Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not Until I’ve Had My Coffee…

             What is your caffeinated beverage of choice-- Coffee, tea, soda, or the ever more popular energy drink? It’s interesting, and a little sad, how many people forget that the soda they drink actually contains caffeine (of course there is always the caffeine free option) but to me this is the same silliness as people forgetting to include beverages to their total caloric intake! Today let’s take a closer look at caffeine. Who knows, it might wake you up more than your morning coffee.

I’ve always wondered where the caffeine comes from in energy drinks. People typically think of natural sources: the coffee bean, the cocoa bean, or the tea leaf. Did you know that if a drink lists ‘caffeine’ as an ingredient that it means it is the synthetic form? I didn’t! How do they make the synthetic form? Through the chemical synthesis of urea! Yes, urea is the main nitrogen containing compound in the urine of humans and mammals but not to worry—no one is putting tinkle in your drink. Urea can also be made from inorganic material in the lab. Urea is used to manufacture plastics, adhesives, plywood, and industrial feedstock. It can also be chemically altered to create a synthetic  and more potent version of caffeine. This equates to quicker absorption in the body, a quicker spike, and a harder crash. Want to read more information on synthetic caffeine? Of course you do—go here.

I know what everyone who cannot live without their caffeinated beverages is thinking: Please say it isn’t bad for me! I don’t know anyone who drinks more caffeine than my dad. Eight to ten cups of coffee a day, with his supplemental daily can of Mountain Dew. As a health science student I tend to believe that caffeine, even if it is from natural sources, like any other food or drink— should be consumed in moderation. To answer this question, let’s break down the natural caffeine containing drinks:

Green Tea:
-May help prevent heart disease and certain cancers through antioxidants (flavanoids such as ECGC)
-May boost the metabolism and help you maintain a healthy weight
-In the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a study showed that green tea catechins may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Black Tea:
-May reduce the risk of stroke
-May reduce the risk of lung damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke (oh really?)
-Like green tea, black tea also contains antioxidants but to lesser extent

-coffee drinkers have a lower rate of type 2 diabetes (hold the sugar please)
-reduced risk of Alzeimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
-reduced risk of liver cirrhosis, gallstones, and colon cancer

The downside to drinking too much caffeine.
You didn’t think you were getting away Scott-free did you?

-Sleep disturbance
-Withdrawal headaches
-Blood pressure and breathing rate increase
-Upset stomach and heartburn

How much is safe to drink?

It depends on the individual. Typically, 2 to 4 cups of a brewed caffeinated drink is not harmful (200-300 milligrams) according to the Mayo Clinic. Listen to your body. For example, if I have more than one cup of coffee in a day I will experience headaches, anxiousness, and have trouble getting to sleep at night. My dad on the other hand drinks the aforementioned entire pot of coffee and he has no trouble falling asleep. Makes me wonder if he is getting restful sleep though.

There is a lot of research out there, so what is my suggestion? Moderation, my fellow foodies. If you aren’t already a caffeine addict, you don’t have to start frequenting Starbucks in order to get the health benefits listed above. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (yes, I’m going there) are all excellent sources of antioxidants and can also aid you in preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. If there is anything else you would like to know about caffeinated beverages my dear reader, don’t hesitate to ask. Just not until I’ve had my coffee…
Other References:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Fellow Food-Lovers!

You gonna eats me?

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow! I’m sure everyone is just as excited as I am, writhing in anticipation over filling your belly with the traditional turkey-day spread---cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, candied yams, apple and pumpkin pie, perhaps a juicy baked ham… I’m drooling a bit. Just make sure you wear your stretchy pants so there aren’t any embarrassing rips, tears, or flying buttons.

This holiday is about giving thanks for all of the blessings we have in our lives. Let us remember to be thankful that we have a roof over our heads and plenty of food to feed the family. There are, of course, folks out there who struggle to put food on the table and will need help from generous hearts. If you happen to be doing some last minute Thanksgiving grocery shopping, pick up a few items to donate to your local food pantry.

