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Art Grotto
(That’s my almost 94-year-old dad enjoying one of his favorite purple beverages in moderation!)
David Grotto, RDN

I know you may be thinking that “seeing “red” was your only color choice when it comes to making smarter dietary choices to support heart health. Not so fast!

Though red is a wonderful color, there are more colors in the rainbow when it comes to doing what’s best for your ticker. Many of the foods that I recommend and feature in The Best Things You Can Eat for heart health actually come in red, white, tan, orange, green and even purple! Turning purple is a lot more fun and easier than holding your breath. That’s why I’m thrilled to be working with the folks at Welch’s to share the grape news about heart health.

Polyphenols are a group of plant nutrients that, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, may play a role in heart health by supporting healthy blood vessels. You’ll find polyphenols especially in purple variety foods such as grapes (think wine and 100% grape juice), cabbage, potatoes, eggplant and even non purple foods such as tea, onions and even nuts. In fact, berries (including grapes!) are a delicious way to get your daily dose of purple, and they deliver polyphenols (specifically anthocyanins) not found in many other colors of fruit.

Purple potatoes. This variety hails from South America and is rich in potassium, vitamin C in addition to polyphenols. By the way, leave the skin on. Like grapes, you’ll find polyphenols in the skins! Roast in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Yum!

Eggplant. Hard to believe that there was a time that this lovely vegetable was once thought to cause insanity and leprosy! Amazing! But the good news is you’ll find potassium, folate magnesium fiber and many other additional healthy nutrients in eggplant.

Purple Cabbage. Cabbage belongs to the family of veggies called Brassicas. This stinky but yummy veggie contains a healthy amount of fiber, vitamin C and anthocyanins. Glucosinolates, another group of plant nutrients found in cabbage, may help support a healthy immune system, too!

Wine. I see the debate brewing already. “Come on Dave … wine is not a food, it’s a beverage.” Well, hold onto your grapes of wrath! Red, purple, blue and black varieties of grapes are all used to make red wine. What distinguishes red versus white wine is that red varieties are allowed to have the skin and the seeds come in contact with the grape juice as it ferments. The health benefit may be due to a group of plant nutrients called polyphenols, which are abundant in red wine varieties. As with all alcoholic beverages, wine is beneficial for your health only in moderation.

Concord Grapes. And for those who are not wine lovers or choose not to drink alcoholic beverages, dark purple Concord grapes and 100% grape juice possess many of the same polyphenols as those found in red wine. Thanks to the Concord grape, 100% grape juice helps support a healthy heart. An 8 ounce glass of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord grapes supplies 250 mg of polyphenols, provides an excellent source of vitamin C and counts as two servings of fruit.

Here’s a twist on the traditional tuna fish salad sandwich to include some tasty polyphenols and other healthy ingredients. Enjoy!

Grapes of Wrap
Servings: 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
¾ cup Purple grapes, quartered
2 cans Tuna or chicken, drained
½ cup Celery, chopped coarse
1/3 cup Purple/red Onion, chopped coarse
1 teaspoon Dill, chopped fine
¼ cup Canola oil mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Black pepper
2 teaspoons Honey
1 teaspoon Fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Welch’s 100% Grape Juice concentrate (defrosted)
¼ teaspoon Toasted sesame oil (optional)
½ teaspoon Dry mustard powder
6 Whole-wheat tortillas

Directions:
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Spread some of the salad on a whole-wheat tortilla. Garnish with lettuce and tomato, hold together with a toothpick and serve.

Nutrition Highlights
Calories: 195; Total Fat: 4.5g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 20mg; Sodium: 460mg; Total Carbs: 27g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugars: 6g; Protein: 18g

Henrici’s Steak and Lobster Photo Courtesy of ConsumerGrouch.com

by David Grotto, RDN

When I was a young lad, about 16 years old, I had a rare opportunity to cook at the then famous Henrici’s Steak and Lobster restaurants, scattered throughout Chicago and vicinity. I basically did most of the prep work there but they did allow me behind the line to cook their wonderful beer batter-dipped onion rings, assemble huge shrimp cocktails and prepare their famous mushrooms, which usually were an accompaniment to the thick and juicy steaks they featured. The last ingredient added to the mushrooms, as they were sautéing, was a healthy splash of dry vermouth, which always flamed up for a nice show. That vermouth really added flavor and helped brown up the mushrooms, nicely.

