What Do You Know About Figs?

RIMG3864small RIMG3939small RIMG4014smallI just harvested figs from our tree, and I’m feeling very lucky!

Our climate is great for growing figs, so when our neighbors moved north, we adopted their tree.

If you’re not fortunate enough to have your own fig tree, perhaps a friend can share their crop with you. Or you can always find some at a local market, though it can be a challenge to find figs at farmer’s markets, since they don’t store well and have a very short shelf life. But however you try it, get your hands on some fresh figs!

When selecting figs, pick ones that are plump, clean, and dry, with smooth, unbroken skin. They should be soft and yield to the touch, but do not choose mushy ones.

Fresh figs are very perishable. They can be stored in plastic bags in the coldest part of the refrigerator, but they’ll only keep for 2-3 days after picking. If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of figs, they may be dried, frozen, canned, or made into jam or preserves.

Many people are not familiar with fresh figs. Often their only exposure to this fruit is in the dried form or in baked goods like fig cookies. But figs can be eaten fresh, just as you would any other fruit, and they’re really a treat.

Use figs as another way to add variety to meals, or try them as another interesting fruit that can help you get those desired fruit and vegetable servings each day. Just 3-5 dried figs (about ¼ cup) or ½ cup of fresh figs count as one fruit serving.

More Figs!Now let’s talk nutrition. Figs are known for their high fiber content. They also contain more calcium, more potassium, and more iron than many other common fruits. They’re also full of disease-fighting antioxidants.

Fresh figs are very low in calories. About 3.5 ounces (~100 grams) or nine small figs contain only 74 calories, along with three grams of dietary fiber. On the other hand, dried figs have concentrated sugars and nutrition. 12 dried figs (the same 100 grams) contain 251 calories and 10 grams of dietary fiber. Use some caution with these dried fruits — it’s really easy to eat too many in one sitting.

So, what can you do with fresh figs?

In addition to fig cookies, figs can be used as appetizers, salads, main dishes, and desserts. Cut them in half and put them in a salad or grill them with chicken or fish. You can also mix them with feta cheese and balsamic vinegar for a show-stopping appetizer. I personally, like them chopped and mixed with vanilla Greek yogurt.

How will you enjoy fresh figs?

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Want to offer your clients a fun way to cook with figs? Get this free recipe handout today!

Fig Recipe Handout

And there are lots more cooking and nutrition resources in the Nutrition Education Store! Which will make your life easier?

Healthy Kitchen Poster Set

PowerPoint — Nutrition: Get the Facts

Introduction to Cooking Cookbook

New Study: Mushrooms and Vitamin D

We know that vitamin D is considered a nutrient of concern by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which means that most people don’t get enough of it. But according to the latest study from the Journal of Dermato-Endocrinology, the situation is more dire than that. In fact, the authors of the study Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans declare that “Vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic.”

Do you know your mushrooms?Since vitamin D deficiency has raised the risk of a variety of chronic diseases and skeletal diseases, getting enough vitamin D should be high on your clients’ to-do lists. Getting enough vitamin D will reduce the risk of disease and boost health, which can make selling this goal to your clients much easier. In fact, Keegan et.al. assert “obtaining vitamin D from sensible sun exposure, foods that naturally contain vitamin D, and from supplementation with vitamin D is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

So, it’s time to look at the study and determine how mushrooms could play a role in good health.

But, before we begin, we want to draw your attention to the disclaimer we found at the bottom of the article…

“This work was supported by The Mushroom Council and from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Translational Science Institute Grant UL1-TR000157. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript; ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01815437.”

Anyway, now you know who supported this study and to what degree. Let’s move on to the science.

Gotta love mushrooms!According to the study, “Mushrooms exposed to sunlight or UV radiation are an excellent source of dietary vitamin D2 because they contain high concentrations of the vitamin D precursor, provitamin D2.” Furthermore, “ingestion of 2000 IUs of vitamin D2 in mushrooms is as effective as ingesting 2000 IUs of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 in a supplement in raising and maintaining blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D which is a marker for a person’s vitamin D status.”

In other words, mushrooms are as effective as vitamin D supplements when it comes to raising vitamin D to reasonable levels in the body.

But how do mushrooms become vitamin D powerhouses?

The researchers explain, “When exposed to UV radiation, mushrooms become an abundant source of vitamin D2.” That’s how they can be used as vitamin D boosters to help people reduce their risk of disease.

The study concludes, “Therefore ingesting mushrooms containing vitamin D2 can be an effective strategy to enhance the vitamin D status of the consumer. The observation that some mushrooms when exposed to UVB radiation also produce vitamin D3 and vitamin D4 can also provide the consumer with at least two additional vitamin Ds.”