Through a daily newsletter that I receive from the American Dietetic Association (soon to be renamed the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) I found an article about making healthier donations to the food bank, and I felt compelled to share this information with you. In a previous blog titled “I’m Back, BAYBEE!” I discussed the difficulties of eating healthy on a budget. Processed foods are cheap, but can be high in sodium, fat, and calories. The author of the article made a great point: make sure you donate food items that you would serve to your own family.

Usually when we think of food bank donations, we think of large cardboard boxes filled with random grocery store items, but did you know you can also donate cash? Last year, the Student Dietetic Association at Texas Woman’s University through their annual 5k walk/fun run Pioneer Pace donated nearly $2,000 to the TWU Food Pantry. Monetary donations allow the food pantry to purchase the items that they know are in high demand, or that they need to restock. Every dollar counts and a $10-15 donation can go a long way.

So this Thursday, give thanks for food, family, and football! Oh, and don’t forget to THANK those who prepared the meal because it takes an entire day to cook a dinner that you can devour in less than five minutes. :-)
Here is a link to the article about healthier donation options: USA Today

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pizza, Now Available in the Produce Section!

Photo from
I can see the headlines now: Vegetable Consumption at an all time high! Getting your 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables has been made easy now that Congress has declared two tablespoons of tomato sauce equivalent to one serving of vegetables. Where can one find tomato sauce within the school lunch spread? Pizza! Let us set aside the fact that most school lunch pizzas are processed foods high in calories, refined carbohydrates, sodium, fat, and are often accompanied by a side of French fries.

It has been over a decade since I have had to consume lunch in a school cafeteria regularly, but pizza has always been the talk of the tray line. If you weren't purchasing a la carte items such as chips, snack cakes, and sodas, then you wouldn't be caught DEAD getting the meatloaf and green beans. Pizza and fries with chocolate milk seemed to be the only respectable option amongst your peers. Forgive me if my school lunch experience is a far cry from yours, dear reader. Perhaps you attended an avant-garde private school?

So what is so wrong with sending the message that pizza is a vegetable? Unless the slice is piled high with spinach, onions, bell peppers, and artichokes--eating a slice of cheese and pepperoni pizza will not give you the same benefits as eating fresh, whole foods. I'm not totally against tomato sauce, it is high in lycopene--a pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes that has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer (namely prostate cancer) and it's yummy. Without it, spaghetti dinners wouldn't be the same. My fear is that by Congress fixing a problem simply by putting sheep's clothing on a wolf, public school students will continue to displace actual vegetables with foods that are energy, rather than nutrient dense.

Parents, here is where you come in. Set an example for your mini-me's by being a food model. No, don't wear the fruits and veggies--eat them! If your children see that you enjoy broccoli or Brussels sprouts, they are more likely to give them a try. Even better, let them pick out the accompanying vegetable with dinner and allow them to help you prepare it. I got a group of kids to try squash and zucchini in their quesadillas because they rinsed them, chopped them up and sauteed them. The kids were open to trying it because they made it! Whenever possible, pack your child's lunch. You can find great tips on the American Dietetic Association website for packing healthy lunches.

Until next time my fellow foodies, I've got to go--- the vegetable delivery guy from Pappa John's is at the door!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm Back, BayBEE!

I fell off the face of the Earth. I'd heard a lot of people talk about it..."It's like he fell off the face of the Earth" or "I wouldn't care if she fell off the face of the Earth." So I gave it a try. Why not? It seemed to be working for many other people. Let me tell you, time really flies by when you do this. Everything and everyone you left behind may or may not be there when you get back, and what is certain to remain are the problems you tried to leave behind. On the bright side, falling off the face of the earth gives you time to reflect on your life and to shake off the dust and see that the most important things and people are still there for you once you return.

