Why You Should Avoid GMO’s

I’ve always believed that buying certified organic foods was the best way to make sure that my food was free from any unnatural, strange, mutated substances. Some recent clams have made me curious about the truth behind genetically modified ingredients (aka GMO’s).  Call me crazy, but I don’t enjoy the thought of eating things that were created in a lab to increase profitability of the food industry; it makes me feel like an unwilling human science experiment. Here’s my take on the issue:

 

What is a GMO?

Organisms that have been modified from their original state (their DNA has been altered) by adding genes belonging to other living things…even animals.

 

Why are GMO’s created in the first place?

Typically, to make plants more pest, disease and herbicide resistant. Sometimes they are also used to make a plant drought or cold resistant, to create shorter growth periods, or to add nutrients, as well as for other increasingly diverse functions.

Corn and soy are two of the major GMO sources in our food supply, and when you start to realize how much of our food actually contains a derivative of these two products, you will be shocked. Take corn syrup, for example, which is typically a byproduct of GMO’s; it’s found in everything from soda to ketchup to bread and cereal!

 

Why avoid GMO’s?

To start with, here’s a great link:

http://www.responsibletechnology.org/10-Reasons-to-Avoid-GMOs

There are people (ok, mostly industries who benefit from their use) that say that GMO’s are safe.  There are, however, many countries outside of the U.S. that have banned the use of GMO’s because they consider them unsafe.

In my opinion, since the effects of GMO’s on humans (or our planet) have not been properly evaluated, I’d rather avoid them. As always, I encourage you to also do your own research on the subject.

 

How to avoid GMO’s

As most of us already know, processed foods aren’t the best for our health, and this is also where you will find the majority of GMO’s hiding.

I’ve found that the best way to MAKE SURE that your food does not contain GMO’s is to look for the “NON GMO Project Verified” symbol.  Their website http://www.nongmoproject.org/ has an actual list of products that have been shown to be free from genetically modified ingredients, and I would highly recommend browsing the information that they have to offer.

In case you were wondering, my personal favorite Non-GMO Project verified product is Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues Tortilla Chips. Seriously, these are the best tortilla chips that I’ve ever had out of a bag.

 

In conclusion

The best thing about not buying products with GMO’s is that you are “speaking with your wallet.” If enough people stop buying these products, the companies that use them will be forced to take the GMO’s out of the products (or at least have to label them accordingly.)  Of course, this is my opinion, and I’m not anti-corporations or anything of the sort, but I feel that consumers have the right to make informed decisions about what they are purchasing and what goes into their bodies.

 

If you are weirded out like me about being a human science experiment: Just say “NO!” to GMO’s!

 

Savory Salmon with Spaghetti Squash

IMG 0957 1 Savory Salmon with Spaghetti Squash

I’ll admit that I have not always been a fan of salmon.

About 10 years ago, I ordered a salmon dish that was on a menu at a ranch in Colorado, since it was basically my only option besides steak (not a surprise, considering the setting.) Without going into detail, let’s just say that I couldn’t even look at salmon for years, much less think about eating it.

Finally, I got up the nerve to prepare the heart-healthy fish for myself after reading so much about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, and now I’m a huge fan! This recipe is one of my favorite ways to prepare salmon, but it’s also good on a simple bed of whole grains with a side of steamed veggies.

Just a note: Wild-caught salmon has higher levels of usable omega-3s than their farm-raised counterparts. In addition, most farmed salmon has artificial “pink” coloring added to it, and are their feed often contains pesticides and other nasty synthetic (often toxic) ingredients.  Wild salmon is the way to go!

Now, let’s get on with the recipe, which serves 2 people:

Ingredients:

2  5-oz. salmon filets

1/3 C  Zero % fat Greek yogurt

3 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (use less if you don’t like a little spice!)

1 med. spaghetti squash (makes about 4 cups)

1 med. red onion, sliced thinly

4 Tbsp. Bragg Liquid Amino Acids (you can substitute low-sodium soy sauce, but the calories will be a bit higher.)

Dash of granulated garlic

Spaghetti Squash:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse squash, the cut in half lengthwise and scrape out all seeds.

Sprinkle the inside of the squash with garlic salt and pepper, the place (cut side down) in  a 9×13  baking dish with about 1/4″ of water on the bottom. Cover.

Bake 45 min. or until you can easily pull the strands apart with a fork.

