature, and then kept in the fridge to prolong their life.
- Melon can develop a rubbery texture if kept in the fridge, and should never be frozen. Storing at room temperature is best.
- Berries are fragile, and have a very short self-life. Store in the fridge and wash lightly just prior to use. Fresh berries can also be frozen for later use.
- Wrap rhubarb in plastic and store in the fridge. This fruit also holds up well in the freezer.
(Post reviewed by Anne Lukowski, RD, CDE. Foodnetwork.com was referenced for this article)
Tags: digestive health, DSME, fiber, fruits and veggies, heart health, weight management, whole grains
Fiber is a special type of carbohydrate the body can’t digest. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 25-35 grams of fiber a day, but most of us probably only get about half that amount. If it isn’t broken down for energy, why is there a concern about not getting enough? While it may not be used for fuel, fiber plays a role in helping other systems in the body run smoothly.
There are actually two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol (especially the LDL or “bad” cholesterol). When mixed with water, it dissolves into a gel-like substance that binds bile acid and interferes with the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include beans, oats, and fruit such as apples. Insoluble fiber (which does not dissolve in water) helps with moving food through the digestive system and removing waste. Whole grains and vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.
In addition to supporting heart and digestive health, fiber can also aid in losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight. Most high-fiber foods are naturally low in calories, but more importantly fiber promotes satiety: that feeling of being “full” after eating. Increasing the amount of fiber in your meals can help you feel full faster and keep that full feeling longer. And, since fiber causes food to move through the stomach more slowly, it can help keep blood sugars steady after meals.
A Registered Dietitian can work with you to find ways to increase your fiber intake, but a good place to start is eating plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and beans. Replacing refined and processed grains with whole grains, or eating a piece of fruit instead drinking fruit juice (unless treating a low) are other things to consider. One final note: it’s best to increase your fiber intake gradually and drink plenty of water. Each week, add 5 grams of fiber to your daily intake until your intake is between 25-35 grams per day. Too much too soon can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating.
(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition)
Tags: cooking, flavor, fruits and veggies, grilling, herbs and spices, NNM
The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” Anna Nakayama, a dietetic intern with the MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services, joined us for a chat about healthy ways to add flavor to meals without extra fat and calories.
Click below for highlights: