The Healthy Kitchen

Often I am asked what I eat everyday and how to make healthy eating a habit. For me, keeping my cupboards and fridge stocked with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps keep my on a healthy track. Consider the following:

• Whole grains including brown rice, barley, quinoa, and couscous come in handy. Choose quick-cooking varieties for convenience. Whole grain breads, pitas, and pastas are other grain ideas.
• Canned versions of dried beans and lentils are good for salad additions and in roll-ups or casseroles.
• Other canned items include low sodium soups and broths, fruit, tomato products, and veggies.
• Canned meats, sardines, tuna, and salmon can be added to casseroles, grilled sandwiches, and salads.
• Nuts and nut butters add protein and good fats to meals and snacks. Seeds and their oils along with olive and canola oils also contribute health fats.
• Both sweet and white potatoes are quick to prepare in the microwave.
• Seasonings are important for adding flavor. Garlic and onion powders (not salt), Italian herbs, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, wine vinegars, and low-sodium soy sauce are just a few ideas.
• Fresh onions and garlic have their place, also, in the well-stocked kitchen

Next consider the fridge.
• Low or no-fat dairy items such as yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and hard cheeses add protein and are great as toppings or casseroles additions
• Fresh greens including romaine, radicchio, endive, turnip tops and spinach make great salads sides.
• Baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, and sweet peppers can satisfy hungry kids as a snack or pre-meal treat.
• Eggs made into an omelet with potatoes and other vegetables, or in a casserole, or just scrambled offer a quick, nutritious and inexpensive meal. (And, eating one egg a day is fine for healthy folks.)

Don’t forget the freezer.
• Frozen fruit and vegetables of all types, even diced onion and green peppers, are available.
• Fish in individual servings are quick to prepare. Choose those without breading to reduce calories and fat.
• Soy crumbles double for ground beef and don’t need thawing. Veggie burgers are a quick fix, too, and available in many flavors.

In general, look for no-salt or low-salt varieties of canned goods and foods processed in water or their own juice. Be aware of expiration dates, and place recently purchased items behind those already in the pantry. For more tips, visit Today’s Dietitian and Cooking Light.


The epigenetics diet and cancer

Cancer has become a household word.  Most people know someone with cancer or someone who has had cancer in the past.  The good news is that new cases of cancer
from all causes in the United States have stabilized since 1999.  The not-so-good news is that certain types of cancer, such as kidney, liver, esophageal, and melanoma are on the rise.

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, a good time to consider one’s risk of
cancer and what can be done to reduce that risk. Eating healthy foods, especially vegetables, is one way to achieve this goal.  That is where the epigenetic diet comes in.

Epigenetics is the concept that characteristics that are acquired during one’s lifetime and not inherited through DNA can be passed on to future generations.

Picture a switch on a radio that turns the device on and off, or turns the volume up and down. The current idea is that, in a like fashion, nutrients in food can affect the way genes work by turning genes off and on or by increasing or decreasing their roles in disease.

Current research suggests that a vegetable-based diet may be the best approach to
influencing our genes in a positive manner.

Studies by Syed Meeran, Ph.D., and Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., at UAB suggest that a healthy diet based on epigenetic studies include broccoli, cabbage, green tea, grapes, spinach, soy, fava beans, and the spice turmeric. These foods may protect cells and even reverse cellular changes that can lead to cancer and other diseases.

Truly this is exciting research with far-reaching implications. By combining a plant-based diet with exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, wearing sunscreen, and appropriate cancer screenings, we may be able to greatly reduce our risk of certain cancers.

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Including nuts in your get-togethers

No, this is not a commentary on friends or party pals. 

Nuts, the edible varieties, are a nutritious snack. These crunchy, little nuggets provide protein, healthy monounsaturated fat, vitamins, and minerals. When consumed with the one ounce or quarter-cup serving size in mind, nuts contribute about 170 calories to your daily intake.

Every type of nut has its own special nutritional benefits. But as a group, nuts have been shown to promote heart health, decrease the risk of diabetes, and possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Peanuts are the hands-down favorite of many. These satisfying morsels, which really are
legumes and not nuts, come packed with nutrition. Peanuts have the most protein of any nut. They are also a source of magnesium, potassium and zinc, three minerals that may be low in some diets.

There are other nutty options, as well, that will add variety and nutrients to your diet.

  • Almonds are high in protein, iron and calcium.
  • Cashews are another good choice for protein, and contain important minerals including iron, magnesium, and zinc.
  • Hazelnuts are particularly rich in folate and vitamin E.
  • Pistachios contribute phytosterols, a plant nutrient that interferes with the body’s absorption of cholesterol. And you can eat one-half cup (or 49 nuts) of      shelled pistachios for the same calories as one-quarter cup of other nuts.
  • Walnuts have been getting more attention lately as a vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids.

As with any high-calorie food, moderation is the rule. If you tend to eat nuts by the handful, take out a measuring cup and determine what is in your hand before you toss the nuts into your mouth. Handfuls can vary from one-quarter cup to one-half cup. A couple handfuls of nuts will add up quickly calorie-wise.

One word of caution. When entertaining, be sure to ask invited guests beforehand about food allergies. And remember that nuts can be a choking hazard for children.