For the Love of Food

Food is fun, exciting, comforting, and so much more.  It deserves celebration.  March is National Nutrition Month, which is the perfect time to focus on healthy food.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the 2016 theme, “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” reminds us to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors, and social experiences food can add to our lives.  Take in your surroundings when you eat because it is not just about the food itself. 

Taste is just one of the senses that make up a food experience.  We also rely on sight, hearing, smell, and touch.  Think back to your favorite food.  More often than not it is associated with a pleasant memory.  Continue to create food experiences by adjusting routines, especially at lunchtime.  Try the following ideas to keep things interesting. 

·         Add Excitement: Roasted and grilled foods add a lot of flavor.  Grill or roast extra vegetables (onions, summer squash, zucchini, portabella mushrooms, asparagus) at dinner or on days off to add to your lunch. They taste delicious with goat cheese.  Kick meals up a notch with chili peppers or a little hot sauce.

·         Have Fun with Food: Use a variety of colored fruits and vegetables for a pretty plate.  You can even make shapes out of cut up vegetables for kids (and adults) to enjoy. 

·         Variety is the Spice of Life: The same old sandwich day after day can become boring. Try replacing bread with whole grain tortilla, pita, or even crackers for added crunch. Instead of deli meat, purchase a roasted chicken or try homemade egg or tuna salad for sandwiches. Get creative with your tuna salad by mixing in chopped celery and bell peppers, low fat cottage cheese, plain nonfat yogurt, avocado, and/or sliced grapes.  Try a burrito with chicken, black beans, grilled vegetables, low fat cheese, and salsa. Lettuce and tomato are typical sandwich staples, but for variety, try arugula or fresh spinach and bell peppers.  Mix up the proteins in salads by adding beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, edamame), eggs, and/or low fat cheese or cottage cheese. Nuts and seeds also add crunch and flavor.   

Most of us are aware of the four basic tastes, sweet (think summer strawberries), salty (olives), sour (lemon juice), and bitter (coffee or cranberries), but there is one more, umami.  Imagine a food that gives you that “aaaaahhhh” moment of intense satisfaction.  That’s it!  Interestingly, scientific studies have recently confirmed that breast milk is our first experience with umami.  Umami is present in more familiar foods than one would think.  Take pizza for example.  Parmesan (and other aged cheeses) and tomatoes, which are pizza essentials, are high in umami.  I mean who doesn’t enjoy pizza in one form or another?  Other umami-rich foods include soy sauce, ketchup, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce.  Cooked meat and seafood as well as savory vegetables, like ripe tomatoes, asparagus, and artichokes are natural sources of umami. 

Just recently, there is another potential taste getting attention, fat.  Research shows that fat has a distinct taste, called oleogustus.  Oleo is Latin for oily or fatty and gustus is taste.  When eaten alone, this taste is actually very unpleasant, but when combined with other flavors, it enhances them, creating a better experience just like the bitter taste makes coffee and chocolate seem pleasant.   Try to experience your next meal with all of your senses, especially the six basic tastes.  You might find that food takes on a whole new meaning.    

Herbs and spices truly entice your taste buds and take food from bland to amazing.  Not only that, but recent research reveals that certain herbs and spices may reduce cancer risk or slow and possibly stop the growth of existing tumor cells.  The following list will help you flavor your foods with the right seasonings for health.

  • Turmeric, the bright yellow spice used in Indian curry and most American-style mustards, may protect against cancer in multiple ways.  It destroys cancer cells, stops tumor replication, inhibits abnormal blood vessel formation (which is necessary for tumor growth), and aids the body’s tumor suppressing mechanisms.  It is especially promising for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
  • Cayenne pepper powder comes from red hot chili peppers.  Capsaicin, the active chemical in cayenne pepper, destroys cancer cells and stops their growth.  Laboratory research has shown that since capsaicin can reduce ulcer symptoms, it is promising in the prevention of stomach cancer.
  • Cinnamon contains compounds called polyphenols, which may help prevent cell damage, thus protecting against various forms of cancer.  Studies have also shown that cinnamon can stop the growth of cancer cells.
  • Nutmeg extract caused leukemia cells to self-destruct in a recent medical study. 
  • Rosemary’s anti-inflammatory properties may help prevent colon cancer. 
  • Cumin seeds rid the body of harmful free radicals and enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes, which may protect against cancer. 
  • Parsley’s volatile oils have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies.  It is a good source of folic acid, a B vitamin that aids in preventing cancers of the colon and cervix.
  • Ginger helps control inflammation and research has shown that it may help to kill ovarian cancer cells. 
  • Cardamom has anti-inflammatory and immune boosting activity and may inhibit carcinogenesis (cancer formation).
  • Basil possesses antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral properties, helps prevent cellular mutation (which is involved in the development of cancer), and helps inhibit tumor development.    

