Do you Know Your Food Footprint?

Your “food footprint” is part of your ecological footprint and sustainable food strategies have social, economic, and environmental impacts. Food’s carbon footprint is the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking, and disposing of the food you eat. There are many environmentally friendly food choices that can improve your own food footprint.

Some foods demand more water, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy for their production than others. Meat, eggs, and cheese have the highest carbon footprint while fruit, vegetables, beans, and nuts have a lower carbon footprint. Below are a few tips to reduce your carbon footprint to help preserve the environment.

Eat vegetarian: The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-eater.

Studies have shown that vegetarians have about half the “foodprint” of meat eaters. If you don’t want entirely to give up meat, just cutting back can shrink the footprint of your diet by one-third. LEARN MORE!

Cook at home: Preparing meals at home is a great way to improve the health of you and your family because you can control the amount you make and eat and halve  your carbon footprint. Meal planning also reduces food waste and you can be creative with leftovers (recipes to follow!).

Eat organic: Organic farming methods (for both crops and animals) have a lower impact on the environment than conventional processes. If you can’t always buy organic, The Environmental Working Group offers a “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce” that may help you navigate the food aisle.

Shop local and wisely: Where you shop may impact your food’s carbon footprint. A weekly trip to the supermarket is a habit of many, but shopping in bulk a few times a month for non-perishable items and using a local market for fresh foods can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Food is important to our ecological footprint and changing the foods you eat can have a big impact on the environment. By choosing food that has less packaging, has not traveled a long distance and has been produced in a sustainable way, you can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Quote of the week:

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. – Gandhi

Recipe of the Week

Whole-wheat Pasta Primavera with Fresh Mozzarella

This recipe is so easy to make, and you can use any fresh vegetables on hand (even leftovers!).

½ pound whole wheat penne pasta

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon fresh minced garlic

½ small red onion, sliced

1 large zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced into ¼-inch thick slices

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or no-salt organic seasoning)

Fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste

Fresh Mozzarella or grated parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tbsp salt for 2 quarts of water). While the water is heating, prepare the vegetables. Cook the vegetables while the pasta is cooking so they are done about the same time.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta to the water and follow directions on package. Cook uncovered at a vigorous boil. Drain, but reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.

Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften.

Add zucchini and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes on medium high to high heat, until almost cooked through. Add the cooked pasta, fresh tomato, pepper, and salt, and toss until coated with vegetables. Add some of the pasta water if desired and toss again. Top with fresh mozzarella or grated parmesan cheese.

Whole-wheat Pasta Primavera with Fresh Mozzarella

Decoding “Functional Foods” for Optimal Health

What are functional foods? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”

If you are still confused about functional foods, it basically means foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. For instance, eating foods that contain phytochemicals like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other plant sources has been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease.

But consumers should be aware that many processed foods become functional foods when they are fortified with nutrients or enhanced with phytochemicals or herbs. For example, calcium-fortified orange juice or cereals enriched with vitamins and minerals. Even eggs and milk are now being fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids for heart health, but you can naturally obtain this unsaturated fat in your diet by eating cold water fish like salmon, swordfish, or tuna. Regular intake of functional foods in its purest, natural form promotes optimal health by helping to reduce the risk of disease.

Below are a few examples of food sources and possible health effects:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale (to name a few) may trigger production of enzymes that block DNA damage from carcinogens.
  • Hot peppers regulate blood clotting and possibly reduce the risk of fatal clots in heart and artery disease.
  • Whole-grain wheat and rye may reduce the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
  • Red wine, peanuts, grapes, and raspberries act as an antioxidant and may prevent cancer growth as well as inflammation.
  • Intensely pigmented fruits and vegetables (apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, red pepper, and watermelon) act as antioxidants, possibly reducing risks of cancer and other diseases.

The ideal way to incorporate functional foods in your diet is to routinely choose whole, unprocessed foods and fruits and vegetables in an array of colors.  So, an apple a day keeps the doctor away and may protect against heart disease!

Quote of the week:

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.  ~Hippocrates

Recipe of the Week:

Baked Salmon
Salmon is a great source of protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acid. It is also linked to improved cardiovascular health and helps fight joint inflammation. This oven-baked salmon recipe can be ready to eat in 20 minutes!

