Is anyone else completely dependent on bananas? We eat a lot of them at our house. I use them in smoothies, in yogurt, in hot cereal, and for baking. We top them with almond butter and cinnamon. I’ve even made almond butter and banana sandwiches. And my staple pre-race breakfast, whether it’s a 5k or a marathon, is a banana with peanut butter. When I ran the Chicago marathon with my sisters and brother, we bought our own bananas and peanut butter for our hotel room!

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Bananas are great because they are cheap, healthy and can be used in so many ways. They are typically known for their potassium (they contain about 10% of our daily recommended value). The potassium in bananas helps keep your heart and nervous system healthy. Potassium is needed for muscles to work properly, which makes bananas a great snack pre- or post-workout. I have mentioned before that vitamins and minerals work together inside our bodies (which is why a varied diet is SO important!). Potassium and calcium are two that work together: potassium suppresses calcium excretion in the urine, which minimizes risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis. This is why people who get plenty of calcium can still have bone loss. Without the potassium to keep the calcium inside the bones, their calcium intake is meaningless.

Everyone knows bananas contain potassium, but did you know they are also the best natural source of vitamin B6? Vitamin B6 is important for healthy blood and also immunity. So if you’re ever feeling a cold or flu coming on, go straight for the bananas.

Bananas are rich in dietary fiber, which is good for laxation and heart health. They also are considered prebiotics, meaning they nourish healthy bacteria (called probiotics) in the colon and stomach. Someone suffering from stomach ulcers would benefit from eating bananas.

In babies and kids, bananas can increase nutrient absorption up to 50%. Plus, babies and kids usually love bananas because they are soft and sweet. This one is a no-brainer: feed your family bananas!

Feeling down? Eat a banana. Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps our bodies produce serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect on the brain and creates a more stable mood. Tryptophan is not produced naturally inside our bodies, and bananas are one of the best sources of this amino acid.

Some tips for eating bananas:

• As bananas ripen, antioxidant levels actually increase.

• An average banana contains about 110 calories.

• Use overly ripe bananas for baking, as they are much sweeter and softer.

• If you have a few extra bananas and are leaving town, peel them, place in plastic bag, and freeze. They’ll make a great addition to a morning smoothie!

• For all of you Minnesotans: some say that rubbing a mosquito bite with the inside of the banana skin can reduce itching and swelling.

My little sis is working as a PR/Marketing intern at Chiquita right now. She gets free bananas every Tuesday, and I imagine she has come up with some pretty creative banana recipes (like this amazing banana cake she made over Thanksgiving!). Bananas can be used in so many ways, and with all those amazing health benefits, we should all be eating them every day!


Office Eating

If you're about to head to a meeting, read this first!

I’m not working in an office anymore, but I have long enough to know that on any given day, food can appear. It may be cake in the conference room at 1:00 for someone’s birthday; pizza in the teachers’ lounge; a goodies basket from the building owners in the kitchen; a Thanksgiving potluck the day before Thanksgiving (I never understood why people would want to jump the gun on Thanksgiving…); or those girl scout cookies you bought from your boss’s daughter that have finally arrived.

The invitations come in the form of e-mails, announcements over the loudspeaker, a “help yourself” note, or a sudden “employee roundup” by some of the enthusiastic organizers of a particular celebration.

And there you are: sitting in your cube, or at a desk in a boxy office, or in your classroom grading papers as kids’ screams echo through the halls. And it’s not that you are hungry and cannot go on with your work until you get to eat. But you’re bored, or stressed, or starting to feel your afternoon drowsiness, and the thought of something sugary or chocolaty suddenly becomes very, very appealing.

Don’t get me wrong – I think celebrations in the workplace are great. It creates a sense of community and helps people to feel appreciated. But why is work an excuse to eat the most unhealthy of foods?

Here are some of my tips for keeping office eating under control:

• The most important tip I can give you is this: DO NOT replace a meal with a cupcake and two cookies at the office Christmas party. This is a bad habit to get into. Skipping lunch so you can pig out on treats and snacks leads to overeating, and these large amounts of sugar can really throw off the balance in your body. Eat your regular meals and maybe allow yourself one cookie at the party. Remember everything you learned about metabolism last week – it literally cannot work if you do not have proper nutrients, and skipping meals deprives you of nutrients, which leads your body to store the sugary treats as boy fat!

