By Madeline Quinn, Dietetic Intern

5 Basic TastesHave you ever heard of the buzzword, umami, but aren’t quite sure what it exactly means? Most people generally do not recognize the umami flavor while eating due to its subtle and mild taste. Umami, discover in 1908 by Japanese Dr. Kikuknea Ikeada, is a Japanese word meaning “pleasant savory taste.” Presently, it is the fifth taste among the original tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

As a result of receptors for the amino acid called glutamate, we are able to taste umami. Glutamate occurs naturally in fish, meat, vegetables, and dairy products. It’s also available as its salt form in MSG. Cooking and fermentation helps release this amino acid to experience the umami flavor. Similar to glutamate, the umami flavor is conveyed by certain compounds found in meats and vegetables. When combined in a dish, such as a mouthwatering cheeseburger with ketchup, umami complexes heighten the flavor.

Umami has Umami Foodsdistinct taste receptors found all over the tongue – now that’s impressive! A remarkable amount of foods are rich in umami, including: tuna, cod, seaweed, shellfish, tomatoes, truffles, soybeans, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, green tea, soy sauce, parmesan cheese, meats, poultry and even breast milk. Thus, umami is an extraordinarily diverse taste category, and impacts a vast majority of one’s daily food intake. Next time you cook up some shiitake mushrooms or have the urge to lather your sushi with soy sauce, remember, your meal would not be the same without the savory umami flavor.

Post Content Reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services
Nutrition, recipes

Kale – A Powerhouse Vegetable

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.

Kale Chips

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


  1. If vegetables are canned, rinse under water until water runs clear to rinse away some of the sodium.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Nutrition 101: Carbohydrates

By Janelle Langlais
Dietetic Intern

Carbohydrates are the body’s instant source of fuel found in almost everything. Milk, cereal, bread, pasta, soda, juice, candy and sweets all contain carbohydrates, and even fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules used as the body’s main source of fuel. The body stores these sugars in your muscles to provide energy during exercise, and in your liver to provide energy while you are sleeping or fasting. Carbohydrates are essential for proper nutrition; in fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 45-65% of your diet come from carbohydrates daily.

It’s a common misconception that people with diabetes can’t eat carbohydrates. Everyone can and should eat carbohydrates for proper nutrition, as many options like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts are nutrient dense (meaning they have a lot of nutrients but few calories). Pairing carbohydrates with foods rich in protein and/or fiber helps the body maintain blood sugar. As protein is the body’s long-lasting fuel, it slows down the digestion process which helps to minimize the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar. Protein helps make you feel fuller longer, leaving you more satisfied than if you just ate a carbohydrate alone. Fiber also has a similar effects on digestion and “fullness” as it slows down digestion and adds bulk, aiding in maintaining a more stable blood sugar. An apple with peanut butter is a great example of a balanced snack: the apple contains carbohydrates and fiber, and the peanut butter contains lots of protein and a small amount of carbohydrate and heart healthy fat.

Overall, the key is moderation and balance.  Focus on incorporating whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Opt for whole grain or whole wheat bread or pasta instead of white to increase your protein and fiber intake, creating more of a balanced plate. These foods also contain lots of vitamins and minerals which are essential to a healthy diet. Another thing to remember is to limit sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and juice, and avoid refined sugars. These sugary drinks and processed foods contain large amounts of sugar and have little nutritional value. Opt for fruit-infused water or diet beverages to decrease your sugar and caloric intake for better health. Lastly, always remember is to be mindful of portion sizes! It is possible to have too much of a good thing, so always read your food labels and follow the serving size.

(Post content reviewed by the MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)

Save the Date: World Diabetes Day

WDD candidAnnual World Diabetes Day Awareness Event

Thursday, November 13 10:00 am—3:00 pm MGH Main Lobby near Coffee Central This year’s event will focus on developing a healthy lifestyle and preventive care.

  • Talk to an exercise physiologist about your fitness goals.
  • Ask our dietitians questions about food and nutrition.
  • Learn about stress reducing techniques and get a free massage.
  • Plus trivia, games and prizes!
Nutrition, Secret Ingredient

In a Nutshell

By Leslie Wall
Dietetic Intern

Why are dietitians so crazy about nuts and seeds?! Nuts and seeds are morsels of heart healthy fats that can be added to meals and snacks or eaten alone. They pack a nutrient-dense punch of vitamins, minerals, and heart healthy fats that can lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. They are also an excellent source of protein and fiber that help us feel full and satisfied, and add texture and flavor to many dishes.

