The Pressure (Cooker) is On!

I was a child in the 50s. Mothers back then frequently cooked with a “scary” piece of equipment called the pressure cooker. I remember being afraid of the loud sounds it made, and always feared that the rattling piece of metal sitting atop the lid would fly off. When my mother gave me her pressure cooker after I myself became a mom, it sat in my cabinet and was never used. It was just way too intimidating to me with three small children to feed. After all, I was also concerned for their “safety”!

Fast forward to being a grandma.  Like many grandmas, I am very busy. But, as a practicing and working dietitian, I am still concerned about getting healthy foods on the table.  Modernized pressure cookers seem to be the perfect solution to preparing healthy food in limited time. They are equipped with a variety of settings, such as browning, sauteing, and warming, along with both low and high pressure settings, making it easy to prepare a complete gourmet meal in no time.  For instance, rather than going through the hassle of soaking lentils overnight, with a pressure cooker you can cook with them immediately.  What’s more, modern pressure cookers have safety features to help prevent kitchen accidents.  There are many other benefits to using a pressure cooker.  Aside from saving time, using a pressure cooker limits nutrient losses. Because all the recipe components are in one pot and the liquid is part of the main dish, all nutrients are retained. Additionally, preparing a meal with a pressure cooker saves money.  Tough and more economical cuts of meat can be used very successfully in the pressure cooker because the high pressure will tenderize the meat. Two of my favorite pressure cooker recipes can be found on this website.

So, if time is tight and healthy eating is a priority, consider lessening your personal pressure by increasing the pressure for cooking. Do you have any favorite foods you enjoy making in your pressure cooker?

Maybe Getting Too Much Iron? Then, Pick These Cereals and Not Those Cereals!

Iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children.  Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children.  Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many of our foods are fortified with iron to lessen the public health risk of too little iron.

Cereals are probably the most widely iron fortified food in this country.  For infants, iron fortified baby cereal is an excellent way for babies to get the iron they need to grow.  For older children and adults, a single serving of cereal can provide 100% of the recommendation for iron.

But what happens if a lot of this highly fortified cereal is eaten by men and older women who have significantly lower iron requirements than younger women and children?  Women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron, but men and  women in menopause need only 8 mg of iron.  While a healthy body can actually exert some control over absorbing too much iron, once in the body, it can be problematic to excrete. If too much iron is absorbed on an ongoing basis, it can cause a range of symptoms from increased infection to organ failure in susceptible individuals.

If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals-including some of the healthier high fiber whole grain varieties- are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of the recommended 18 mg suitable for younger women.  So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day?  They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run.

Let’s look at how some popular cereals stack up per serving with regard to the 18 mg iron requirement:

  • Cheerios have 6.3 mg
  • Special K has 6.3 mg
  • Corn Chex has 9 mg
  • Corn Flakes have 9 mg
  • Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
  • Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
  • Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
  • Total has 18 mg

For those who love their cereal, but need less iron, there are some lower iron choices such as:

  • Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
  • Puffins have less than 1 mg
  • Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
  • Fiber One has 4.5 mg
  • Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
  • Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
  • Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg

Given that many people eat more than the standard  ½-1 cup serving size, there is little doubt that some of you are consuming very large amounts of iron from cereal.  Couple large serving sizes of iron fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice, and the iron absorption triples from the vitamin C in that orange juice!

Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements?

 

Grapes For People, Not Pups!

Mollie, my sweet 10-year old Golden Retriever

Grapes are a healthy, easy snack for adults and a favorite finger food of toddlers. They are a rich source of cancer fighting phytochemicals, such as resveratrol, ellagic acid, and quercetin.  In addition to these anti-oxidents, one-half cup of grapes have about one gram of fiber, and only 60 calories.  As a dietitian, I am eager to recommend such a fruit to my patients.  However, as a dog owner, I wish to share a story and a word of caution about how dangerous this fruit can be for our four-legged dog friends.