          Are you still out there readers? I may have taken a leave of absence from writing about my Adventures in Eating, but I certainly never stopped having adventures! They were (and still are) adventures I never would have pictured myself having. How spoiled have I become? How spoiled are many of the middle and upper class folks who take eating for granted? Wait...I don't want to lose your attention with preaching, because that is not what I plan to do here. I had the opportunity to take a glimpse into what it is like to not know where your next meal will come from, and to know that it is quite possible that it could happen to me.

          Calamity struck at every turn; it seemed, for me, my family and for close friends. Just as the semester came to a close my relationship ended and my apartment flooded. My dad, who supports his daughter in her endeavor to get through college, had knee surgery and then ended up with multiple pulmonary embolisms. Little did we know that our lives were about to change that Saturday evening when my dad had to be taken to the E.R. for what we feared was another heart attack. Considering his diagnosis, we are lucky he is still alive! My dad cannot return to work as long as he is on blood thinners because of the danger that he might cut himself, fall, or bruise himself. My parents expected to live off of half of his pay, but so far that hasn't been the case. The last pay check he received was for a whopping $140.

           Not only has my ability to buy groceries been diminished; for the first time in decades my parents are unable to spend liberally at the grocery store. When every penny you make goes to simply surviving, food usually takes a back-seat. Finally, a close friend of mine lost his job and eventually his home. While he looks for work that will pay him enough to cover his living expenses, he works making minimum wage in a factory setting set up through a staffing agency. He knows all too well what it's like to go without breakfast, lunch, or dinner. He applied for SNAP benefits, and boy do they make it difficult! There is usually some form of red-tape and it requires a lot of waiting around for appointments, phone calls, and wading through automated systems. He has a "job" so all SNAP is willing to offer him is $16 a month in assistance. Really? I suppose a single man, with no children, in between stable work only consumes $16 worth of food every month.

          I join him at the grocery store pretty often, and I see the quality of food he is able to afford. It has to be cheap, it has to last, and it has to fill him up. Ramen noodles of course, canned soups, milk, eggs, bread. Basic staples. Can he afford the high quality whole grain bread? Can he afford free-range eggs? Can he afford "organic" milk? Of course not! Meat is a luxury, and even fresh fruits and vegetables are a luxury. You would have to be pretty creative, a good planner, and have the time and energy to get all of the recommended servings of all of the food groups and to make sure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. This was a huge wake-up call for me as an aspiring Dietitian. How can we presume to tell people how and what to eat, and hope to improve the health of the community if it's cheaper and easier for folks to eat junk? For a dollar, he can eat a McDouble on his lunch break.

          Lately my mom has been experimenting with making cheap dinners, and they usually don't stretch very far between me, her and my dad. Using beans as the protein in a meal, vegetarian style, is a cheap way to fill every one up. For dinner last night we had a pot of pinto beans and onions, served with a side of fried potatoes and corn bread. Rice and pasta dishes are also prominent for those who are trying to make a hefty meal on the cheap. It reminded me of something I heard on one of those reality shows about rich people, "Poor people eat carbs." Yes, indeed they do, because they can't really afford to eat any other way.

          Not everyone I know is struggling to eat well, and to me that is a huge relief. I know people who are still able to eat at restaurants several times a week and keep their kitchens well stocked. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and that every situation I end up in is an opportunity for me to learn something. After my experience with applying for SNAP benefits and learning that if I have NO job and am a full time student I am NOT eligible for benefits, but if I HAVE a job and am a full time student, then I AM eligible. Even the woman on the phone, working for Health and Human Services, could see how silly this is,'s "policy." I am beginning to understand why it is so important for Dietitians to be able to lobby the government for change. Time will tell if this slow moving, archaic dinosaur known as welfare is helping or hindering those who need it most.

While I'm typing this blog the news is reporting that Texas is #12 in the nation for obesity. Womp, womp.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

'Tis the Season: For Winter Produce!

image from
       It's 2011 as you surely know! For me, this is not a year of resolutions but a year of solutions! I have decided that I want to be a part of the solution to the dietary health problems that are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States and in other countries who have adopted the "western" way of eating. While I'm in college I will learn what the administrators tell me to learn, but rest assured this will not stop me from learning about things that are important to my health and the health of the people on this Earth. Over the break I have been catching up on my reading. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan is one of the books I'm reading now. I would honestly add it to the list of books that everyone should read. Why? Because everyone eats food! It's unavoidable, although some try to avoid eating all together...a sad state of affairs that I won't get into here.

