I had lots of good questions this week – green tea, soba noodles, and cheese. I saved cheese for last because it’s a tough one. Cheese is a food that many people crave and love, and it pairs well with so many different snacks and meals and beverages that sometimes we find ourselves eating too much of it. But, it’s just so good! So how do we find the right balance between enjoying a food we love and not getting too much fat and sodium?

Many of you know that I do not like to tell people they have to completely cut something they love out of their diet. In a perfect world maybe all of us would be eating a 100% clean diet, but that’s not very realistic or fun or interesting! So with cheese, as with many other foods, I recommend enjoying it in moderation. I also recommend buying the best quality cheese you can so that when you decide to eat some, it tastes that much better.

Cheese is made directly from milk by separating the curd from the whey and then aging the curd. Fresh cheese is very high in calcium, protein, vitamin A, fats, and other vitamins and minerals. However, it is also high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, which many people tend to watch in their diets. For those who avoid products made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk cheese and sheep or goat’s milk feta are available and are a great alternative. Some of the lower-fat cheeses include mozzarella and other cheeses that are made from skim milk (it will say so on the label). These can be good for someone who loves cheese but is trying to reduce their overall fat intake.

When choosing your cheese, try to find the freshest and purest cheese you can. As you may have guessed, this does not include the individually wrapped “Kraft singles.” Those are awful! They don’t even taste good, so why bother with them? They are full of additives and artificial colors and are highly processed. All processed cheeses and cheese spreads are higher in fat and sodium than natural cheeses, and much lower in calcium, vitamins and minerals. Remember, when food is processed most of the vitamins and minerals are stripped out. Sometimes the company will fortify the food with specific vitamins, but it is not the naturally occurring vitamin you are eating. Most cheeses labeled “American” tend to be more highly processed and contain artificial ingredients. Other cheeses to stay away from include cheesy spreads and (even worse) cheese sprays.

Cream cheese is higher in fat and lower in protein and calcium than fresh cheese. Use sparingly! The powdered cheeses found in boxed macaroni are also unacceptable by my standards – sorry! But, making your own mac & cheese at home is easy and much more wholesome and delicious. Cottage cheese is high in protein and tends to be lower in fat and calories than other cheeses. This can be a good food to include every once in a while into your diet.

Try to choose cheeses such as mozzarella, feta, Brie, blue cheese, Swiss, parmesan, ricotta, cheddar, Monterey jack, Colby or goat cheese. These are all pure cheeses as long as you are buying them from a reputable company that does not add things to the cheese or highly process the cheese. The best places to buy fresh cheese are places like the farmer’s market, local health food stores, or directly from a dairy farm. Lately, we've been buying our cheese from In Season Local Market in Denver. It's all made at Colorado dairy farms and it's always delicious!

So, cheese isn’t bad and can contain some really great nutrients if you are buying fresh, wholesome cheese. Kids and adults love it, and it really does make many foods taste better. The biggest things with cheese are to avoid processed cheeses and to use all cheese sparingly.


Soba Noodles

I had a PWN reader e-mail me this week about soba noodles, wondering if they were a healthy choice, or if she should stick with whole wheat pasta instead. There are so many different types of healthy noodle alternatives out there now, since pasta is one of those foods that some people just aren’t willing to give up (and, as we know, white pasta has very few redeemable qualities!).

Soba noodles are a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. They are very thin and are served either hot or cold. Soba noodles are relatively low in calories, with one cup of cooked noodles having about 115 calories. They have no fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, and about 6 grams of protein per serving. Whole wheat pasta tends to be a bit higher in calories, carbohydrates, and protein per serving.

Buckwheat contains vitamins B1 and B2; selenium; zinc; and also a certain bioflavonoid called rutin that is found in things like green tea and red wine. Rutin can strengthen our capillaries and help with circulation and high blood pressure, and it also is an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. Choline is another compound found in buckwheat that contributes to health. Choline supports healthy metabolism and can also contribute to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

Another benefit of soba noodles is that if they are made from pure buckwheat, they are a gluten-free noodle. With so many people on a gluten-free diet these days, it’s nice to have so many options. Just read labels carefully because sometimes soba noodles are made from a combination of buckwheat and whole wheat, and therefore will contain gluten.