Nuts and seeds vary in shape and size, and can be prepared in a variety of ways including toasted, roasted, raw, blanched, and salted. Aim to add a variety of nuts and seeds in their most natural form to your diet—raw or dry roasted are great choices. A serving of nuts is 1 ounce (about a palm full). Try mixing it up, as each variety of nuts and seeds contain different vitamins and minerals.

The MVPs of Nuts and Seeds – Here is a list of our favorites.

1. Almonds: Available year round, these nuts are rich in calcium, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and phosphorus.

2. Cashews: High in antioxidants. Has a buttery taste when pureed, and often used to replace cheese sauces in vegan dishes. Chop and sprinkle on pizza for a meaty, flavorful texture.

3. Pecans: Buttery and slightly bittersweet, they’re typically used in pies, quick breads, cakes, cookies, candies and ice cream.

4. Pine Nuts: The edible seeds of pine trees, pine nuts are the key ingredient in fresh pesto and are out of this world sprinkled over salads, pasta, and pizza.

5. Flax Seeds: The richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Add to breads, cookies, pancake mix, yogurt, and smoothies or sprinkle on cereal and salads.

6. Pumpkin Seeds (a.k.a. Pepitas): A great source of potassium, zinc and vitamin K. Roasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten alone as a snack, or and in salads and breads.

7. Sunflower Seeds: Sunflowers belong to the daisy family and are native to North America. The seeds are high in selenium, vitamin E and magnesium. Shelled seeds are delicious eaten raw or toasted, added to cakes and breads or sprinkled on salads or cereals.

Tips for Toasting: While nuts and seeds are certainly delicious eaten raw, toasting them on the stove or in the oven enhances their flavor.

  • On the stove: Place nuts in a skillet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat. Shake and stir nuts until they’re golden brown and fragrant, then remove from the pan immediately and allow to cool.
  • In the oven: Arrange a single layer of nuts or seeds in a shallow baking pan and toast in a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Summer Recipe

Homemade Granola Bars ~ FitDay
Perfect for hiking, camping, and snacking.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)






Shop Your Local Farmers’ Market

By Beth Johnson
Dietetic Intern

Farmers Market photo

It’s time to buy local! Spring is here, and there are several varieties of fruits and vegetables already springing up at all of the local farms in Massachusetts. Right about now and for the next couple of weeks, you’ll start seeing the first crops of the year. Freshly picked foods like asparagus, arugula, beets, cabbage, strawberries, peas, spinach, lettuce and collard greens will be freshly available for you to enjoy!

Try adding a handful of spinach to your daily salad. Spinach is high in vitamin B6 vitamin B9 (folic acid) and vitamins A and K. Vitamin A helps maintain eye health, mucus membrane function, skin, bone and teeth growth, and has immune and cancer protection properties. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and regulates Calcium levels in the blood. Folate plays a large role in creating new cells, while B6 helps the body break down protein and fat for energy.  What more of a reason would you need to include such a powerful vegetable in your diet? You can find spinach and other fresh and local fruits and vegetables at the following Farmers Markets around Boston:

  • Boston Public Market/Greenway Farmers’ Market
  • Boston/Copley Square Farmers’ Market
  • Boston/Northeastern University Farmers’ Market
  • Boston/South Station/Dewey Square Farmers’ Market
  • Boston/SOWA Farmers’ Market
  • Boylston/Hillside Farmers’ Market
  • Revere/Revere Beach Farmers’ Market

Happy Spring and best of luck to you on your quest to find the freshest local fruits and vegetables possible!

(Post content reviewed by the Department of Nutrition and Food Services)

Feel like you could use some help with your diet? Tell us how we can help!

Massachusetts General Hospital’s Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSME/S) Program and Emerson College are offering a survey for adults with diabetes. We want to understand the challenges people with diabetes face when cooking healthy meals and following a recommended meal plan.

  • Anonymous survey.
  • Only takes 20 minutes or less!
  • Your feedback will help create a cooking and diet tool for patients with diabetes at MGH.
  • After completing the survey, you will be eligible to win a raffle for one of five $10 gift cards to MGH’s Coffee Central!

To take the online survey, visit:

Diabetes ABCs

Diabetes ABCs: X


Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in the fiber of certain berries, oats, mushrooms and other fruits and vegetables. It’s as sweet as sugar but has 40% less calories than sucrose and is absorbed slower in the body which leads to fewer calories and lower blood glucose response.

Xylitol is commonly found in dental products due to positive effects on dental health and also found as a sugar alcohol in certain low calorie or low carbohydrate foods. When using as a sugar substitute the ratio is 1:1.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)