5 Spring Vegetables You May Not Know

Seeing the first glimpse of spring vegetables make their appearance at the farmer’s market this month is a welcome change from winter’s hearty abundance. While the usual suspects — bright pink radishes, tender asparagus spears, and bright green snap peas — are there, you’ll also find more unexpected options like fiddleheads, ramps, morels and more. While these vegetables aren’t as common, don’t be intimidated! Familiarize yourself with each of these unique spring market finds and ways you can use each in a fresh and flavorful spring recipe.

 

Fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead ferns are the coiled tips of a young fern; deriving their name from the resemblance to the decorative end of a fiddle. This unique vegetable has a grassy, slight nutty flavor that’s similar to asparagus. Try them lightly steamed or boiled, then finished with olive oil and lemon for a quick side dish. They can also be swapped into almost any cooked recipe that features asparagus or haricot verts.

Let fiddleheads take center stage by replacing them for the asparagus in this Healthy Roast Asparagus with Creamy Almond Vinaigrette.

 

Ramps

Also referred to as wild leeks, ramps are a member of the allium family along onion and garlic. This wild onion looks similar to a scallion but with larger, flat leaves. Ramps are more pungent than onion and garlic, but cooking them will mellow the flavor.

Try grilling them and adding to a spring pizza.

 

Morels

Morels are a cone shaped mushrooms with a honeycomb texture and a nutty, deep earthy flavor. While morels may be harder to find in markets (if you aren’t foraging for them yourself), they are worth seeking out for their unique taste and texture. As with other mushrooms, make sure they are free of debris and dirt by lightly brushing them with a dry pastry brush or kitchen towel before preparing.

Try fresh morels in this Mushroom and Barley Roasted Asparagus Salad.

 

White Asparagus

This ghostly pale vegetable is actually the same plant as green asparagus, but is grown in conditions that block out the sunlight. Without natural light, the asparagus is unable to produced chlorophyll, hence the white instead of green color. Taste wise, white asparagus is slightly sweeter and has a less fibrous stalk than the traditional variety. White asparagus can be used in any dish that calls for asparagus, but use a vegetable peeler to remove the bitter outer coat before preparing.

Try using them in this fresh Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad or simply roasted as a side.

 

Sorrel

Though sorrel is commonly regarded as an herb, it’s actually part of the buckwheat family. This leafy spring vegetable has a tart citrus-like flavor, a cross between tarragon and a crisp apple. Young sorrel is less tart and can be served raw in salads, made into sauces or steamed as a side dish. More mature sorrel is a stronger flavor and works well in creamy soups, sauces or stews.

Try using sorrel in place of basil in a pesto, like this blanched pesto or in this sorrel, pea and leek soup.

 

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.” 

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Untangling the Facts About Instant Ramen Noodles

We know that instant ramen noodles — that cheap college-student staple — probably don’t qualify as a health food, but exactly how bad for us are they?

A 2014 study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate instant ramen noodles at least twice a week were at a 68 percent higher risk for metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions including elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; obesity and other factors that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. So, you know, not good.

“Instant ramen is notoriously high in sodium,” explains Michelle Dudash, RDN, Cordon Bleu-certified chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families, noting that some brands contain 72 percent of the daily-recommended sodium limit per package.

The packaged noodles are also made with refined grain flour, fried in palm oil, and are hardly redeemed by the teensy bit of dehydrated vegetables they contain. Consequently, Dudash puts them squarely in the “unhealthy food” category. But, she adds, “one of the leading brands of instant ramen noodles offers a 35-percent-less sodium option, so that is a move in the right direction.”

While Dudash says it’s OK to eat instant ramen on the occasional camping trip or sick day, in general, it’s not something she suggests routinely chucking in your shopping cart at the grocery store. And in the rare instance that you do indulge, she suggests restricting consumption to only half the package, sticking to varieties that are lower in sodium, and boosting the “health” factor by adding your own ingredients, such as sautéed vegetables or a lean protein, such as chicken or edamame.