8 oz salmon fillet
Coarse salt or salt-free seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedge

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon skin-side down on baking sheet. Season the salmon with salt and pepper (I used an organic salt-free seasoning). Bake until cooked through, about 12-15 minutes. Squeeze with lemon before serving. Serves 2.

Baked Salmon

Planning a Healthy Diet is as easy as ABC (and NMV)

The word “diet” is often associated with counting calories or short-term weight loss strategies. By definition, the term simply means one’s daily consumption of food. Following a wholesome eating pattern across one’s lifetime will help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease. A healthy diet incorporates six diet-planning principles that can be remembered through the acronym ABCNMV.

Adequacy: This means providing all the essential nutrients, fiber, and calories in amounts sufficient to maintain good health. For example, a person loses iron each day through normal metabolism, so it is important to replenish this essential nutrient to prevent iron-deficiency which may cause fatigue and headaches. To prevent these symptoms, a person could include iron-rich foods in their daily intake like green leafy vegetables, eggs, and legumes. One way to do this is to start the day with a spinach omelet, incorporate a side-salad to one or more meals, or add lentils or beans to a soup (using my recipe in my last post!).

Balance: Balance in the diet helps to ensure adequacy. This means providing foods in proportion to one another and in proportion to your individual needs. Dietary balance involves six classes of essential nutrients: water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. The balancing act involves incorporating a daily intake of these nutrients for optimal health. One of my go-to dinners that incorporates all the essential nutrients includes baked salmon (protein, fat, vitamins), brown rice (carbohydrates, minerals), and steamed broccoli (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates).

Calorie Control: The management of calories consumed from foods should balance with the number of calories being used by the body to support a person’s metabolism and physical activity level. The key is forming good nutritional habits and careful meal planning combined with daily exercise.

Nutrient Density: The more nutrients and fewer calories in food contributes to higher nutrient density. Fruits and vegetables are examples of nutrient dense foods or choosing whole wheat bread versus a bagel. If you are trying to incorporate more calcium in your diet,  choose fat-free milk versus whole milk for a nutrient dense option.

Moderation: “Everything in moderation” is phrase often used when talking about calorie control or basic diet principles. Moderation contributes to adequacy, balance, and calorie control by providing enough, but not too much, of one particular nutrient. I call it the 80/20 rule for a balanced lifestyle. 80% of my time is meal-planning, cooking at home with quality ingredients, and trying to eat less at every meal. The other 20% is the daily chocolate and wine consumption (in moderation!) or a weekend splurge of dinner out.

Variety: Food diversity improves nutrient adequacy. Eating a wide selection of foods within the major food groups ensures that you receive different amounts of nutrients from different types of foods. Eating wholesome meals does not have to be monotonous. Variety is the spice of life!

Quote of the week:

Sometimes you need to change the PLAN, not the GOAL.  ~ Mel Robbins

Recipe of the Week
With Super Bowl Sunday this week, healthy snacks are essential! I am providing a twist on a traditional hummus by using white beans instead of chickpeas.

White Bean Hummus
1 can cannellini beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed
2 heaping tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 clove garlic minced or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
a few twists of Himalayan salt grinder (or sea salt)
1-2 tablespoons of water as needed to thin
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Place ingredients in food processor, except water, and blend until desired consistency.

Taste for flavor and add additional ingredients to your liking. I usually add more salt and lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to thin. I like a thinner hummus so may add more than 2 tablespoons of water. Enjoy with raw veggies or whole grain crackers or use as a sandwich spread. Makes about 1 ½ cups.

White Bean Hummus

Are you following a diet or a lifestyle?

The beginning of a new year often brings a wave of information on weight loss strategies. On January 2, U.S. News & World Report published an article with their “2019 Best Diet Rankings.” Not surprising, the Mediterranean Diet made it to the top of the list again this year.  