I think you are really going to like the recipe but don’t worry about the effects of the vermouth – the alcohol burns off as you are cooking down the mushrooms so they shouldn’t be calling DCFS on you because you served them to your kids.

Lastly, the mushrooms in this recipe really have a meaty flavor which is great for my veggie-leaning daughters who love the taste of meat but would rather not eat so much of it. Besides, they are thrilled to know that mushrooms are low in calories. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of chromium, selenium and a good source of pantothenic acid, riboflavin (B-2) and niacin. They are the highest vegetarian source of vitamin D and contain good amounts substances called beta-glucans which possess immune-stimulating and cholesterol lowering benefits. Mushrooms may be a worthy opponent in the fight against dia-besity. Research has shown that swapping out high calorie dense foods for low-calorie yet filling foods like mushrooms can help aid in managing weight yet feeling satisfied after meals. Reducing weight can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Enough nutrition…

Feast your eyes on these mushrooms!
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Nice, eh?

Here’s the recipe! Very simple to make with only six ingredients.
Servings: 4

Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

24 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, washed and sliced 1/4″thick (crimini, button, shiitake and oyster varieties work wonderfully, too)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
4 ounces of dry Vermouth

Directions:

In a large skillet, add olive oil and butter and warm over a medium heat until butter is melted and mixture starts to bubble. Add in sliced mushrooms. Stir and cover mushrooms well with oil and butter. Raise heat to high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms become tender and fluid from mushrooms starts forming in the pan (about 10 minutes). Add seasoning salt and pepper. Stir mixture well. Cook for another few minutes until fluid in pan starts to reduce. Add vermouth and continue to stir and cook until mushrooms are browned and liquid is well reduced. Serve.

Hope you enjoy these mushrooms as much as we do. They are terrific over eggs, fish and of course, meat. But they also make a great side dish.

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Hi all:

Hope you are enjoying all of the recipes that I have been posting lately. I realized I posted this delcious one to my Twitter and Facebook accounts but completely forgot to post it to my blog. Sorry! Anyhow, I developed the Strawberry Siracha Salmon recipe specifically for the California Strawberry folks so just click on the link here and you will be brought right to the recipe.

Important tip. Like it spicy? Leave the Siracha amount at 2 teaspoons. Want it favorable but not so spicy? Cut the Siracha down to 1 teaspoon. As always, let me know what you think in the comment section. Enjoy!

Dave

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By David Grotto, RDN

I wish I could eat my blog. I’m not sure if creating the recipes, taste testing them, taking the photos or writing about the ingredients and their health benefits is more enjoyable than the other. Yeah, right. Eating is the most enjoyable – who are we trying to kid here?

So Sharon (the wife) brought home some fingerlings to accompany some of her wonderful homemade chicken soup. I decided to pick out all of the purple ones and create a side dish that was rich in heart-healthy polyphenols. In fact, anthocyanins, the group of polyphenol plant chemicals that give these featured peruvian purple taters their color, are also responsible for giving red fruit, such as strawberries and cherries, their rich red color, too.

Research has shown that anthocyanins possess a wide range of biological functions including anti-inflammatory, germ fighting and even anti-cancer activity. Besides, they also help protect blood vessels and regulate blood components that lead to plaque formation and increase the risk of heart disease. But enough already with the healthy reason of why you should eat these taters – more importantly, they taste GREAT! So let’s get cooking!

If you can’t find the purple Peruvian variety, regular fingerlings will do. Both are pictured above. Let the fun begin!

Servings: 4

Prep and cooking time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 pound fingerling potatoes, washed, sliced width-wise, 1/4 inch-thick
1/4 cup Marsala wine
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons Bleu cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9×12 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, place olive oil, pepper, salt, garlic, marsala wine and potatoes together and mix well. Remove and line the casserole dish with the potato slices. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top of the slices. Place in the oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until slightly browned. Remove from oven and flip over potato slices. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles evenly over the slices and return to the over until well-browned and the cheese has melted – about 10-15 more minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Hit me up in the comment section and let me know what you think!

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By David Grotto, RDN

Looks yummy, eh?
Well I must tell you. My wife Sharon and I absolutely LOVE Brussels sprouts – not only for their wonderful taste but also because they are an outstanding member of the crucifers – a group of stinky veggies that contain cancer-fighting and immune-boosting plant chemicals called glucosinolates. But unfortunately, they’ve been a bit of a hard sell to the Grotto girls. Alas! We may be on to something because when we served them to the kids last evening, they ate every last one of them and said, “I’d eat this version of Brussels sprouts, any day!” So without further ado, here’s the recipe that won the kids over.