Going in the same direction as the strands, pull them apart and place on a plate. (You might need to microwave this for a few seconds before serving with the salmon; it cools quickly.)

Greek Yogurt Topping:

Mix together Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. lemon juice, dried basil, and cayenne.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Onion:

Cut each onion slice in half.

Spray a small pan with ze0-calorie cooking spray, and cook onion over medium heat, spraying again (if necessary) to prevent sticking.

Cook until onions are soft and lightly browned, about 10 min.

Salmon:

First, mix marinade ingredients (Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce, 2 tsp. lemon juice, granulated garlic) in a small bowl.

Place salmon (thawed, if using frozen) skin-side down on a deep plate and brush with 1/3 of the marinade.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.

Spray heated pan with zero-calorie cooking spray (like canola).

Place salmon in the pan and pour remaining marinade over the top to coat.

Cook over medium heat, 4-5 min. per side, or until cooked through.

Remove skin, if necessary.

Assembly:

On a dinner plate, layer spaghetti squash, then onion, then salmon, and top with Greek yogurt mixture.

Nutrition Information:

(Per serving, serves 2)

Calories: 286

Fat: 8.5 g (1.5 g saturated)

Fiber: 5 g

Protein: 26.5 g

 

 

 

Tropical Slaw

 

This tropical coleslaw is a great low-calorie topper for fish tacos or is wonderful served by itself as a unique, flavorful side dish.

Tropical Mexican Slaw 1 Tropical Slaw

Ingredients:

¾ of a small pineapple, diced

½ of a small head of green cabbage, shredded

2T finely chopped cilantro

½ of a red bell pepper, diced

½ of a cucumber, diced

Juice of 1 lime

2T Annie’s Naturals fat free mango vinaigrette

Pinch celery seed (optional)

Ground black pepper, to taste

 

Simply toss these ingredients together and chill well. If you can’t find Annie’s mango vinaigrette, you can substitute another tropical flavored vinaigrette. I love Annie’s flavors, and the fat free/lite dressings are super low-cal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savory Spicy Tofu

IMG 0657 1 Savory Spicy Tofu

Tofu is a great low-calorie protein, and a food that I use to help me maintain my desired weight. Alot of people have an aversion to tofu, but that’s mainly because they don’t know how to prepare it or have had a bad experience. I’ve had people tell me, “I’ve tried tofu and didn’t like it.” Come to find out, they tried a bite of plain tofu straight from the package. No wonder they didn’t like it! Tofu is wonderfully versatile, it just takes a little experimentation to find what works for your individual taste.

It took me awhile to develop tofu recipes that I would actually look forward to eating and wanted to share with the world. I finally learned some tricks of the tofu trade and this spicy tofu recipe is one of my all-time favorites.

I do recommend using the Bragg liquid aminos (found in most health food stores and some regular grocery stores) in this recipe because it has zero calories and tastes great. Also, I always use organic tofu, or at least non-GMO tofu to be sure that the soybeans were not genetically modified.

This dish can be served warm or cold (I prefer it warm, but it depends how you want to serve it.)

Ingredients:

14 oz. block low-fat extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry

2 T Bragg liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce

1 ½ T Sriracha hot chili sauce

1 T brown rice vinegar

½ T agave nectar

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1 ½ T vegan mayonnaise

Directions:

  1. Cut tofu into ¼” to ½” cubes.
  2. Preheat large nonstick skillet, spray with zero-cal cooking spray. Cook tofu over medium-high heat for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. While tofu is cooking, combine liquid aminos (or soy sauce), Sriracha, vinegar, agave nectar, sesame oil and 1 T water in a small bowl.
  4. When tofu is golden, add mixture to the skillet and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Remove from heat, then toss the tofu with mayonnaise and serve.

Serves 2

(Per Serving) Calories: 153, Fat: 7g, Fiber: .5g, Protein: 14g

Serving Suggestions:

-       As a green salad topping

-       Over a bed of brown rice and steamed veggies

-       In a pita with lettuce

-       With stir-fried rice noodles and veggies

-       As spring roll filling

In the featured photo, I served the tofu on a bed of romaine leaves with raw orange bell pepper, tomatoes, and pine nuts.