Recently, my family gathered together for a Sunday dinner.  My beautiful one-year old granddaughter was “eating” grapes, but really just sucking the juice out of them and throwing the rest to the floor.  Our family dog, Mollie, came over to help “clean up”  the scattered food on the floor.  Unbeknown to all of my loved ones, grapes are poisonous to dogs, and no one moved to stop her from attempting to eat them.  As I saw what was happening, I yelled out a warning that “Dogs can’t eat grapes!”  My family, aghast, but thinking perhaps I was mistaken or over reacting, stopped our dog and then proceeded to verify the dangers of grapes for dogs online. As they do so, I immediately called the animal hospital, and after very little discussion, decided it was best to bring our dog in to induce vomiting and ensure that she was not poisoned.  Ultimately, we found that Mollie hadn’t actually consumed any grapes, but had she, she might have suffered kidney damage or death. The harm from eating grapes to a dog comes within a short time-span, and those grapes can hurt the kidneys in as little as six hours unless the necessary precautions are taken.

I learned a lesson: pay attention to what is on the floor when your pets are with you, especially if there are young children around!  And, be aware that the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also sounds an alarm for the following foods which are toxic to dogs: raisins, chocolate, avocados, onions, garlic, coffee, tea leaves, Macadamia nuts, raw yeast dough, salt, alcohol, and artificially sweetened foods. Our pets are counting on us to keep them safe, so I hope my sharing this experience will help keep other pets safe as well.

Does anyone else have a story to share about keeping their 4-legged friend safe from poisonous substances?

Fabulous Flaxseed

The health benefits of flaxseed have been known for centuries and the health benefits continue to be recognized today.  Flax seed is a rich plant based source of omega-3 fatty acids, making for a dietary alternative to fish.  Omega-3 fatty acids are protective against heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers, and some autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Flaxseed is a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber aids in reducing blood cholesterol and insoluble fiber prevents constipation. The anti-cancer benefits of flaxseed are due to plant estrogens called lignans.  Flaxseed contains more lignans than any other known plant material.

Americans typically do not eat enough of these healthful essential omega-3 fatty acids. The health benefits of flaxseed makes the effort to incorporate it into the diet worthwhile, and it is easy to do!  Ground or milled flaxseed can be added to the diet in a variety of ways such as:

  • a topping for salad
  • a thickening ingredient for soups
  • a topping for cottage cheese
  • adding to yogurt
  • adding to condiments such as mustard or mayo when making sandwiches
  • using as part of a baked product recipe or pancake mixture*
  • adding to hot and cold cereal

Flaxseed can be purchased as a whole seed, or a milled or ground meal.  Whole flaxseed, such as pictured above, is shelf stable for up to a year, but needs to be ground up to derive the health benefits.  If the product is purchased already ground or milled, once the package is opened it should be kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container for up to 3 months.

One tablespoon of ground flaxseed has about 45 calories, 2 grams of fiber, a little protein, and a large amount of the omega-3 fatty acids you need for the day.  This is definitely food worth chewing on.  Have you tried flaxseed, and how do you add it to your diet?

*Chocolate Zucchini Muffins~ Recipe makes 24 muffins

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup ground or milled flaxseed
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup sugar
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups finely grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and ground flaxseed in a bowl.   Cream the margarine, oil and sugar in another bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, and applesauce.  Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients and lightly mix together.  Add the grated zucchini.

Use paper baking cups to line muffin pan or generously oil or use baking spray on muffin pans. Fill tin or paper cups half way.  Bake about 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.  Remove, cool and enjoy.

Nutriton Information per muffin:
Calories-175             Fiber- 1 gram               Potassium-85 mg
Sodium-250 mg        Fat-6 grams                 Carbohydrate-26 grams

Visit: http://www.flaxcouncil.ca/english/index.jsp?p=recipes1&mp=recipes for additional flaxseed facts and recipes!