Servings: 4

Cooking and prep time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 Pound Brussels Sprouts (pick smaller varieties – they tend to be sweeter and less bitter)
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 tsp McCormick Smokehouse Maple (optional. leave out if you don’t want a smokey flavor)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tbsp real maple syrup

Directions:

Preheat oven to 420 degrees. Wash Brussels sprouts, remove any damaged leaves and slice each sprout in half. Pat dry. Add sprouts to a medium mixing bowl with all of the other ingredients and mix well. Spray a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour sprout mixture into the baking dish and spread out over the entire bottom. Place in oven for about 20-25 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during the baking period. Brussels sprouts should be well-browned and starting to char when done. Serve.

Let me know what you think and if you have any of your own tricks to get kids to eat these cute little cabbage-like veggies!

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istockphoto


By David Grotto, RDN, LDN

Have you contemplated going on a vegetarian diet for health reasons? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, all versions of vegetarianism can be healthy if well planned. But what version is right for you, if any? Before you test the waters out, lets review what a vegetarian diet is and isn’t and what may be the potential health benefits and pitfalls of following one might be.

What is a vegetarian diet? Simply put, a vegetarian diet, in its truest sense, is plant-based and does not include any meat, fish or poultry products. There are various levels of vegetarianism which fall into three classifications:
• Vegan (no animal products what-so-ever, including eggs and dairy)
• Lacto-ovo vegetarian (consumes eggs and dairy products)
• Lacto vegetarian (consumes dairy products).
There are those who eat a plant-based diet that includes fish, chicken or both or those who occasionally eat meat. People who follow this dietary approach often refer to themselves as “semi-vegetarian” or “flexitarian”. Purists might argue that these aren’t “true” vegetarians but more importantly, do you need to fall into the three aforementioned categories only to derive health benefits?

Why should you follow a vegetarian diet? Common reasons for choosing a vegetarian lifestyle include religious, cultural or concerns about animal welfare, the environment or health. An evidence-based review of the literature suggests that there may be health advantages to adopting a well-planned vegetarian diet when compared to non-vegetarians including:
• healthier body weight
• lower overall cancer rates
• lower risk of death from heart disease
• lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels
• lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension
• lower rates of type 2 diabetes and kidney disease
These observations were made mainly from association studies that provided little insight as to the overall quality of both diets. Meaning? “Vegetarian” does not automatically mean that healthy choices were made. The same holds true with non-vegetarian diets.

Weight management: Studies have shown that healthy vegetarian diets are often lower in calories and associated with reduced body weight because what is mainly eaten are low calorie dense foods. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk for multiple chronic diseases. However, even healthy plant based fats such as nuts, seeds, coconut, oils and avocados can contribute to weight gain if not consumed in moderation.

Heart health & Diabetes: A vegetarian diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium has been associated with reduced cholesterol levels & blood pressure – which are risk factors for heart disease. Diets high in soluble fiber and phytosterols can help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed and may also benefit blood glucose management in diabetes. However, a review study found that low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, and high-protein diets have also demonstrated effectiveness in improving risk and management of cardiovascular risk and diabetes.

Kidney Disease: The National Kidney Foundation suggests that a reduction of animal protein intake and increased consumption of plant-based foods not only may reduce cardiovascular risk, mortality rate from heart disease and kidney disease but also by reducing animal protein intake, phosphate content of the diet would also be reduced benefiting those already diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

Potential Pitfalls: While a plant-based diet can offer various health advantages, it should be planned carefully (preferably with a dietitian) to ensure adequate nutrition. Many vegans and even some vegetarians do not meet the proper nutrient needs in vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega 3′s, and iron. Some research suggests that homocysteine levels, platelet volume and stickiness of platelets can be a concern in those vegetarians who do not commune adequate levels of vitamin B12 and Omega 3 fats.

