All posts by Toby Amidor

Ghee: Is It Healthy?

Also known as clarified butter, ghee has been making many appearances on grocery store shelves. It has been touted to have many supposed health benefits including increasing metabolism, decreasing inflammation, and improving heart health. It’s even thought to be better tolerated by those who suffer from lactose intolerance. However, the science doesn’t exactly support all these claims.

What is ghee?

Ghee is made by melting butter while allowing the water to evaporate. This allows the milk solids to separate, and result in a translucent golden liquid known as ghee. Because the milk solids are removed, this allows for a higher smoke point than butter (485°F verses 350°F, respectively). It’s also why ghee is a perfect medium for high heat cooking, like often called for in Indian cuisine.  

Ghee vs butter

One teaspoon of ghee container 45 calories, 5  grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, and 4% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. The same serving of unsalted butter contains 34 calories, 4 fat, 2 grams saturated fat, and 2% the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. The higher concentration of the nutrients in the ghee is due to its higher concentration of fat.

The claims

Heart health

A 2013 study determined that ghee isn’t as harmful to heart health as it may appear. The author found that ghee contains short chain fatty acids that may help strengthen and develop cell membranes. However, both the American Heart Association and 2015 dietary guidelines disagree with this notion.

Ghee has been blamed for heart disease in Asian Indians populations because of the high amounts of artery clogging saturated fat. The dietary guidelines recommend no more than 10% of your total calories come from saturated fat. This applies to ghee also. Even the American Heart Association recommends preparing Indian foods without ghee.

Dairy allergy and lactose intolerance

Ghee is derived from butter, a dairy product, and the protein that causes allergies can still be found in ghee.  If you’re allergic to dairy, you should avoid eating ghee.

If you have lactose intolerance, both butter and ghee has minimal lactose. One tablespoon of butter has 0.01 grams of lactose, which is minimal considering studies have found that those with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose in one sitting (that’s one cup of milk). Of course, this has to be built up over time. The lactose is butter is minimal, and therefore both butter and ghee are well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. One is not necessarily better than the other.

Other health issues

There is not enough scientific studies to show that eating ghee will speed up metabolism or decrease inflammation.

Bottom Line: If you want to eat ghee, go for it! A few companies including Organic Valley and Carrington Farms can now be found at your market. Just remember, that no more than 10% of your calories should come from this saturated fat.

 

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.

Sneaky Ways Supermarkets Get You to Spend More

If you’re like most folks who are on a food budget, you head to the supermarket with a list in hand. Oftentimes, however, you end up leaving the store with a cart filled with items that you had no intention on bringing home. Supermarkets are in the business of getting you to spend more, and many folks fall into their trappings. Here are 5 ways to help minimize overspending at the market.

Oversized carts

When you hit the grocery store to purchase a few items and are wheeling around a huge cart, adding a few more items may seem harmless. Those large carts filled with only a few items also makes you feel like you aren’t purchasing enough, playing on your feeling of guilt.

Instead: Use a hand-held basket, or many supermarkets now offer smaller sized carts that offer fewer items.

Hidden staples

How many times have you gone to grab milk and eggs and added just a few more items to your cart? To get to many perishable items on your shopping list, you’ll need to walk through other aisles which tend to be filled with snack foods and sugary beverages.

Instead: When walking through aisles filled with junk-type foods, focus only on what you need to buy. Also, make sure you eat before heading to the supermarket, so you don’t make these types of impulsive buys. Lastly, keep your kids at home if they tend to whine and beg for junk foods when you’re running through those middle aisles (my eldest son was one of those kids).

Variety

I just attended the Natural Food Expo West, where I saw thousands of new healthy food products, and there have never been so many options for exciting new options. With so many new healthy products hitting stores, you can’t help but want to try them all.

Instead: Choose one or two items a week to try. Choose a smaller sized or individual-size bag to start to check if you actually like it.

Healthier items are tougher to reach

Every time I’m looking for low-sodium canned beans they’re in the most obscure places. I can find all the traditionally canned beans (filled with sodium) and as I almost give up, I find the low or no-added sodium cans I’m looking for. Most folks aren’t as patient, and will grab whatever is within reach.

Instead: Take the time to find supermarkets that sell what you are looking for. Once you familiarize yourself with the placement of the healthier items, you’ll have an easy time finding it enabling you to make better choices.

Shelving chaos

How many times do you know exactly where each item is…and then the supermarket moves things around? The Trader Joe’s by me is famous for pulling this trick once or twice a year. This will make you spend more time in the store re-familiarizing yourself with everything, and hopefully have you picking up a few more items too.

Instead: Each time foods move around, take an extra five minutes to familiarize yourself with the new set up.

 

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.

Moldy Foods: When to Toss, When to Keep

How many times have you found cucumbers or cheese in the fridge with mold? Should you just cut off the moldy area or toss? Some molds can be toxic and make you sick. Find out when it’s okay to keep it, and when to throw them away.

What’s the Deal with Mold?

Molds are fungi that are transported by air, water, or insects. Although you can see the green or blue fuzzy dots on bread, cheese, meats, fruit, and vegetables, they have branches and roots that are can be growing very deep into the food. Some molds can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Under the right conditions, a few molds can produce poisonous toxins that can make you sick. Although most molds prefer warm temperatures, they can easily grow in your fridge. They also love salty and sugar foods like jams and cured meats.