By and large, though, “You’re much better off buying a can of soup filled with vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like beans or chicken,” Dudash says. “Or if you’re craving a bowl of Asian noodles, boil some brown rice noodles or buckwheat noodles, pour some reduced-sodium or homemade broth on top and add sautéed vegetables and edamame.”

Good to have our tangle of noodle knowledge set straight.

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Glamour and Marie Claire, as well as Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Can The Mediterranean Diet Help Treat Depression?

Feeling a bit down? New research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help treat depression. Now that’s cause for celebration! The study suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins may be able to treat major depressive episodes.

 

The study

The researchers followed 67 Australian individuals with a history of depression and poor dietary habits. Study participants were randomly sorted into two groups. One group received dietary intervention, consisting of 60-minutes of Dietitian-lead nutrition one time per week. The second group received social support, otherwise known as ‘befriending’ or spending time with another individual discussing neutral topics, like sports, news or music. In addition to the interventions, both groups were being treated with a mixture of anti-depressive medication or therapy.

The dietary intervention group learned about the importance of eating a Mediterranean diet, including 5-8 servings of whole grains per day, 6 servings of vegetables per day, 3 servings of fruit per day, 3-4 servings of legumes per day, 2-3 servings of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods per week, 1 serving of raw and unsalted nuts per day, 2 servings of fish per week, 3-4 servings of lean red meats per week, 2-3 servings of  chicken per week, 6 eggs per week and 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day. They were also encouraged to reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks to no more than 3 per week.

After 12 weeks of the intervention, the dietary support group showed a significantly greater improvement on the depression rating scale than the social support group. In other words, the participants who received dietary support felt less depressed. This study is still preliminary, but it suggests that changing one’s diet may actually be a useful tool in treating depression.

 

Eat The Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean Diet has long been promoted for its many health benefits. Not only may it help fight depression, but research suggests that eating like a Greek can improve weight loss, control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and dementia. Follow these tips to add more of the Mediterranean style of eating to your diet to reap the benefits.

  • Use oil whenever possible, like in homemade salad dressings and marinades. Opt for oil instead of margarine or butter when roasting veggies or topping popcorn.
  • Swap out chicken for fish two nights per week. Don’t get stuck in the boring old protein rut. Treat your family to an omega-rich serving of fresh fish.
  • Add veggies to every plate—even breakfast. According to the USDA’s My Plate, every plate should consist of at least half fruits and vegetables. Since many of us don’t get that at breakfast, make an effort to add veggies to your morning smoothie, omelet or toast.
  • Opt for whole grains. Luckily, the abundance of commercially available whole grains is at an all-time high. If you’re not in the mood for whole wheat bread or brown rice, try quinoa, oats, kamut, bulgur, farro, freekeh, sorghum or buckwheat.
  • Go nuts! Replace the chips in your snack drawer with unsalted nuts. Walnuts are high in heart-healthy omegas, but any type of nut will do. Nuts are bit high in calories, so be cautious of the portion size—it’s usually about a handful or 20 nuts.
  • Pick pulses. A group of superfoods made up of chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans, pulses are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Try Meatless Monday by swapping out your dinner meat for a protein-packed pulse.
  • Herb it up. Mediterranean food is rich in flavorful herbs, like oregano, dill and basil. Add herbs to roasted veggies, soups and salads to reduce the salt and add big flavors.

 

Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Healthy Cooking Mistakes You’re Likely Making

Cooking more healthfully doesn’t need to be a painful task, but if you’re falling into these common traps you may be fighting an uphill battle. How many of these habits do you need to break?

 

You don’t measure high calorie ingredients

There is such thing as “too much of a good thing.” While there’s no disputing that ingredients like olive oil, nuts, avocado and nut butters offer healthy fats, inflated portions can lead to inflated waistlines. When each tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat, and each cup of cooked whole grain pasta adds up to 200 calories, it’s important to measure out these ingredients to avoid a calorie overload.

 

You defrost meat on the countertop

Is it common practice for you to toss that package of frozen chicken on the countertop before you leave for work? This is a food safety nightmare waiting to happen. The drastic temperature shift from freezer to counter rolls out the red carpet for potentially harmful bacteria and foodborne illness. Instead defrost meat safely overnight in the fridge. Or if you’re in a time crunch, defrost in the microwave then cook immediately.