Vitamin B12: Since plant based foods do not contain significant amounts of vitamin B12, vegans must consume foods fortified with B12 and/or via a supplement. However lacto-ovo or lacto vegetarians can meet their B12 needs through the consumption of dairy products.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D levels can be affected by sun exposure, diet, supplement use, , and skin pigmentation. Low vitamin D status has been associated with reduced bone mass and other health challenges. Regular consumption of vitamin D fortified foods like milk, soy beverages, orange juice, and cereals, along with dietary supplementation, can help improve vitamin D status.

Omega-3′s: Vegetarian diets that don’t include fish are usually high in omega-6 fatty acids while lacking in omega-3 fats. There are 2 types of long chain omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to health: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These long chain omega-3′s are easily absorbed in the body and typically found in fatty fish and to a lesser extent in some shellfish. An alternative for vegans is to consume sea algae, which is rich in the DHA form of omega-3s. Aside from algae, all other plant sources contain the short chain omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Even though ALA is beneficial to your health, it doesn’t convert as readily into the essential DHA or EPA form of omega-3 fatty acids. This means that vegetarians must consume more of the ALA-rich food to gain the same health benefits as one would from fatty fish.

Iron: Plant based foods contain non-heme iron which means that there are inhibitors that can impact the absorption of iron. However simple cooking preparation techniques can reduce inhibitors like phyates and enhance iron’s absorption. These techniques include soaking or sprouting beans, grains and seeds; leavening of breads and fermenting vegetables like cabbage to make sauerkraut or kimchee. Also, consuming foods that are rich in Vitamin C along with non-heme iron sources can enhance absorption.

Ultimately, it’s your choice! Due to the expanding popularity of plant-based foods, there are more and more options that are available for consumers, especially meat substitutes. To meet the increase in popularity, many restaurants have included vegetarian options to their menus. There has also been an increase of vegetarian products in supermarkets, which include products like soy products, meat substitutes, fortified vegetarians options, and vegetarian convenience foods. So trying vegetarian options in restaurants or cooking your own vegetarian meals at home has never been easier!

But what about those who want to continue to consume animal products and improve their health, too? Research also supports that well-planned plant-based (not “only”) diets that allow moderate intake of meat, fish poultry and dairy products have demonstrated significant improvements in health status as well. In fact, leading current dietary advice supports a total diet approach – which includes moderate animal protein consumption – such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, MyPlate, Let’s Move, Nutrition Facts labels, Healthy People 2020, and the Dietary Reference Intakes.

If you do decide to embark on a vegetarian diet, consider chatting with a registered dietitian who can help guide you in choosing the right combination of foods and cooking methods for optimal health and nutrition. And if you are a seasoned vegetarian, please share your tips and health experiences in the comment section!

I’m thrilled to be working with the California Strawberry Commission again this year! Looks like this year’s crop is going to be dandy!

WATSONVILLE, Calif., May 2, 2013 — May is National Strawberry Month, a time when farmers and consumers alike celebrate the peak abundance of America’s favorite fruit. Strawberries are a fond and familiar fare at any time of day. According to the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture, Americans now consume twice as many strawberries than two decades ago.

The versatile strawberry stretches beyond shortcake, inspiring unexpected savory and sweet dishes. A key ingredient in endlessly creative recipes, strawberries can be blended with garbanzo beans and lemon juice to make a tart hummus, or strung on rosemary-stem skewers, grilled and served with black pepper ice cream and ruby port syrup. The strawberry’s photogenic color and shape, easy preparation and adaptability make strawberries among one of the most talked about fruits on culinary websites, blogs and social media. They are featured on hundreds of creative Pinterest boards, while conversations on Twitter mention strawberries with its most popular companions, chocolate (1.5 million+ mentions) and cream (585,000+ mentions).

Just a generation ago, fresh strawberries were a fleeting reward of spring. Thanks to the decades-long effort of California strawberry farmers, however, the once-precious crop is now one of the country’s most popular fruits, available year round. California strawberry farmers have done their job so well that in just 20 years, Americans have doubled their consumption of fresh strawberries, with per capita consumption rising to almost eight pounds in 2012. At the same time, refined growing methods on more than 40,000 acres have improved yields by 44 percent since 1990.

Today, nearly 90 percent of U.S.-grown fresh strawberries come from California.
Universally loved, locally grown, California strawberries are picked, shipped and delivered to stores within 24 hours. These fresh strawberries inspire out-of-the-ordinary recipes, including strawberry goat cheese pizza and strawberry tostadas that brighten up daily meals. These and other delicious recipes can be found at http://www.CaliforniaStrawberries.com.