So which foods should you keep verses toss? You don’t want to be that person who just tosses everything in the trash, which can lead to lots of unnecessary food waste. Here’s a list of what you should keep verse toss based on the recommendations from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Jams and Jellies: Discard

Don’t scoop out the mold and use the rest. The mold found in jams and jellies could be one that produces dangerous poisons and can be deeper than you think.

Yogurt and Sour Cream: Discard

Foods that are high in moisture can be contaminated below the visible surface. They may also have bacteria growing along with the mold that you won’t be able to see.

Hard Cheese: Keep

The mold generally can’t penetrate deep into hard cheese like cheddar and Parmesan. Cut off at least 1-inch around and below the mold spot. After cutting, then re-cover the cheese with fresh wrap.

Blue Cheese: It Depends

If the mold is not a natural part of the cheese, then it depends if it’s a soft or hard cheese. Discard soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert if the mold isn’t a part of the manufacturing process. If the mold is on a hard blue cheese like Gorgonzola and Stilton, then cut off the mold at least 1-inch around and below the mold spot. After cutting, then re-cover the cheese with fresh wrap.

Cabbage and Bell Peppers: Keep

If mold is found on hard fruit and vegetables like cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, and cabbage then cut off 1-inch around and below the mold spot. Make sure the knife doesn’t touch the mold and end up cross-contaminated into other parts of the produce.

Cucumbers and Peaches: Discard

If mold is found on soft fruit like strawberries, peaches, cucumbers, and tomatoes the food should be discarded. Because these fruits and vegetables are high in moisture, the mold can exist deep into it.

Bread: Discard

Mold can exist below the surface because it is so porous.

Luncheon Meats: Discard

With its high moisture content, mold can exist below the surface. Plus, there can also be bacteria growing too.

Minimizing Mold Growth

Mold spores can build up in your fridge and dishcloths. To help keep mold at bay:

  • When going food shopping, examine the food before you buy it.
  • Clean the inside of your fridge every few month with a 1 tablespoon baking solution mixed with a quart of water. Rinse with water and dry.
  • Keep kitchen dishcloths, sponges, and towels clean and fresh. If there is a musty smell, it probably means mold is present. Discard anything that cannot be cleaned or tossed in the laundry.
  • When serving food, keep it covered to prevent exposure from spores that may be in the air. Use plastic wrap to keep it covered when not being served.
  • Use leftovers within 3-4 days.

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

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.

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.

Diet 101: The Ketogenic Diet

The latest fad diet riding on the coat tails of the low-carb trend is the ketogenic diet. This nutrition plan has been around for ages, and has been effectively used in the treatment of epilepsy, but it’s also become popular to help folks shed pounds. Here’s what you need to know about this diet plan before you hop on another fad diet bandwagon.

About the Diet

This diet promotes low carb, moderate protein, and high fat intake touting health benefits such as weight loss and improved overall health.  It promotes an extremely low intake of carbs: about 30 grams per day. For the average American on a 2,000 calorie diet, this would be 120 calories of any type of carb per day. You can find carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and legumes — which, when minimized in the diet, limits food choices dramatically. The distribution of macronutrients recommended is 5% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 70% fat.

The fats recommended include both unsaturated like avocado and fatty fish along with saturated like whole milk, sour cream, and mayonnaise. Flour, sugar, and other such carbs are not recommended on the plan. Fruits are eaten in very small amount, low carb vegetables are recommended, and nuts in moderation.

The purpose of taking in so few carbs is to put your body in a state called ketosis. As carbs (AKA glucose) is the body’s primary source of energy, 30 grams of carbs runs out quickly forcing the body to utilize fat and some protein (or ketones made from fat) as a source of energy. When excess fat and protein is used for fuel, it creates an acidic environment in the blood, known as acidosis. Long-term acidosis can cause damage to your organs and is potentially deadly. While in this state, the body acts as if it is in starvation mode and other side effects include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and loss of muscle mass.

The Costs

Although this diet eliminates added sugars, the plethora of protein and fats can cost you a pretty penny (avocados and meat aren’t cheap!). Further, it’s very tough to follow a diet with a maximum limit of 30 grams of carbs, which is equivalent to 2 slices of bread.

This plan also eliminates many food groups, especially fruits and vegetables which have been shown to help lower the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. The 2015 dietary guidelines found that 90% of Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables, while about 85% don’t eat the recommended amount of fruit. Eliminating most fruit and vegetables also takes away many important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can help keep you healthy in the long run.

Other huge costs include taste and sustainability of the diet. Eating loads of meat, cheese, and avocado can get boring without fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. Go ahead and try it for a few days, or even a week or two, and you’ll miss out on those other food groups in no time.

 

The Good

  • The diet has been shown to be effective with those with epilepsy to help reduce the number of seizures. These folks are very carefully monitored by a physician.
  • Added sugar is decreased dramatically

The Not-So-Good

  • It’s a dangerous diet! Setting your body into ketosis can lead to increased acid levels in the blood, which has severe health consequences.
  • The elimination of multiple food groups removes many nutrients the body needs to stay healthy.
  • Many of the foods recommended are high in saturated fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • It is tough to follow this diet at social events or when travelling, and isn’t conducive to a household filled with children.
  • The meal plan isn’t tasty, and it’s extremely tough to sustain over a long period of time.

 

Bottom Line

Between the lack of nutrition, health consequences and lack of flavor, this is one diet plan that just isn’t healthy (or tasty!) to follow.

 

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.