So, the bottom line is that most people don’t get enough vitamin D, but consuming mushrooms exposed to UV radiation could help people improve their vitamin D profiles.

More mushrooms!Want to help your clients eat more mushrooms? Here are the top 5 mushroom recipes from Food and Health Communications!

And, because I love ya, here’s a free handout that features the Chicken with Mushrooms recipe. Share it with your clients and help them get enough vitamin D!

Chicken with Mushrooms

For More Information:

For More Nutrition Education Resources:

Check out the Nutrition Education Store — here are a few recent educator favorites…

Basic Nutrition Handout Set

Exercise Poster

Nutrition Basics PowerPoint

Cool Beans

Yes, we all know that beans are the musical fruit. But did you also know that they’re magical?

I mean, not magic magical, but beans are an inexpensive, tasty, and nutritious powerhouse! Today I want to introduce you to the joys of beans. And we’ll even talk strategies for making them less musical too.

14% of the U.S. population is eating beans on any given day. Pinto beans are the most popular bean, closely followed by navy, black, Great Northern, and garbanzo beans. These versatile legumes even fit into two distinct MyPlate groups — vegetables and protein. Did you know that beans can be considered a healthful protein food or a fantastic vegetable option? Fit them on your plate wherever they can do the most good.

BEANSSo, why eat beans? In a word: nutrients. They’re full of them! Beans are great sources of…

  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Plant protein
  • Polyphenols
  • Potassium
  • Resistant starch
  • Soluble fiber
  • Total fiber
  • Zinc

According to MyPlate, many Americans don’t get nearly enough folate or potassium in their diets. Beans are a great way to correct this issue. Plus, a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has revealed that beans “are among the only plant foods that provide significant amounts of the indispensable amino acid lysine.”

What does this mean for your health? Well, a diet rich in beans can…

  • Reduce your LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Decrease your risk of diabetes.
  • Help you manage your weight.
  • Improve the health of your colon.
  • Be rich in vital nutrients.

But wait, there’s more! Beans are wonderfully inexpensive and deliciously versatile. Did you know that canned beans cost only 4 cents per ounce, while dried beans average 11 cents per ounce? Just to compare, Angus Beef costs 31 cents per ounce!

Let’s take that bean and beef comparison one step further. What do you notice about the chart below?

Bean and Beef Comparison

A single serving of kidney beans has 20.5 fewer grams of fat, 6.5 more grams of fiber, and 48% fewer calories than lean ground beef! This means that beans are as great a bet for your health as they are for your wallet.

So, how can you make beans a part of your life?

Well, when it comes to canned beans, it’s as easy as draining and rinsing them, then tossing them into your next salad or batch of chili.

Dried beans require a little bit more effort. There are a few tried-and-true approaches, which I’ve outlined below…

  • Overnight: Cover your beans with several inches of water and let them soak in a large pot overnight. Then, when you want to cook them, drain and rinse the beans, cover with a few inches of fresh water and bring the whole shebang to a boil. Let everything boil for a few minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook for a few hours, until beans are tender.
  • Quick: For a quicker method that skips the overnight soak, bring beans to a boil in a large pot. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat and let them soak for an hour. Bring everything to a boil once more and then simmer for a few hours, until beans are tender.

A good soaking ratio for dried beans is 5 to 1 — 5 parts water to 1 part dried beans. Let’s look at an example. If you have 2 cups of dried beans, soak them in 10 cups of water. The cooking ratio for soaked beans is 1 part broth or water to 1 part beans.

Now the exact cooking time for dried beans varies based on…

  • Age of the beans
  • Altitude
  • Bean variety
  • Water hardness

Chicken Tostada SaladPhew! That was a lot of information about beans. It’s time to get practical. Here are some great (and free!) recipes for canned and cooked beans alike.

Oh and yes, sometimes eating too many beans at once will give you gas. Start introducing beans to your diet gradually in order to reduce your risk of musical side effects. Drink plenty of water while you eat beans and be sure to rinse canned beans well. These steps will further reduce your risk of any digestive discomfort so that you can eat beans without fear.

So what are you waiting for? Get our there and enjoy beans!

Here’s a free handout with a great bean recipe to help you get started…

Bean Recipe Handout

For More Information:

  1. Dry Beans. http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/vegetables-pulses/dry-beans.aspx#.VDxOWudN3U4
  2. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Dried Beans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871476
  3. Beans and Peas are Unique Foods. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-beans-peas.html
  4. The World’s Healthiest Foods: Black Beans. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=2
  5. Cost of groceries. Peapod.com

Even More Bean Resources:

Protein Bulletin Board Kit

MyPlate on a Budget Brochure

Mediterranean Meals Poster

Testing Recipes from the Internet

I’ll warn you before you start reading — today I’m on my own personal soap box.

