Friday, April 25, 2014

A Slimmed Down Cinco de Mayo Menu

I'm a little early, but I've been asked to write a blog entry for another website and it got me thinking about Cinco de Mayo. I love Mexican food, but can't imagine going to one on the holiday. I will not wait 2 hours to eat lard-filled refried beans covered in cheese. But I would like to celebrate because I love me some Mexican, so here's what I came up with. Skip the chips, slim down your drink, and make some homemade fish tacos and you’ll avoid the long lines and the high calorie meal. Add a little tequila to this menu and you're in for a real treat!

Broiled Fish Tacos with Grilled Cabbage Slaw
*Broiling fish is super quick and tilapia never dries out. It makes for a quick weeknight meal. I would make extra of this spice rub and keep it around for fish, chicken or pork chops.*

  • 1 lb firm fish (rockfish, cod, tilapia, etc.)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Fresh limes
  • Greek yogurt (optional)
  • Corn tortillas
  1. Preheat broiler with rack 4 inches from the top.
  2. Add seasoning to small bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Line a pan with foil and spray with non-stick spray and place fish on pan. Brush fish with olive oil. Sprinkle seasoning over fish and rub. Flip fish over and repeat.
  4. Broil fish for 4-5 minutes each side until flaky.
  5. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the fish. Serve in warm corn tortillas with grilled cabbage and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Grilled Cabbage with Spicy Lime Dressing
*I am obsessed with this recipe.*

  • Juice of 3 limes (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves or 2 tsp garlic paste (Garlic paste is a great time saver! You can find it in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle. Our grocer carries Gourmet Garden.)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 head green cabbage
  • Grapeseed or canola oil
  1. Heat a gas or charcoal grill. Combine the limes, olive oil, fish sauce, garlic, cilantro, salt, cayenne and sugar in a small chopper or blender until the sauce is combined.
  2. Remove the loosest, toughest outer leaves from the cabbage, and cut into 8 evenly-sized wedges. Do not remove the stalk or inner core. Lightly brush the wedges with grapeseed or canola oil.
  3. Place the wedges on the grill and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the edges of each layer are blackened and the cabbage is beginning to soften. Flip each wedge over, cover the grill, and cook for an additional 10 minutes on the other side. Remove the cabbage when it is wilted.
  4. Take the cabbage off the grill and shred. Pour the dressing over top and toss.

Slim Rita
*What's Mexican food without tequila?!*

  • 1.5 ounce tequila
  • 1 fresh lime
  • 6 ounces Diet Squirt or other lemon lime soda
  • Salt
  1. Wet the rim of your tumbler or margarita glass with water by tipping it upside down into a bowl of water.
  2. Rub the rim into coarse salt.
  3. Fill the glass with ice, tequila, lime juice, and lemon lime soda. Stir and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gummy Bears & Plain Yogurt

A Facebook question inspired me to write a long-winded, full-post response. It helped me think of some other points I've been meaning to make. See below:

"Thanks for the post Mel!…I love my sugar  Probably should start working on this though as I am sure I take in way too much. Questions-- 1)what about added sugar to things during exercise? Say during a marathon or endurance event. Sometimes I eat gummy bears while riding the bike! 2) I don't really like the taste of the plain greek yogurt, I have used it in cooking but just not straight up. I've usually been getting the fruit flavored ones. Is there anything I can do to make it more palatable for me? Maybe adding fresh fruit to it? Thanks for the info!"

Low to moderate glycemic index foods may benefit your workout 1 hour or so before a workout. These foods are lower in fiber and can be digested quickly. Too much sugar right before working out can cause a reflexive low blood sugar. Therefore, it may be best to try a little bit of protein with the carbs 2 hours before working out. These foods should do ok 1-2 hours before a workout:
  • Apple + string cheese
  • Banana + 2 Tbsp almond butter
  • Walnuts + yogurt
  • Carrots, hummus, whole grain crackers
  • Multigrain toast + low fat cheese or peanut butter
  • Peach + cottage cheese
  • Sports bar
  • Oatmeal + protein powder or nuts
  • Smoothie (fruit + yogurt or protein powder)

As for nutrition during training, you should aim for 30-60g carbohydrates per hour or about 1g/kg/hour. Usually “simple” carbohydrates are usually well digested and absorbed during a workout but the source of carbohydrates also makes a difference. While exercising, you want the fuel that will help raise your blood sugar the fastest.