• When it’s your turn to bring in the food, choose a healthy option. You and I know that healthy does not mean yucky, and you can prove this to your coworkers by bringing in things like hummus with veggies and toasted pitas; spiced nuts; healthy muffins instead of donuts or bagels; or a veggie and turkey chili for that potluck.

• Go for the highest quality foods. Maybe you know that your boss’s wife is a health nut, so you can assume that whatever she prepared for his office party has a good chance of being healthy and possibly even organic. If you have the option of a high quality chocolate over a Hershey’s kiss, go for the better one. As one PWN reader stated in an email to me about this very subject, “When I eat Godiva or Lindt chocolate, I understand exactly what I am doing to myself. But, when I eat the cheap stuff, I have no idea. It could be filled with turds from Chinese cows who are fed led.” Well put!

• Plan ahead. If you know there will be treats in the office, decide ahead of time what your limit will be. Tell yourself you are only going to have one brownie. Or, you are going to eat the boxed lunch during your 2-hour meeting but you will not eat the bag of chips. If you establish limits for yourself ahead of time, you will stay in control. This week and next, Christmas cookies will appear every day. Allow yourself one or two days to indulge, but stick to your normal routine the rest of the days.

• Be wary of other peoples’ unwanted food. I am guilty of this myself – I end up with a big bowl of extra Halloween candy, so I bring it into the office and set it out for all to eat. People throw a party, have tons of leftover cookies, and think “someone in the office will eat these!”. If it looks like leftovers, stay away. It will be borderline stale and completely unsatisfying. An office should never be used as a dumping ground for unwanted food. Employees deserve better than that!

Follow these tips and you will avoid overeating at work, which can lead to things like headaches, drowsiness, a spoiled dinner (resulting in a lack of nutrients for the day, being that dinner is usually a time when people get 1-2 servings of vegetables), and eventually weight gain and other health problems.

And if none of those reasons can convince you, think of it this way: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are spent with good family and friends. They put so much time and love into the meals, and the food tastes so much better when you enjoy it in the company of these people. Save your calories for these times. Remember what I always say – you should not feel guilt or stress when you are eating something; rather, you should feel good about your decision to eat it, and enjoy it thoroughly.


Drazil Foods

In my Biochem class, we’d start out each class period with “Nutrition in the News”. It was an opportunity for us to share recent news articles we’d come across that were nutrition-related, whether it be The Economist stating that raw honey can cure skin rashes; Science Daily talking about how pistachios can reduce lung cancer risk; or General Mills announcing that Fruit Loops will be labeled a “Smart Choices” breakfast cereal (which has since been revoked, for obvious reasons!).

So today I am sharing with you my “Nutrition in the News”.

The Minnesota Cup is an annual competition for entrepreneurs. Over 1,000 business ideas are submitted, and winners receive, among other things, seed capital ($20,000), legal and accounting services, presentation consulting, and publicity.

The 2009 General Division winner was Christine Wheeler, who is starting a company called Drazil Foods. If you are a mom or a dad, pay attention, because this may be something you want to look out for!

Wheeler’s goal was to come up with a tea-based drink for kids, so they can benefit from the antioxidants found in teas typically consumed by adults. She spent four years creating and testing her drink, and the end product is a tea-based 100% juice for kids. There is no other product like it on the market.

Formerly a Nestle employee, Wheeler is expecting Drazil Foods (“lizard” spelled backwards!) to compete with Nestle’s Juicy Juice and other 100% juice products. All tea-based juices will be caffeine-free, and they will contain, in addition to the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The juice will be packaged in boxes and bottles.

What do you think? I think it could work. I am not a mom. But if I was a mom, and I was walking down the juice aisle and my choices were Juicy Juice or Drazil Foods juice, I’d go for the one with the tea antioxidants.

I like the idea of introducing kids to herbal teas, because tea is so healthy and if they enjoy it at a young age they may be more likely to choose tea over coffee as teenagers and adults.