The conclusion? Soba noodles are a healthy choice, but just like any pasta, should be eaten in moderation for people who are trying to lose weight. When compared to whole wheat pasta, soba noodles may be a bit healthier but both are great options. Also, keep in mind that some restaurants that serve Japanese food use a lot of sodium and may even use MSG, so try ordering things that contain less broth or sauce and more vegetables and protein. Or, even better, prepare the soba noodles yourself at home using a great Japanese recipe. For some recipes, try this one from one of my favorite blogs, 101 Cookbooks, or this one from the ladies at Haute Apple Pie.


Green Tea: Decaf or Caffeinated?

Dear PWN,

I have a green tea question for you. I've been drinking green (iced) tea all summer. I just went back and re-read your entry on green tea (read it here). Health benefit-wise, is there any issue with drinking decaf green tea as opposed to regular green tea?

This is a great question, and I had to do some research to find the answer. My gut told me that since green tea is naturally caffeinated, it would have to go through some level of processing to become decaffeinated and therefore the nutrient content and health benefits could be compromised. I was partially correct. Here’s what I found:

One green tea bag contains about 20 mg of caffeine on average. If the bag is reused for a second cup of tea, the caffeine content decreases. 20 mg is not much – for the sake of comparison, one cup of coffee (5-oz cup, not a “small” or “tall”) contains about 80 mg of caffeine. So, the caffeine content in green tea is naturally less than that of coffee or even soda. All caffeinated tea comes from the same plant, the Camellia sinesis, which naturally contains caffeine. Any herbs that are added to teas to create different herbal teas do not contain caffeine, which is why herbal teas such as peppermint or chamomile tea are very low in caffeine.

Some studies show that decaffeinated green tea may have fewer antioxidants than caffeinated green tea. The caffeine must be removed through one of a few different processes, and depending on the process used, some of the antioxidants are also lost. Sometimes the decaffeination process will be noted on the tea label. The “CO2” process tends to retain many of the antioxidants, whereas the “ethylene acetate” process kills off 70% of the antioxidants and some flavor as well. Apparently there is one process in which 95% of the antioxidants are retained in the green tea. If the label does not indicate which decaffeination process is used, feel free to call the company and ask about this. I always encourage people to be proactive if they have a question about something they are purchasing as it relates to their health!

Decaffeinated green tea will still contain some valuable antioxidants and if you are sensitive to caffeine, it is still beneficial to include this tea in your diet as much as possible. Too much caffeine can be harmful to health, although the levels in green tea are fairly low and a few glasses per day won’t hurt a healthy person. If you are drinking multiple cups of tea per day, it may be wise to reuse the tea bag once or twice. This will not only allow you to get a good combination of high antioxidants and low caffeine levels, but it will also save you money.

Thanks for the great question! And to the others who have sent me questions this week, they are on my list so check back over the next week or two for your answers!



I am spending the week in Maine with Ed’s parents, because I had a wedding here last weekend and another next weekend. Not a bad place to be parked for the week! Last night, I helped Ed’s mother make a strawberry rhubarb pie. I had never cooked with rhubarb before (although, I’ve enjoyed many rhubarb pies in my lifetime). As is the case with most foods, now that I've cooked with rhubarb once it is much less intimidating to me.

The pie turned out perfectly. But, I became curious about the health benefits of rhubarb. It looks like celery but has more flavor and color, and since celery is extremely healthy then rhubarb must be off the charts, right?


Rhubarb is a vegetable that actually comes from Tibet. The leaves of the plant are usually poisonous, and the stems can even be toxic if eaten raw in large amounts, so rhubarb should always be cooked. A small amount of raw rhubarb is okay to eat though, and is sometimes used for its bitter flavor. Rhubarb is very high in fiber, phytonutrients, calcium and other minerals. Raw rhubarb is naturally high in vitamin C, although much of that is lost when the rhubarb is cooked. Traditionally, dried rhubarb was used as a remedy for a wide range of illnesses, including vomiting and nausea.