           You may have heard the current suggestion for healthy eating--it's all over the news, magazines, books, and popular TV shows: Eat fresh, local produce and buy in season! How easy or how difficult is this for the general public? I will use myself as an example: a college student with no income other than what the government generously provides or the loans that I take out... As I have mentioned before, my grocery budget is $50 a week...and someone who does not live close to a farmer's market. The nearest farmer's market is in Lewisville--roughly a 20-30 minute drive depending on the time of day. It is not a convenient distance for me, although it is probably the best source of local fresh produce. I do the bulk of my shopping at Kroger which is a 5 minute drive from my apartment and has nicer produce than Wal-Mart in my opinion. Think about where you shop for produce. Do they have a good selection? Do the fruits and veggies seem fresh? How often do you pay attention to where that piece of produce came from? If the produce did not come from the state you live in, or even the country you live in--it is not local!

           Does this mean that you can't have fruits and vegetables unless they come from a local source? Of course you can have them! I'm not a Produce Nazi! The whole idea of buying local is to reduce the transit time that produce undergoes from the farm to your plate and to support small farmers in your area. If you would like to learn more about the impacts of buying local visit and search: why buy local? Knowing where your food comes from, how it is produced and most important--what is in it--is crucial in improving yours and your family's health. Trust that nature got it right with fruits and vegetables, and do not trust that food companies and food scientists know what is best for your health. This is the change I would like to see and be a part of! The end of food ignorance and blind trust! Oops...starting to get preachy...

          Let's talk about seasonality! The winter season is between December and February, and you may notice a price difference in certain produce now compared to the summer or spring months. Check the price of berries right now...outrageous! That's because they are not in season and are not as readily available. Chances are they won't be at their best when it comes to nutritional value. Now, look at the abundance of winter produce such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, winter citrus fruits, pears, and green leafy vegetables. The produce in season should be lower in price, fresher, and more abundant. As my new year's gift to you, my wonderful reader, I have made a list of common (and not so common) fruits and vegetables and when they are in season. You can find this list on the right side of my blog page--just click the link. Print it out and keep it with you when you go shopping.

image from
          My winter produce pick of the week: Brussels sprouts! I'm going to be brutally honest here...I don't like Brussels sprouts. However, I saw Emeril make a delicious looking side dish on the Planet Green channel using   fresh Brussels sprouts, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, chicken stock and lemon juice. I'll try it, and if it makes the cut it will go on my Stephfoodie's Favorite Recipes! Look out for my next winter produce pick next week!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Finals Meal

Over the past month or so there has been an extreme lack of blogging on my part and for this, I apologize. My adventures in eating had not ceased; however, I had been short on leisure time. Now that finals are approaching and the year is winding down I can breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that I made it through another semester! I laughed, I cried, I read a LOT of slides...

          In honor of my farewell to the Fall Semester I made my "Finals Meal." Not to be confused with the Final Meal...I won't even go into that so if you're not familiar go and Google it. The Finals Meal has to be easy to make, it has to be healthy, and it has to come from stuff that I already have in my fridge...I used a chunk of my grocery money paying for popcorn and a drink at the Angelika theatre in Dallas. Normally I would smuggle in my own kettle corn in little plastic baggies, because I'm ghetto like that...Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

          I chose to make a stir-fry. Stir-frying is an art that everyone should master, because it's a great way to toss a variety of veggies together and make a meal fast! If you're not a vegetarian (I forgive you) you can stir fry your beef, chicken, or pork first and set it aside before you stir fry your veggies. Yes, there are pre-packaged stir-fry meals on the market...but trust can make one that tastes infinitely better and will have less salt and NO preservatives! The most time consuming part of making a stir-fry is chopping fresh vegetables. Keep in mind, though, that there are bags of frozen vegetables that are said to retain more vitamins and minerals than their fresh-produce counterparts. Quite frankly, I just prefer the taste and texture of fresh vegetables over frozen and I can control what size and shape they are cut. The cut of the vegetable is important for a successful stir-fry because keeping everything one size helps your meal to cook evenly.