Evolution of The Food Pyramid

my plate Evolution of The Food Pyramid

As you might have heard, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack just released their updated version of the “Food Pyramid,” or the more recent “MyPyramid.” The evolution to “MyPlate” has definitely created some buzz, especially surrounding how much the government should be involved in our nutrition. I think it’s fair to at least state their opinions about what is best for us, and they do have some valid messages, for example:

~Balance your calories and portions

~Eat mostly fruits and veggies

~Include quality whole grains in your diet

~Choose foods with low sodium

~Consume water instead of sugary drinks.

However, wouldn’t it be beneficial to our health to regulate the use of harmful pesticides and growth hormones? For some reason, nobody seems overly concerned with that issue.

On the bright side, the new USDA Nutritional guidelines DO recognize vegetarian protein sources, and even attempt to give ‘tips’ about vegetarian eating.  If you’re curious, check it out here.

Notice anything missing from the plate? Can you find the oils group? It was being phased out with “MyPyramid,” but now it’s gone. My beloved olive oil gets no respect whatsoever. Of course, I’m sure that they are implying we need to cut down on fats and oils, but I believe that we still need fats in their healthy forms like olive and fish oil.

Think what you will about “MyPlate,” but at least it’s sort of an improvement as a basic guide. What’s my take? I always suggest doing your own research and being informed about what you’re eating and what’s best for you.

An interesting resource (and a book that I really enjoy) is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  He discusses how the government and big business impact our food supply.

Mediterranean Kale Quinoa

This is a really healthy dish, and a great way to include some kale in your diet. My husband, who is not a big fan of kale, even likes this meal. I left out the exact ingredient measurements so that you can adapt to your personal preference, but the ingredient combination really works. I always keep some quinoa, veggie stock, and garbanzo beans on hand, so I don’t really have to buy much at the store when I decide to whip this up.Mediterranean Kale Quinoa Mediterranean Kale Quinoa

1.Cook quinoa according to directions on the box or bag, using low-sodium vegetable stock instead of water.

2. Sautee some chopped onion, garlic and orange (or yellow) bell pepper until soft, using olive oil or cooking spray. I like to season the veggies with some cayenne and/or black pepper when they are almost finished cooking.

3.Sautee some kale (see my recipe below).*

4. Warm some garbanzo beans.

5.In a large bowl, combine vegetables and garbanzo beans, spoon mixture over the  quinoa.

6. Top with either plain Greek yogurt (mixed with a little lemon juice) or some Tzatziki sauce.

I like to serve this dish with a mini pita or two. You can also add a little crumbled feta cheese to the recipe, if desired.

*My favorite way to make sautéed kale:

1 lb. fresh kale, rinsed and coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced or finely sliced

½ cup low-sodium vegetable stock

1Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Warm olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add garlic and cook until just softened. Increase to high heat, add kale and vegetable stock, cover, cook 5-7 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid is absorbed. Toss with red wine vinegar and lightly season with garlic salt, pepper, or your choice of seasonings to taste.

Purple Potato Eater

PurplePotatoes2 Purple Potato Eater

I found some beautiful purple potatoes at the grocery store the other day, and had to buy them. I had no idea how to prepare them or what they tasted like, but that’s half the fun! I get sort of giddy when I find new produce or healthy products to try out. Sometimes they become my new favorite thing, or I vow never to go near them again (like some weird fruit that I tried in Mexico). These potatoes (luckily) were very good. Oddly, they tasted just like regular potatoes, but their purple color is said to increase their nutritional value. The anthocyanin pigments (that produce their purple hue) are known antioxidants, so they give a little extra health kick.

So, what did I decide to do with these lovely potatoes?

1. I sliced them, quartered the slices then combined the potatoes in a bowl with some small fresh broccoli florets.

2. I tossed the potatoes and broccoli in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet, and baked the combo for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

3. I mixed the baked broccoli and potatoes with some cooked warm lentils, sautéed onions and crumbled feta cheese.

It was tasty, and the purple added a great splash of color to the dish. If you ever find these little potatoes at your local farmer’s market or grocery store, I would definitely recommend trying them for yourself!

Super Skinny Jalapeno Poppers

Baked Poppers2 Super Skinny Jalapeno PoppersMy love of  jalapeno poppers, paired with my dislike of unnecessarily fattening food drove me to find a better way to prepare these tasty little tidbits.

The best part is that these super skinny poppers are also super easy to make, and always a crowd pleaser. 

