Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fabulous Fungi

Mushrooms are not a true vegetable but a fungus. They have no roots or leaves, do not flower or bear seeds, and do not need light to grow. There are approximately 38,000 varieties of mushrooms, some edible and some highly toxic.

Their history is rich and revered. The Chinese used them for medicine. The Egyptian pharaohs declared them a food suitable only for royals. The French were the first to cultivate mushrooms in caves in the early 17th century. In the late 19th century, mushrooms were being grown commercially in both Europe and the United States. Farmers in Pennsylvania developed a method for growing mushrooms indoors, which is how most mushrooms are grown today. Many wild varieties are cultivated in this manner, which has allowed them to become more affordable and widely available.

The flavor of mushrooms comes from glutamic acid in part, which is a natural form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG contains a considerable amount of sodium while fresh mushrooms are virtually sodium free.

Since they are not colorful, mushrooms had been thought of as lacking significant nutritional content, however, they do supply key nutrients. They are a decent source of the B vitamins niacin and riboflavin (they contain some B6 and folate too), iron, potassium, selenium, and vanadium (recently identified as an essential trace mineral in humans). They are a good source of dietary fiber. They contain the cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber beta glucan and they have also been discovered to contain antioxidant levels similar to other colorful vegetables. They are very low in calories with one cup of raw mushrooms supplying approximately 20 calories.

Mushrooms contain some vitamin D. When they are exposed to sunlight at the end of their growing cycle, they will produce a significant amount of vitamin D. They are one of the few foods to contain natural vitamin D. Look for the sunlight mushrooms in your local grocery store.

It used to be that the white button mushrooms were the only variety available in the marketplace. Now, varieties abound, cultivated and wild, fresh and dried. Mushrooms can transform the flavor of a dish adding an earthy rich flavor.

Mushrooms are highly absorbent and their contact with water should be limited when cleaning. With that said, they are 80% water and you will notice that they release water when being cooked. It is recommended that they be cleaned by wiping them with a damp towel or brush. Depending on what is being cooked, I often times will rinse them quickly in water to remove most of the dirt.

For more information about mushrooms visit Fresh Mushrooms, Nature's Hidden Treasure.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Shrimp

1# pasta shells (I recommend whole wheat)

2 T. unsalted butter + 2 T. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 # fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

3/4 # medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

½ cup chicken broth

½ tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 T. chopped fresh parsley

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add garlic, sauté 1 minute or until softened. Increase heat to medium high, add mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes or until tender. Add shrimp, sauté for 3 minutes or until cooked through. Stir in chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 1 minute.

3. Drain pasta; place in a serving bowl and toss with cheese and parsley. Add mushroom-shrimp sauce; toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Snack Attack: The Art of Healthy Snacking

It’s 3 pm and your stomach is grumbling. You decide to eat an apple but the cookies a coworker brought to work are looking mighty good. You eat the apple hoping that the cookies will leave your mind; an hour later they are still there and you eat six. So much for good intentions.

Snacking behavior can make or break a healthy eating plan. Most people go wrong with snacking by leaving it up to impulse. Meals are planned, but what people snack on is left up to whim. The myriad of unhealthy snack foods available in the supermarket doesn’t help impulse control either.

The first defense in taming the inner snack beast is to eat a healthy breakfast. A study of obese people trying to lose weight showed that those who regularly ate breakfast lost more weight than those who skipped the morning meal. Those who skipped breakfast ate more calorie-dense foods later in the day. Breakfast should be more substantial than just a cup of yogurt and coffee. An egg on whole wheat toast with lean ham and cheese, an orange and tea will fit the bill. In a hurry, grab an oat English muffin smeared with peanut butter and a banana and pick up your Starbuck’s coffee on the way to the office (hold the café mocha).

Another important guideline is to avoid eating when not hungry. This may seem like common sense, but snacking clearly plays a role in obesity. Almost a quarter of the American population is obese and obesity related diseases account for over 300,000 deaths per year. Eating because of boredom, anxiety, anger or because food just looks good will lead to weight gain in the end.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals that incorporate healthy snacks has been shown to reduce overall stomach capacity. Over time, one feels more satisfied with less food. It is believed that this is the reason why people who “graze” tend to be leaner.

In general, snacks should contain from 200-300 calories. Consider that an apple has approximately 60-100 calories; it is no wonder that an apple alone may not satisfy hunger. Spread a little peanut butter on your apple or dip it yogurt and your hunger is more likely to be quelled. Protein contained in peanut butter and yogurt increases the feeling of fullness and prevents hunger from coming back too quickly.

Keep in mind that all healthy diets allow favorite foods and treats. Snacking on cookies may not seem like a good idea when trying to lose weight, but allowing a treat at some point in the day may keep one from losing their fortitude.

Snacking Basics

1. Don’t eat if you are not hungry.

2. Don’t skip breakfast.

3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

4. Plan your snacks and choose the right foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy, lean protein).

5. Think out of the bag! Avoid foods marketed and sold as snack foods as they tend to be high in refined carbohydrates, sodium and fat and low in fiber.

Snack Ideas

There are any number of good snack ideas out there. Choose foods that you like and find satisfying. Eat enough food to abate your hunger, but not so much to tip the scale.

1. ½ sandwich (peanut butter, lean meat, veggies) on whole grain bread with milk.

2. Nuts. Limit to approximately ¼ cup per day.

3. 3-4 fig cookies with milk (look for whole wheat variety in the organic food section of grocery store).

4. ¼ cup granola with 6 oz. low fat yogurt.

5. Sliced fresh fruit with yogurt.

6. Sliced fresh fruit with cheese.

7. Apple or banana with peanut butter.

8. Bowl of whole grain cereal with low fat milk.

9. Oatmeal cookies with low fat milk.

Keep in mind that every time you eat, you have an opportunity to do something good for your body, mind, and soul.

What kinds of healthy snack do you find satisfying?