Most commercial products have a variety of sources of carbohydrates include glucose polymers, glucose, sucrose, and fructose. Fructose is not used a lot because it is not well absorbed and therefore can create stomach upset. Most products contain a combination of sources since they are absorbed at different rates. This allows your body to have a more continuous source of fuel. Sports drinks are specially formulated to provide the max amount of glucose that your system can digest without upset, about 4-8% concentrated.

Gummy bears are made up of sugar, glucose syrup, starch, flavoring, food coloring, citric acid and gelatin. Each gummy bear has about 9 calories, all of which are coming from carbohydrates (2.2g per gummy bear). Therefore, if it is the main source of carbohydrates during a workout, you would have to take in 15-30 gummy bears per hour. If this is a reasonable amount, or if you paired the bears with a sports drink, it seems like a good plan. The main thing is to find a “food” and/or drink that is palatable and tolerable over a long time. Always bring a back-up for ultra-endurance events because 10+ hours of gummy bears could get real old.

As for Greek yogurt, you might add any combination of the following:
  • Fresh fruit (my fav is mangos) 
  • Frozen fruit (While it thaws it juices into the yogurt leaving a nice sweetness. I'll buy the giant bag of berries from Costco and mix them with the yogurt, overnight. )
  • Low sugar jelly
  • Granola such as Bear Naked or Nature’s Path
  • Chopped nuts
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice
  • Pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, which is sweetened)
  • Stevia/Truvia
  • Mix half flavored yogurt with half unflavored
  • Vanilla, almond, or other extract
Hope that helps!


Ryan, M. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Boulder: Velo Press; 2007. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Added sugars 101

How much sugar do we need?  NONE!

Carbohydrates are converted into sugar, so we can rely entirely on nutritive sources of fuel. Sugar on its own contains no vitamins or minerals but instead robs the body of vitamins in order to process sugar.

Ironically, I am writing this from a Starbucks. A frappuccino has 69 g of sugar, which is about 17 teaspoons of sugar.

When you’re reading nutrition labels, do some quick math to give yourself a visual picture -- 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. Therefore, if your yogurt has 4g of sugar naturally (from milk sugars, lactose) and the flavored variety has 16g sugar (Chobani blended versus plain), manufacturers more or less added 3 teaspoons of sugar. Keep in mind these added sugars also don’t contribute to our fullness, whereas the extra 3g of protein from the plain yogurt sure could. Ok, to be honest, 3g of protein probably won’t be more filling, but it provides you with the benefit of high quality of protein that your body can use to make hormones, enzymes, growth and repair.

The average American eats 22 teaspoons of added sugars daily, contributing an extra 350, non-nutritive (ie having no health benefit) calories per day. This could potentially add up to 36 pounds per year!

Right now nutrition facts do not distinguish between natural sugars and added sugars. In late February, the FDA proposed a change that may include a specific line indicating how many grams of added sugars are in the food. Until then, it’s best to take a peek at the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order by volume, so the further up sugar is listed, the more added sugars in the food item.

Added sugars:
  • anhydrous dextrose
  • brown sugar
  • confectioner's powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • pancake syrup
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose
  • sugar
  • white granulated sugar
Is honey healthier than sugar? NO! 

If you read carefully, you may have noted that honey was on the list of added sugars. That’s because it is a sugar. Honey gets its sweetness from fructose and glucose whereas table sugar is sucrose, which is composed of fructose and glucose. Oh wait, they’re both fructose and glucose? Yes, they are the same. Both also have very similar degrees of sweetness. 

So what is the big deal with the extra sugar anyway? 