Healthful SnacksThis box is all about recipes on the internet.

It starts small. A new recipe appears somewhere on the internet. It’s got a great photo, a clever name, and a health claim to fame. It asserts that it is “Diet-friendly!” with “No Added Sugars!” It could announce that it is a “Sweet treat without the splurge!” or “Better than candy!” The options are endless.

I watch as this recipe spreads across the internet. It hits Pinterest, then gets shared on Facebook. People tweet it and blog about it. It gets featured on news sites and healthy living guides. All this time I keep seeing it again and again. “NO ADDED SUGAR!!!!” it screams. “AMAZING FOR YOUR DIET!!!” it raves. So what’s the problem?

Sugar.

Yes, there is no sugar added to those miracle banana bars or healthified refrigerator cookies. Yes, the ingredients are all actual foods. But there’s something that these recipes don’t seem to consider, and that is the calorie and sugar content of the actual ingredients.

Why do people think that just because you don’t add sugar to a recipe that it doesn’t have calories or natural sugars?

Let’s look at an example. A super-popular oatmeal banana bar recipe had hit social media (and my inbox) hard. Since I was looking for snack ideas for my ongoing weight loss class, I gave it a try.

As soon as I started to cook, I wondered if anyone who had sent this recipe to me or posted a link to it had actually tried it. After all, it didn’t specify what size pan I needed. I tried an 8×8 pan and the results were awful. It tasted like cold oatmeal. At this point, I still held out some hope. Maybe it was just me. Maybe my pan guess was wrong. Since I’d gotten this recipe roughly 2,174 times, I figured that I should try again, this time with a 9×13 pan. Sadly, the results were comparable. No matter how long I baked them or the size of the pan, the bars was still really moist and gooey. I even added some nuts for crunch. They worked, but they couldn’t save the dish.

I’m afraid that that’s not where this story ends. Deciding to dig deeper, I did a quick nutrition analysis of the bars using the USDA nutrition database. Since the recipe didn’t specify number of servings or serving size, I really didn’t know how many of these oatmeal banana bars I was supposed to get. Eyeballing the figure, I guessed that each pan held roughly 12 servings. My quick calculations came to 105 calories, 2.4 grams of fiber and 8.5 grams of sugar in one 3-inch square bar from a 9×13 pan. That’s from a recipe whose claim to fame is “no added sugar.” Doesn’t that seem a bit calorie-dense for a healthful sweet treat?

I can think of many other ways to spend my 105 calories in a snack that actually tastes better. A good starting point would be to eat the banana, applesauce, bowl of oatmeal, or raisins that were all called for in this recipe.

Was I alone in my assessment of this social media phenomenon? I took to the internet. Comments on the recipe largely matched my experience, with complaints about sponginess and soggy textures. Claims that these are the perfect healthful snack “if you have a sweet tooth” fell flat. After all, you’d have to be pretty desperate to eat these things.

Okay, let me hop down from my soap box for a while and get to the point.

Just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s really good.

Is the recipe truly healthful, or does it just spout health claims? What are the ingredients? How do they come together to form the dish? What is the nutrient content?

I make a point to always test a recipe before I give it to a class or print it in a piece I’m writing. The only exception comes when I know the developers and they are trusted sources. For example, I know that Chef Judy from Food and Health Communications has a strict policy for all the recipes that she publishes. They must work and they also must taste good.

I also realize that not everyone looks at a recipe in the same way. If you’re sharing a recipe, be specific about can sizes, pan sizes, and box sizes. Please don’t make nutrition claims about a recipe unless you know for sure.

So, want to make a tasty snack that actually offers health benefits while staying low in calories? Try Garden Pinwheels, a recipe from Judy Doherty that features fresh veggies and light cream cheese, rolled up in a tasty tortilla and sliced into cute wheels. With only 66 calories and 56% of your daily value for vitamin A, this snack is good for your health and your taste buds! Take a look.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Want tried-and-true recipes that you know will work and be healthful at the same time? Check out these resources…

Home Run Cookbook: Healthful Meals and Cooking Tips

Fruit Tooth Dessert Cookbook: Healthful Recipes that Satisfy a Sweet Tooth without Empty Calories

Salad Secrets Cookbook: Salad Doesn’t Have to be Boring

Be the One

I’m sure you’ve noticed that healthful options are rather limited at most pot luck meals. These events tend to bring out the fat, sugar, sodium, and calorie-laden foods from everyone’s recipe boxes.

Shared Meal My husband and I were recently invited to such a party and he asked “will there be anything there I can eat?” (If you’ve been following my posts, then you know that my husband had a heart attack a year ago and is trying very hard to maintain a heart-healthy diet and lose some weight).