Some studies have shown rhubarb to have anti-tumor properties. Apparently there are certain chemical components of the vegetable that have anti-cell proliferation abilities and that increase the number of white blood cells (which fight disease) inside our bodies. The dietary fiber in rhubarb is beneficial for those suffering from indigestion. Rhubarb root can be taken in therapeutic amounts to relieve constipation, indigestion, and to support colon health. The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of rhubarb make it a good vegetable to apply topically to cuts or burns.

In addition to all of these health benefits, rhubarb has antioxidant properties, helps those with allergies, is an anti-inflammatory, and can benefit those with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. And for women going through menopause, rhubarb is a great food because it is high in calcium so can help prevent osteoporosis, and also helps reduce hot flashes.

When choosing rhubarb, choose stalks that are flat, not curled. The redder the stalk, the sweeter and richer-tasting it will be. I haven’t tried growing rhubarb, but I found a great website for those of us in Colorado who want to give it a try. If you’re interested, go here to read more about growing rhubarb in high altitudes.

So, rhubarb is definitely a health food and now I will be much more inclined to buy some next year and use it in sauces and pies!


Deli Meat

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. She is from Chicago, her husband is from Chicago, and pretty much everyone who attended the wedding was from Chicago, with the exception of a few people. Her family and friends are great, and many of them read my blog. In fact, if I were making money each time I got a new blog reader, I’d have to pay her family commission!

The brother of the bride asked if I would do a blog on deli meat. However, he made it very clear that if I had nothing nice to say about deli meat, he’d like me to “cancel the blog” because he’s clearly not willing to remove it from his diet. Well, Colin, you’ll be happy to know that not all deli meat is bad and I actually think it can be a great way to easily fit some protein into your diet!

The biggest things to look out for in terms of deli meat are highly processed meats and those containing nitrates. Some of the most highly processed meats include bologna, ham or roast beef. Basically, these are meats that are seasoned with things like sugar, spices, sodium, and other MSG-containing flavors, and then formed into a symmetrical shape and packaged up for a long shelf life. Anything that is perfectly shaped is definitely processed. One statistic I read said that 15% of the meat produced in the US is used to make over 200 varieties of processed meats. A long list of ingredients on a package of deli meat should be a red flag. Things like turkey and chicken are sometimes formed from pieces of meat that are bonded together and then sliced thinly. It is possible that they can also be highly processed and contain additives and preservatives.

Nitrates are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria on deli meat. In addition, they act as a color fixative for cured meats. However, nitrates can also combine with something in the stomach to form compounds that are associated with cancer. Nitrates have been linked to cancer of the oral cavity, bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.

One nitrate-free deli meat brand that many people like is Applegate Farms. Their meats are sold at Whole Foods and do not contain preservatives or other chemicals. Hormel Natural Choice can be found at most grocery stores and also claims to have no added preservatives or nitrates. However, it still can have other flavorings added to the meats so make sure you read the labels carefully. Boar’s Head deli meat has some types that are nitrate-free – most of their ham contains nitrates but some chicken and turkey does not.

It’s difficult to know which sliced deli meats contain nitrates and other harmful chemicals, and which are more pure. I recommend buying organic whenever possible to ensure that the meats are made from 100% actual animal meat, not parts and pieces of the animal that are molded together and sliced to look like chicken breast. If the animals are grass-fed, that is even better. I would also try to read ingredient lists if you are buying pre-packaged meat. Just make sure you understand what each ingredient is and making a conscious decision to eat those things. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions at the deli counter. They can show you ingredient lists if they’re not displayed, and you can use that information to make the best choice about what you buy.

Some people will avoid deli meat altogether, but that isn’t really realistic for most of us. While eating a perfectly clean diet is ideal, it can sometimes prevent us from getting the protein and other nutrients we need each day. So, my advice is to just do the best you can, and if you do have a choice of meats, choose the ones that are the least likely to be processed and contain chemicals and additives. I wouldn't go out and buy bologna on a regular basis for your kids - things like that are easy to work around and there are plenty of healthier alternatives.

Of course, another great option is to make your own sliced meat by cooking chicken breasts or a ham, and then slicing it and using it in your sandwiches. This is not realistic to do every week, but once in a while it is good to incorporate the more real meat into your diet. Plus, it tastes so much better this way!