The old juice philosophy was to dilute it with water so kids aren’t getting too much sugar. But who knows – when Drazil Foods juice hits store shelves, it could be a huge success and Wheeler could hit her predicted $44 million in revenues. Look for it sometime in 2010 at your local grocery store!


Kale Sausage Soup

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the importance of adding cruciferous vegetables to your diet. Kale is one of my favorites.

I have made this soup four or five times, and each time I adjust the ingredients a little. I think it would be great as a vegetarian soup, with some white beans. I add the sausage because it makes it more of a full meal for us. This time I used Kielbasa sausage because we had some extra from the chili I made last week (my sister Alice’s recipe… I’ll include it at PWN blog sometime after Christmas because it’s the best!). Usually I use turkey sausage, but anything works.

Also, I used my Cuisinart food processor for all my chopping this time. It is fast and easy. But you don’t have to have a food processor to make the soup.


Sausage (chicken, turkey, or any type you prefer; I usually use 4 large chicken sausages, precooked and sliced thinly; one Kielbasa sausage is a good amount too)

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 green onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, chopped

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups waterjuice of 1 lime

juice of ½ lemon

4 cups kale, finely chopped

2-3 cups canned hominy

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 fresh green chili pepper, chopped (optional, but I love the flavor!)

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

salt & pepper

Sauté onion for a few minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add all remaining ingredients except for cilantro, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil on high heat. Then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, uncovered. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

This will make at least 6-8 servings. I usually freeze half of it, since there are only two of us. It’s a great winter dinner, and adding meat or beans will make it hearty enough for a full meal. Last night I served it with purple potatoes, boiled and mashed with the skins on, and a boiled sweet potato. That’s 2-3 servings of vegetables, all wrapped up in one dinner!



"Here We Grow"

We all love shopping at Whole Foods. You feel healthier just walking through the front doors! But sometimes the checkout can be painful... despite by education and personal commitment to buying quality food, I still find myself caught between this is healthier and money well spent and I have no business spending our grocery money on meat that costs more than twice what it costs at Safeway.

I am always on the lookout for ways to get high quality, organic foods for reasonable prices. We are consistently taught in school that these foods are better for overall health, yet we rarely address cost. And I am not totally comfortable sitting down with a future client and telling them they must switch to all organic foods, spending almost twice what they currently spend at the grocery store. I believe it’s money well spent; but I also believe in budgets, especially when you’re trying to feed an entire family.

Last night ABC News had a feature about “going organic” (watch it here). It talked about natural foods chef Craig King’s food documentary called "Here we Grow." So many people consider stores like Whole Foods as “whole paycheck” stores. Organic = Expensive, and they are turned off by that. King set out to disprove this.

One woman, a single mom, went from shopping at a local discount grocery store to shopping exclusively at Whole Foods, barely adjusting her budget. King taught her some tricks for buying organic on a budget. These include:

• Planning is KEY!

• Buy Whole Foods’s 365 brand when possible (it is less expensive than others)

• Buy your staples each week regardless of price, and then just go for the sale items

• Buy what you can in bulk and store in mason jars

• Do not buy anything processed: “Buy whole and make it yourself”

King believes that children learn from our decisions and habits. If they see the importance we place on our food choices, they will be influenced to do the same. The single mom he followed lost 10 pounds just by switching to all organic, whole foods. She prepares meals and snacks herself now, rather than feeding her family processed foods. And she has learned how to do this on a budget.

Buying in bulk and storing in mason jars is a great tip. I already do this with my grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It not only saves money, but also simplifies my weekly trips to the grocery store.

There are other good organic grocery stores out there. Vitamin Cottage has a much smaller selection, but their prices are usually lower than those at Whole Foods. Sunflower Market has many organic options, and most discount grocery stores like Safeway, King Soopers, Schnucks or Kroger now carry organic brands (although selection is limited).

The trailer to King’s documentary is below. I encourage you to try taking your grocery money to Whole Foods or another organic grocery store. With a little effort and creativity, I believe you can feed your family these foods that are so much healthier and wholesome without breaking the bank.