 

You salt before tasting

It’s reflex for most folks to sprinkle, the salt shaker before you dig in. But what if that meal didn’t need any extra seasoning? Salt is an important electrolyte and enhances the flavor of food. But since most Americans take in far beyond the daily allotment of 2300 milligrams per day (about 1 teaspoon), it makes sense to taste for seasoning beforehand. Don’t skip the salt, just season smart and experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor without extra sodium.

 

You don’t practice portion control

Many healthy recipes are low in calories per serving, but portioning out your meal still matters. It’s also imperative to recognize the different between a serving and a portion. A serving of food is a specified fixed amount that’s reasonable for the type of food. You’ll find designated servings on a food labels or within the dietary guidelines. A portion is the amount of food that’s right for you; this may be greater than or less than a serving.

 

You don’t read the entire recipe

Attack that pile of magazine clippings and bookmarked recipe web pages with confidence. Read the recipe in its entirety first to ensure you have all the ingredients, and all the steps are clearly mapped out. Nothing will sabotage a recipe like a surprise ingredient, utensil or cooking method you weren’t prepared for.

 

You forget about roasting

Create healthy recipes with nothing but an oven and a sheet pan. Roasting at high heat (around 400 to 425 degrees F) is a sweet spot for nutritious staples like vegetables and lean meats. Roasting develops depth and caramelized flavor, which can be totally different than other common prep methods.

 

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Making Health IT Safer and Easier to Use in Real Life – Practical Tools for Health Care Providers

Every day, clinicians work tirelessly to provide the best possible care for their patients. Clinicians and other health care providers like hospitals are increasingly using health information technology (health IT) such as electronic health records (EHRs), and a growing body of evidence shows health IT can help them make care safer. However, new technology can […]

The post Making Health IT Safer and Easier to Use in Real Life – Practical Tools for Health Care Providers appeared first on Health IT Buzz.

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Creative Ways To Use Dates

Growing up, I spent my summers in Israel, where dates were part of the daily diet. These days, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that this dried fruit has become mainstream in the States. I spoke with Colleen Sundlie, founder of The Date Lady, to ask for her tips for getting creative with this versatile, nutrient-packed fruit.

The History

This naturally dehydrated fruit goes back over 5,000 years, and is native to the Middle East. These babies require a hot, dry climate, and are grown in the Middle East, Africa, along with California and Arizona. You may be familiar with the Medjool variety, but there are numerous other varieties including Dayri, Halawy, Thoory, and Zahidi which may be found in specialty food markets.  Most varieties are about 1-2 inches long and have an oval shape with a single oblong seed inside. The skin is paper thin, while the flesh has a sweet taste.

Dates are green when unripe, and turn yellow, golden brown, black, or deep red when ripe. The sweet fruits are typically picked and ripened off the tree before drying. You can find pitted and un-pitted dates at the market.

The Nutrition Lowdown

One date contains 66 calories, 18 grams of carbs, 16 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of fiber. One date also contains small amounts of a multitude of good-for-you nutrients like B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Dates are free of fat and cholesterol.

Dates also contain powerful antioxidants, including anthocyanins, carotenoids, and polyphenols. Eating a diet high in antioxidants has been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.  The soluble fiber found in dates can help lower the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that dates may also help maintain bowel health and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Getting Creative with Dates

So what have dates become so popular lately? “Dates are the perfect natural sweetener,” explains Sundlie. “They add deep complexity to the flavor profile, not to mention nutrition.” With the 2015 dietary guidelines capping added sugar at 10% of total calories, many folks are turning to natural sweeteners like dates to add flavor and depth to dishes. “People are just now really starting to catch on to the fact that dates have that deep, caramel complexity and amazing cooking and baking application opportunities. They are no longer getting confused with figs and prunes.”

The market has also gone beyond just dates. You can now find date syrup, date sugar, balsamic date vinegar, and chocolate date spread. All these products can help add sweetness to recipes using dates.