The Mediterranean Diet focuses on eating plant-based foods, beans and legumes, whole grains (yes, bread included!), and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado as well as a daily glass of wine (or two).  Growing up in a household where Mediterranean cooking was the norm, I view this way of eating not as a “diet” but a lifestyle. Embracing the Mediterranean Diet has been associated with several health benefits including improved heart and brain function, weight loss, and diabetes management and prevention. 

There are many different ways to eat on the Mediterranean Diet and making simple changes each day will help transform how you prepare and enjoy food. Some guidelines include switching to whole grain foods that contain more fiber. For example, making a sandwich with whole wheat bread or serving brown rice instead of white is an easy way to obtain a nutrient-rich diet. Prepare a few vegetarian meals each week by swapping meat for beans, legumes, or tofu. If you eat meat, especially red meat, choose smaller portions and load your plate with veggies. Eating fish a few nights a week is also a good alternative to meat and a heart-healthy choice. Incorporate good fats when cooking by using extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter. Snacking on nuts or pumpkin seeds is another way to add good fats to your diet. One of my favorite ways to eat whole grains with good fats is to spread avocado on toasted Ezekiel bread for a satisfying breakfast. If you want to incorporate some of these choices easily, start by snacking on some raw vegetables with hummus. A family favorite!

Choosing a lifestyle vs. a diet is an important step to long-term weight management and good health. The choices outlined above are achievable, as it does not involve eliminating certain foods, but instead offers delicious alternatives that could improve your health. Setting realistic goals for nutrition and physical activity is the key to success. The daily practice of healthy eating and exercise as a lifestyle may ward off disease and extend your life. Cheers!

Quote of the week:

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~ Jim Rohn

Recipe of the week:

Winters in New England call for savory, satisfying soups. Lentils are a heart-healthy way to include protein, fiber, and minerals into one meal.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

2 cups vegetable broth

4 cups water

Canned diced tomatoes (15 oz)

2 cups dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over

Dried herbs including basil, oregano and thyme (I also use organic no-salt seasoning)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped carrots, celery, and onions and sauté two minutes then add garlic and sauté for two more minutes.

Pour in vegetable broth, water, and tomatoes. Add in lentils, basil, oregano, thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lemon juice and add up to 1 cup (or more) of water to thin as needed (as the soup cooks the lentils soak up more of the broth). Serve warm with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

The Journey Begins

Happy New Year and welcome to Balanced Health Blog! As a communication professional and current graduate student at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, I was inspired to start my own health blog as a way to share meaningful nutrition and health information. With so much information available through the Internet, magazines, and television, I am learning how to interpret accurate nutrition and health knowledge to help my family and friends make positive lifestyle choices.

The beginning of a new year is a traditional time for starting something new or changing old habits. I personally like to give myself the whole month of January to think of goals for the months ahead. Setting health goals should be an individual task and not what your friend, neighbor, or co-worker is trying this week. Health and wellness mean different things to different people and one’s approach and concepts should be unique to their lifestyle.

One approach to goal setting is to write down a few ideas, thoughts, or ambitions you hope to achieve and shape it to one word. A word you can put on your fridge or set as your screen saver as a constant reminder. After vetting my list of goals, my word of the year is INSPIRATION! I was inspired to go back to school with the goal of being a thought-leader in a new field and I am inspired by the challenge of learning something new. I hope your imagination gets the best of you so you can continue 2019 with your best foot forward.

Quote of the week:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupry

Recipe of the week:

This simple, versatile dish is good for a stand-alone breakfast; lunch paired with a salad; or dinner with some roasted vegetables or sautéed greens.

Broccoli and Cheddar Frittata
3 eggs
1 cup egg whites
¼ cup milk
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
2 tbs. Dijon mustard
3 cups broccoli, chopped into small pieces
1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions, chopped

Beat eggs together with egg whites, milk, and mustard and set aside. In a large, oven-safe non-stick pan over medium heat, sauté the broccoli in the oil until green and still crisp (about 2 minutes). Stir in the scallions and cook for 30 seconds. Pour the egg mixture and half the cheese into the pan to distribute evenly. When the edges set, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Place under a broiler on high to lightly brown the top and finish cooking the eggs (about 8 minutes). Serves six for breakfast or four for lunch/dinner.

Broccoli and Cheddar Frittata