To preserve their health promoting properties, store spices and dried herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.  Whole spices will last up to three years and pre-ground spices keep for approximately six months to one year.  To optimize the shelf life of fresh herbs, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  This way, they will last a few days.  Herbs and spices are taste enhancers with anti-cancer properties.

In addition to food and beverage choices as well as added herbs and spices, environment can have a

major impact on food experience.  The following ideas will help you improve your dining experience to savor the flavor.

·         Have fun cooking.  Cooking is about combining ingredients to make them taste great together.  Recipes are good guides, but it is also fun to create new and interesting meals.  Mise En Place literally means to put in place.  This is one of the most important steps in meal preparation.  Before beginning to cook, have all ingredients ready.  Chop ingredients and set aside any necessary spices so that you can focus on cooking when the time comes.  With the prep done, you can direct all of your attention to creating a delicious, healthy meal. 

·         Eliminate distractions by turning off the computer, television, and cell phones during meals.  Play soft, soothing music instead, and dine quietly and slowly.  Making mealtime a relaxing experience aids digestion.

·         Set the table so that it looks appealing.  This makes dinner a special, enjoyable time.

·         Have positive conversation and avoid negative comments and arguments.  Savor each bite and enjoy each other’s company.

Use this month to celebrate everything that you enjoy about food, and savor the flavor of eating right. 


Food Rescue

We all make many daily decisions about food, whether it is packing lunch, planning dinner, fueling for exercise, or grabbing a quick snack.  Each decision makes a difference for health, budget, and the environment.  March is National Nutrition Month and the 2018 theme “Go Further With Food” encourages planning to reduce food loss and waste.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one third of all food grown is lost or wasted worldwide, and much of that waste occurs in the United States where about 40% of all food goes uneaten every year.  This is equivalent to approximately 60 million tons of produce worth $160 billion.  In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food takes up the most space in American landfills.  It is estimated that only 3% of discarded food in the United States is composted.  Sadly, some of this waste is about aesthetics.  People don’t want to buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables.  That is, if they even reach the grocery stores.  Much of the produce is left to decay in the fields or removed post-harvest for not meeting cosmetic standards.  After making it past harvest, foods risk being discarded by grocery stores, foodservice, restaurants, and households.  All of this waste adds up.  Thousands of pounds of food are thrown away due to low demand, food past the “sell by” date that is still safe and edible, or aesthetics.  On a positive note, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank program, Retail Rescue connects local and national retailers with its member agencies to turn “food waste” into donations.  This and other programs like it deserve to be celebrated.  According to the USDA, 12.8% of Rhode Islander’s (more that 56,000 households) and 13% of the U.S. (16.3 million households) are food insecure, which means that they often do not know where their next meal will come from.  Being part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center team, this is close to my heart.  My LivFit program there is designed to help people turn pantry staples into healthy meals for their families with nutrition education and cooking instruction.  The program is free and open to all of Newport County.  The best way to become a part of the solution is to reduce food waste by planning meals, using leftovers creatively, composting, and donating to your local food pantry.  


Recent research has revealed the many health benefits of nuts.  Eating nuts has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and aid in weight loss.  With their fiber and protein content, nuts help to satisfy hunger.  They are also a great source of minerals, healthy unsaturated fats, and other health promoting nutrients.  Try all of the following nuts for optimal health.

  • Walnuts:  Omega 3 Fatty Acids (essential fats that protect the heart, improve cognitive function, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits)

                 Ellagic Acid (fights cancer and supports the immune system)

                 16 Polyphenols (have powerful antioxidant activity)

                 Copper, Magnesium

  • Almonds:  Heart Healthy Monounsatuated Fat

                 Vitamin E and Selenium (antioxidants)

                 Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, Copper

  • Pecans:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Folic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper, Phosphorus,     

                 Potassium,  Manganese, Several B Vitamins

  • Peanuts:  A peanut is actually a legume (bean), but is typically grouped with nuts.