          So what did I put in my stir-fry tonight? Thank you for asking! I began by putting 1/2 cup of Jasmine brown rice into my rice cooker with 2 tsp of peanut oil and 1 cup of water. Rice cookers can be your best friend since they do all the work for you, allowing you to move on to other tasks. You can get Jasmine brown rice at Whole Foods Market in the bulk isle. I love it; I always make sure I have some in my pantry.

My rice cooker--working up a sweat.

          Next I pulled out all of the vegetables: onion, red bell pepper, carrot, green beans, garlic, and green onion. The more colorful you can make it, the better! I chopped the onion, bell pepper and carrot into 1 inch strips; cut the ends off of the green beans and cut them in half (also 1 inch in length), and then coarsely chopped the garlic and green onion. For the protein portion of the stir-fry, I took out 1/3 of a block of extra firm tofu--cut it into 1/2 inch cubes and wrapped it in paper towels to drain. Once all of your veggies are chopped and ready the fun part can begin! In a wok I heat about a tablespoon of peanut oil on medium and then add the onions and bell pepper first. A lot of recipes will tell you to add the garlic in with the onion but this never works out for me...The garlic usually over-cooks or burns by the time everything else goes into the mix.

Okay, so maybe they are a little longer than an inch...
           Stir-fry the onion and bell pepper for a minute or so before adding the green beans and carrots. You want to add the things you know will take the longest to cook first. Cook while continuing to stir until the onions begin to look translucent. I threw in the tofu cubes at this point to brown them while there were no liquids in the pan. This is the lazy way to use tofu in your can bake the cubes for about 20 minutes coated in some oil beforehand or even freeze and thaw it first so it absorbs more flavor or has a meatier texture. I ground some black pepper over everything before letting it cook for another 5 minutes or so.

You have been tofued.
          I'm guesstimating on the amount of minutes it takes for each of these steps. There really is no strict guideline; it depends on how crispy you want your vegetables to come out or how browned you like them. I let everything cook until the tofu took on a browned color. I made space in the center of the wok and added 1 tsp of sesame oil. If you like the taste of sesame seeds, you will probably like the taste of this oil. I added the chopped garlic and stirred everything around and let it cook for another minute or so. To get the vegetables a little softer and to tone down the soy sauce I added 1/4 cup of plain water. You can use broth if you like. I used only 1 TBSP of low sodium soy sauce, but if you would like to add more I won't mind. ;-) Be careful though, because I over soy-sauced my stir-fry once and my boyfriend was sweet enough to pretend to enjoy eating it.

Just add water.

Put a lid on it.
          At this point I sprinkled some cayenne pepper in to give it a little kick, turned the heat up to medium high so the liquid began to boil a little and then turned the heat back down to medium and covered it all with a pot lid. Let everything cook for a few minutes under the lid and then remove the lid to let the liquid cook down and the flavors concentrate. The last ingredient to add is the green onion because it doesn't take much time to cook and you don't want it to be all soggy. Do you?

Add the finishing touches...
          So now my stir-fry is complete. My rice cooker finishes my brown rice just in time, and I can't wait to chow down! I like to eat Asian inspired food with gets really interesting when all that's left at the bottom of the bowl are a few grains of rice. That's when you pick them up and eat them one by one and reflect on what a superb stir-fry chef you are.