Well, cells use glucose for energy, but fructose first has to be converted to glucose (fructolysis) which only occurs in the liver. Triglycerides, uric acid, and free radicals are end product of the fructose conversion. You may have heard of triglycerides before -- they are a component of your total cholesterol (⅕ x triglycerides is added into the total cholesterol count). The triglycerides can build up in your liver creating a condition called fatty liver disease, which now affects ⅓ of adults. Triglycerides also contribute to the accumulation of fatty plaque on artery walls. And free radicals circulate through the body creating damage on otherwise healthy cells. And then we’ve got insulin resistance from the constant influx of sugar in the system. Insulin is produced to help lower blood sugars, so if there is a constant stream of high sugars, the body overproduces insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and over time no longer responds to the hormone. None of this sounds good, does it? 

What about agave nectar? 

Agave nectar is also a sugar made up of fructose and glucose, but has been touted as having a lower glycemic index. This means it supposedly has less of an impact on blood sugars. Glycemic index gives a numerical rating corresponding to the blood sugar increase after having a 50g load of carbohydrates. Agave’s is 19 compared to table sugar’s (sucrose) 58. Since a 50g serving of carbohydrates is not always a reasonable portion, a better indicator is glycemic load. This multiplies the glycemic index by a normal portion. When this is taken into account, agave has a glycemic load of 2 compared to a 6 for table sugar. No significant difference. 

Common sugar culprits include:
  • Cereal 
  • Instant oatmeal 
  • Cereal bars
  • Yogurt
  • Desserts
  • Soda and other flavored beverages
  • Dried fruit 
  • Jams and jellies (Look for Smucker’s low sugar jelly instead. Uses no artificial sweeteners either but has half the sugar!)
  • Ketchup 
  • Salad dressing
  • Peanut butter (Really?! Doesn’t it taste pretty darn good on it’s own?!)
  • Canned fruit 
So this week's challenge involves picking up a food, turning it around, and examining the nutrition facts and ingredients before putting the food in your mouth. Can you trim some of the unnecessary added sugars from your diet? 


Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.

Skerrett, P. (2011, April 26). Is fructose bad for you?. Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Whole Grained Meatloaf & Challenge Update

It's taken me a minute to post again because our family computer has been occupied with taxes. I'm sneaking in a post before they're done to tell you that I did it! I ate my 8-grain cereal 3 days last week and already started my week of right be eating it for breakfast this morning. I discovered that making the cereal with milk makes it plenty sweet and filling for me. I used to always make oatmeal with water and then had to add protein powder to sweeten it and bulk up the protein. I like my new plan to go the more natural route and cut down on the steps to make it. I added 1/2 banana and topped it with a plop of cottage cheese or almond butter, depending on the day. I also discovered microwaving it in a giant Pyrex bowl prevents the boil over and microwave mess. 3 minutes did the trick for me.

I also discovered a quick whole grain option at Costco. This little pack microwaves in 90 seconds and fed our little family of 3 - Arjun, me and Monica. Tarala housed her own packet and while she didn't finish it, I did refill her plate 5 times. It was very moist and flavorful. I also like getting the Minute Rice brown or wild rice cups for Tarala. I never mind cleaning up her leftovers. It's one cup of rice and is ready in one minute. I don't really understand how the microwave rice can be so yummy but it's nice to have some time-saving foods to help fit in the whole grains.

Did you know grain could be a verb? Well I just made it one. "Grained" means you make the food a whole grain. I almost always make my meatloaf in these mini tins. I bought mine a while back at World Market before Internet shopping was the gold standard. Now you can get six of these little guys on Amazon for $6.99. They not only make your meatloaf (or banana bread) super cute, but it cuts the cooking time in half. A 30 min meatloaf sounds way more doable on a weeknight than a 60 min meatloaf. Plus it helps with portion control. If you don't want to invest in these muffin tins, you can always bake the meatloaf in muffin tins.

Whole Grained Meatloaf

1 package lean ground turkey (1.25 lbs)
1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill 8-Grain cereal or similar variety
1 egg or 2 egg whites
Few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of Dijon mustard

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees 
  2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl
  3. Spray tins with non-stick cooking spray 
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until loaves reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees
  5. Serve with a whole grain side or sweet potatoes and a green veggie. Try the microwavable bags of veggies for a quick meal.