The only ingredients you will need are:

-Jalapeno Peppers

-Laughing Cow Light cheese wedges, Swiss or Queso Fresco & Chipotle flavors. A combo of the two flavors is my favorite.

-Light shredded Mexican blend cheese

-Vegetarian “bacon” bits

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the jalapeno peppers, cut the tops off, then slice lengthwise (end to end).

3. Seed and devein the peppers. (If you don’t remove all of the seeds or veins, you might have a very HOT popper!)

4. Mix the Laughing Cow cheese with the Mexican blend (don’t go overboard on the Mex blend for calorie purposes), then microwave for a few seconds to soften.

5. Scoop the cheese blend into the pepper half, then place on a baking sheet sprayed with zero calorie cooking spray. Sprinkle each half with the veggie bacon bits and a pinch of the Mexican blend cheese.

6. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the pepper starts to wrinkle and the cheese is completely melted.

NOTE: Each of these poppers is only about 35 calories, which is amazing compared with their high calorie and fat counterparts.

My Favorite Flatbread Pizza

      Flatbread pizzas are one of my favorite things to make for lunch. They are low-calorie, taste amazing, and are packed with healthy veggies. Here’s how I usually make them, but there are lots of different flavor options that are fun to experiment with:

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-Spray baking sheet with zero-cal cooking spray.

-Place the flatbread on the baking sheet. I use FlatOut brand (90-120 cal. My Favorite Flatbread1 My Favorite Flatbread Pizzaper flatbread).

-Spread one wedge of Laughing Cow light cheese (35 cal.) to evenly cover the flatbread.

-Heat 1 tsp. of olive oil in a pan and sautee a mixture of your favorite vegetables until soft, adding some seasoning as you go. I typically use fresh garlic, onion, spinach, broccoli, mushroom, and bell pepper with a vegetable seasoning blend. Hint: If the pan gets dry, use a little of your zero-cal cooking spray.

-Spread the veggies around the flatbread, then top with some low-calorie cheese. I also like to top mine with flaxseeds and halved grape tomatoes before baking.

-Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until flatbread is crispy around the edges.

-Using a pizza cutter, slice into 4 pieces and enjoy!

Other Ideas:  Spoon a little marinara over the flatbread for a more authentic “pizza” flavor. Or, try making a Mexican pizza using jalapenos, cilantro, avocado, vegetarian refried beans, chunky salsa, green chilis, etc. The possibilities are endless!

The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

        As an increasing number of people are becoming more aware of healthy living and weight loss, so are food manufacturers. At least, they are aware of the fact that you are more likely to purchase their product if it’s labeled “Natural”. Unfortunately, “Natural” has become more of a marketing term than a guarantee of food quality.  Since healthy living and weight loss have become huge industries, it makes sense that people are buying products in those categories, but the labeling standards aren’t even close to where they need to be. So what can you do? Simply be an informed consumer.

 Natural Label The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

 The Difference Between Natural and Organic

Essentially, organic labeling is regulated (see my article The USDA Organic Labeling System) and natural labeling is “sort of but not really” regulated.

The USDA’s definition of “Natural”:
A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Even though this definition is headed in the right direction, it’s really what IS NOT included in this statement that is important.  There is nothing prohibiting the use of growth hormones OR genetically modified organisms. Does this sound “Natural” to you? Me neither.

Keep in mind, natural does not mean organic! This is a huge point of consumer confusion; many people even think that a “natural” product is better than an organic product. Not the case.

Does Natural Mean Healthy?

Not necessarily, since the definition of “Natural” is so vague. For example, the fats in butter and meat are natural, and a food high in saturated fat and cholesterol isn’t considered healthy to most people.  Instead, look for a statement like “low in saturated fat” (no more than one gram per serving).

Does Natural Mean Low-Calorie?

One word: no. Some “Natural” foods are low-calorie, but that labeling DOES NOT guarantee a low-calorie food.

What Can I do?

To be clear, I am not saying that “Natural” products are bad. There are some perfectly wonderful foods with that label. In order to know if you are picking one of the good ones, simply look at the ingredient list. If there are only a few simple ingredients and you can understand what they are, you’re on the right track.

If you are concerned with what kind of strange substances might be in your food, organic is the best way to go (100% USDA certified is the absolute best). I know that it’s not realistic to eat organic food all the time, so the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is to read ingredient lists and not be misled by marketing claims.