Time to get my nom-nom on.
           Last week I made one of my favorite Thai desserts: Coconut Sticky Rice with Diced Mango. I would look forward to eating at a Thai restaurant just to be able to order this unique dish. Now that I'm broke and unable to frequent restaurants as often as I used to; I decided to learn how to make it myself. It was EASY! Granted, I still can't get it quite as good as the professionals...but mine comes so close that I don't feel like I'm missing out. Look for it under my Stephfoodie's Favorite Recipes blog. Time to clean up my kitchen and get back to studying for finals. Fingers crossed for a 4.0!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taking Credit for the Big Salad

My Big Salad; I ate the whole thing.
           Does it ever seem like you go through food phases? In my teen years I could eat a whole jar of kosher dill spears...yes, the whole jar...and yes--I was a bit on the chubby side (extreme water-weight retention from disgusting amounts of sodium probably). "Peanut butter" was my response when asked about my favorite food...especially if it was in divine combination with chocolate. I just drooled a little. On a daily basis I crave something sweet but I go through phases of wanting sugary candies like Skittles or opting for cookies and cakes. Here is a strange food phase that must be genetic because it happens to my mother as well: Salad cravings!

The lazy salad--Ironically named, American Blend.

         Perhaps I crave things that I can crunch on vigorously and stab with my fork during times of stress. This particular semester is pretty stressful, so if you see me ripping apart a head of lettuce you should probably steer clear. There are endless combinations for salad making, and it's pretty hard to get a salad wrong (I said pretty hard, not impossible). When I felt the salad itch, I decided to meander over to the pre-packaged salad bags and see what my fine neighborhood Kroger had to offer. Ah, uniform pieces of lettuce packed into 5 to 9 oz bags. Some of them are nice enough to take the guesswork out of the salad making process by putting in other ingredients like shredded carrots, red cabbage and radishes. Just dump out, add dressing, and eat. Don't have dressing? They add dressing packets too! I'm starting to see a trend in marketing...geared towards the lazy. Don't have time to make your own salad? Aw, come on! Is this your excuse for everything?

         Personalized salad making is definitely worth the time and effort! It's also cheaper! So back to the neatly packaged salad bags...7 oz salad mixes for about $4 a bag! My meager college grocery budget cannot sustain such reckless purchases! For less than $1 a head, I bought green leaf lettuce, and red tipped lettuce. Romaine is around $1.50. Next, I chose two carrots from the loose pile, 88 cents, and splurged on organic radishes (they had a nicer color) for $1.29. I hate cabbage, so this salad would be delightfully cabbage free! I like to add some chickpeas to my salad, and I can buy a can for 89 cents. So there you have it, for less than five dollars I had the potential to make many salads...and I like my salads big! 7 ounces just isn't going to cut it!

          Time to deglaze those eyes; I'm done talking about finances now. On to the good stuff: salad making! There are three things that I get from Whole Foods Market that I can't find at Kroger: R.W. Knudsen ginger ale spritzer, quinoa, and nutritional yeast. The third one, nutritional yeast, is a new ingredient I add to my salads per the advice of my friend and fellow dietetics major Jason. I realize that nutritional yeast sounds about as appetizing as licking fungus off of someone's toes, but hear me out! Nutritional yeast looks a lot like a yellow version of instant mashed potato flakes, has a cheesy flavor so it makes a great popcorn topping, and best of all for vegetarians: it's a great source of vitamin B12, a hard vitamin to get when you don't eat meat.

Nutritional yeast, certified cheese imitator.

Best ginger ale I've ever ingested.

          Once I've got my lettuce, carrot, radish and chickpeas into the bowl I sprinkle 1 teaspoon of nutritional yeast over everything. For my dressing I simply use 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and 2 Tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar with a few grinds of pepper. Put a plate over the top of the bowl and shake it around a few times to coat the salad evenly. The nutritional yeast adds so much flavor to the dressing; I wish I had known about it sooner! I like to change things up by adding baby spinach when I have it, kalamata olives, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers...the options are endless! I'm adding one of my favorite salad recipes to my recipe blog, so check it out, and don't be afraid to experiment with your own unique salad combinations. If you make it yourself, then you can truly take credit for the Big Salad.

For those who did not catch my Seinfeld reference.