Here are a few ways you can get creative with dates in the kitchen:

  1. Bake them: Add chopped dates to loaves, cookies, and muffins.

Recipe to try: Healthy Oatmeal, Date, and Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  1. Stuff them: Stuff pitted dates with almonds or cream cheese for an easy appetizer

Recipe to try: Stuffed Sweet Dates

  1. Roll them: Pulse in the food processor and mix with nuts and coconut flakes, or chia seeds to make protein-packed balls or bites.

Recipe to try: Honey-Almond Date Balls

  1. Blend then: Instead of sweetener, add dates for natural sweetness in smoothies

Recipe to try: Banana-Coconut Pudding Smoothie

  1. Mix into dressing: Try Sundlie’s own recipe (below) for salad dressing using date syrup.

Salad Dressing in a Snap (pictured above)
Serves: 6

1/4 cup date syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tarragon
1 teaspoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper

In a small bowl, whisk ingredients together and serve. Yield: ¾ cup.

Nutrition Information (per 2 tablespoon serving): Calories 121; Total Fat 9 grams; Saturated Fat 1 grams; Protein 0 grams; Total Carbohydrate 10 grams; Fiber 0 grams; Sugar: 0 grams; Cholesterol 0 milligrams; Sodium 7 milligrams

Recipe courtesy of Colleen Sundlie.

 

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Start a Garden and Harvest the Health Benefits

As the weather begins to warm (March, you’re still planning to go out like a lamb, right?) and the first signs of spring tentatively peep out of the ground, many of us take our cue to start rooting around for our garden tools.

If you are not yet a gardener, why not make this spring the season you try out your green thumb? Even if you live in a city and have no yard at your disposal, you may be able to give it a whirl by finding a small plot in a community garden or even stashing a box on your windowsill. The rewards may include far more than whatever you manage to grow.

Studies have shown that gardening has all sorts of health benefits, from boosting your mood and improving your diet, to helping you stay fit and trim. So Healthy Eats reached out to Sharon Palmer, RD, a plant-based food and nutrition expert and the author of The Plant-Powered Diet, Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Blog, to find out more.

 

How is tending a garden beneficial for your overall health? 

Gardening is good for your overall health in many ways. First of all, it is a form of physical activity that contributes to your overall physical fitness levels. Secondly, it can boost mood-enhancing hormones. Studies show that gardening can increase the release of serotonin, which has an anti-depressant effect, while decreasing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thirdly, it can increase your exposure to health-promoting vitamin D levels we obtain from the sun. And fourthly, studies show that when you garden, you increase your consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.

 

What are some of the benefits in terms of weight maintenance?

When you increase your physical activity, you can better balance your energy input and output to promote a healthier weight. Plus, when you increase your consumption of healthy plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, you can promote a healthier weight. Plant foods are rich in fiber and nutrients for a relatively small calorie level, meaning you can feel satisfied with fewer calories.

 

How do you suggest people new to gardening get started?

The most important thing to do is to just get started! The USDA has some helpful gardening guides. Look at specific gardening recommendations for your region. For example, I live in Southern California and I need to get my plants into my garden before it gets really hot, so in March I am planting my vegetables. I also have different growing seasons and plants that do really well in my area: Cool weather is lettuces and greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli; hot weather is peppers, eggplant, squash, corn, and tomatoes. You will learn a little bit more each year on what works the best. If you are new to gardening, first try a container garden — even a large pot. You can try vegetables starts rather than growing from seed if you are new to gardening. Try composting your leftover kitchen scraps as organic fertilizer. Harvest your vegetables when they are ripe for maximum nutritional benefits, and remember to use those nutrient-rich greens: broccoli and cauliflower leaves, turnip greens, beet greens.

 

What do you think is the most important thing for rookie gardeners to keep in mind?

People who grow vegetables eat more vegetables. And they enjoy them at their nutrient and flavor peak. In addition, gardening is the ultimate local food choice, reducing your carbon footprint. By gardening, you can fill your diet with a variety of whole plant foods — greens, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, parsley, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash and more. We know that a diet filled with these foods is linked with a lower risk of disease and obesity.

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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