I was glad he asked. It shows that he’s thinking ahead.

Planning is always one of the suggestions offered to folks who are trying to maintain a special diet at social events. When in doubt, take something that you know you can eat.

With this thought in mind — and the holiday party season approaching quickly — I asked the participants in my heart-healthy cooking class what they would take to a pot luck party. Here are their ideas…

  • Chocolate angel food cake (no egg yolk and no frosting)
  • Apple squares (made with fresh apples, using apple sauce to replace any fat)
  • Quinoa salad with fresh spinach and a lemon dressing
  • Fresh greens tossed with strawberries, almonds, and homemade vinaigrette
  • Baked spinach balls
  • Baked tortilla chips with homemade salsa
  • Low-salt potato chips*
  • Swedish meatballs made with ground chicken and low-sodium gravy
  • Slices of Honeycrisp apples

I added a few suggestions of my own as well:

  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Fresh fruit with a yogurt dip

I think my class members get it. They understand the need to be the ones to bring the healthful stuff. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have reservations and concerns. I heard comments like  “we’ve done this before and no one ate the healthy foods,” “no one else will eat it,” and “I’ll end up taking it home.”

That’s okay. In fact, it may actually be a bonus. Take it home and you’ll have something for tomorrow. At least you were the one that took something healthful. Yes, I know it’s hard to eat apple slices when there’s a gooey dessert available. But eating a few apple slices means that you’ll be more full and have less room when you slice yourself a bit of that gooey dessert.

Start a trend. Be the one.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Want to encourage your clients to be the one? Here are 10 great (and free!) recipes for healthful pot luck options…

And, as always, there’s more right here in the Nutrition Education Store. Here are some great holiday survival materials…

Holiday Secrets: Healthy Holiday Recipes

Holiday Challenge: Strategies to Help People Stay on Track During the Holidays

Poster: Holiday Survival Tips

*I have a little problem with this response, since there is still a lot of fat in this product. At least she was thinking about the sodium!

Pumpkin Ideas for Halloween and Beyond

Cheryl Sullivan is here with a perfect pumpkin update!

Pumpkin FunDid you know that a single 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin provides 4 grams of fiber, no fat or cholesterol, and only 50 calories? Pumpkin also has more beta-carotene per serving than any other common food. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, and that may protect against heart disease and some cancers.

Let’s Talk About Fresh Pumpkins

Fresh pumpkins are available from late summer to well into the fall. Small sugar (a.k.a pie) pumpkins are the best for eating, though you can eat the large ones, too. Be sure the pumpkins are clean and dry, then store them a cool, dry, and dark place. Pumpkins may last for several months, depending on the storage conditions.

Cooking with Pumpkins

To prepare a pumpkin for cooking, cut off the top. Flip it over and cut a thin slice off of the bottom. That way, the pumpkin will sit flat on your cutting board. Using a large knife, cut slices of the skin off from top to bottom, working your way around the pumpkin, just like you would cut the skin off of an orange. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, then cut the pumpkin into chunks.

To make pumpkin puree, steam those pumpkin chunks until they’re quite tender. Drain them, then puree in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, mash them as fine as you can with a potato masher. Press the mixture through a fine sieve or coffee filter and voila! Pumpkin puree is yours.

You can also bake unpeeled, seeded pumpkin halves at 325° until tender. This takes about 1 hour. Scoop the flesh out of the shell and puree it. Since this puree will be drier than the puree in the other method, you won’t need to drain it.

All homemade pumpkin puree may be frozen for up to six months.

You can also make pumpkins into a tasty side dish. Cut a peeled, fresh pumpkin into cubes and toss the cubes with 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons thawed apple juice concentrate, and a dash of nutmeg. Put the whole shebang into a baking pan coated with cooking spray and roast in a 400° oven for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.

Make a delicious and speedy pumpkin soup by heating 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin with 1 can of low-sodium broth, 1/2 cup of water or skim milk, and 1 teaspoon of mild curry powder. Heat the whole thing in a saucepan and serve warm.

You can even use pumpkin puree to make your own quick pumpkin ice cream. Soften 1 pint nonfat vanilla ice cream, then fold in 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 2 tablespoons sugar (or artificial sweetener), and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Refreeze, then scoop into 4 dishes to serve.

What About Canned Pumpkin?

Canned pumpkin puree is easy to use and works very well in recipes. Be sure to purchase plain pumpkin and not the pie filling. Pumpkin pie filling is loaded with sugar and other ingredients. Read the label carefully to see which one you are buying.

What are you doing with pumpkins this year?

By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

Looking for other seasonal resources? Check out the holiday materials in the Nutrition Education Store! My personal favorites include…

Holiday Survival Tips Poster

Holiday Challenge Toolkit

Holiday Exercise Poster