                 Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Folate, Iron, Niacin, Magnesium

  • Cashews:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Copper, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Biotin

  • Pistachios:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Potassium, Vitamin B6, Magnesium

  • Brazil Nuts:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Copper, Niacin, Magnesium, Vitamin E, Selenium

  • Macadamia Nuts:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                  Potassium, Magnesium

The two nuts that emerge as leaders for overall health and nutrition are walnuts and almonds.  Eating a variety of nuts is the best way to optimize your health benefits.  Since nuts are highly concentrated in both calories and nutrients, a small amount goes a long way.  When it comes to nuts, moderation is key.  Keep nuts on hand for a delicious and satisfying snack.

Beans, Beans They're Good For Your Heart . . .

Most people have a can or bag of beans somewhere in their pantry.  Now is the time to be creative with them.  A popular ingredient in chili and soups, beans versatility doesn’t stop there.  They can be added to salads and stir fries and can even be used whole, mashed, or pureed as a side dish.  With all of their health benefits, beans are a great addition to any diet.  Take a look at what they have to offer.

·         Energy:  With 30 – 40 grams of slow burning complex carbohydrates per cup, beans help maintain and improve energy levels.  Beans also help to replenish iron stores.  Iron is part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all of the cells in the body.  Therefore, iron is important for energy production and metabolism.  Beans are a good source of the B vitamin Thiamin, which participates in energy production by converting food to fuel.

·         Protein:  Beans provide protein to build and maintain muscle.  Grains, like brown rice or whole wheat bread, and beans are complementary proteins.  Alone, they are missing some of the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, but together, they form a complete protein. 

·         Intestinal Health:  A cup of cooked beans provides 50 % of the Recommended Daily Intake for fiber.  Because of their fiber content, beans help prevent constipation as well as digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

·         Heart Health:  Beans contain soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels by removing it from the body.  Folate, a B vitamin found in beans, help break down homocysteine, an amino acid that in high amounts can lead to blood vessel damage, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease.  Beans also contain significant amounts of magnesium, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

·         Cancer Prevention:  The skin of beans contains phytochemicals that help prevent cancer.  Studies have shown that eating beans four times per week reduces the risk of colon cancer. 

·         Blood Sugar Control:  The fiber in beans helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which makes beans a great choice for people with diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia.

Canned versus Dried Beans:  The Pros and Cons


·         Cost:  40 cents or less per serving

·         Nutrition:  High in sodium with up to 800 mg per serving.  Try low sodium versions, and strain and rinse beans before use.

·         Convenience:  Ready to use in recipes.


·         Cost:  20 cents per serving

·         Nutrition:  Sodium free and slightly higher in fiber, iron, and folate than canned.

·         Convenience:  Most beans must be soaked and boiled for hours.

Try including beans in your next dish.  You may be surprised by the great flavor and texture they provide.

De-Stress Your Table for a Healthy Weight

In addition to food and beverage choices, environment can have a major impact on healthy eating.   The following ideas will help you improve your dining experience to stay slim.

·         Eliminate distractions by turning off the computer, television, and cell phones during meals.  Play soft, soothing music instead, and dine quietly and slowly.  Making mealtime a relaxing experience aids digestion.

·         Set the table so that it looks appealing.  This makes dinner a special, enjoyable time.

·         Fill your glass (with water that is).  Drinking two cups of water before meals has been shown to promote weight loss.  Make water your beverage of choice before and during meals.

·         Have positive conversation and avoid negative comments and arguments.  Savor each bite and enjoy each other’s company. 

·         Have only the vegetable serving dish on the table during meals.  Keep all other serving dishes away from the table.  Better yet, refrigerate any leftovers after each person fills his/her plate. 

·         Use smaller plates and utensils.  Smaller plates mean smaller portions.  Average plate size has increased from 9 to 14 inches over the past 50 years.  Today’s typical American dinner plate used to be the serving “platter” for a family dinner.  Try using the larger plate for salads and vegetables and the salad plate for proteins and carbohydrates.  The same is true for utensils.  By using smaller utensils, you will take smaller bites, which leads to slower eating and allows time for your body to register feelings of fullness.

Stay Healthy Together

Stay healthy as a family by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.  Follow the guidelines below to get started. 

Eat A Rainbow every day.  Make colorful eating a game by having each family member track the colors that they eat during the day.  This makes nutrition fun and motivates everyone to eat fruits and vegetables.  A little healthy competition doesn’t hurt either.  Add a fun prize (not food) for the person with the most colorful diet.

Involve the entire family in meal planning and preparation.  Kids are more likely to try something if they helped make it.  This is a great way to introduce new foods and make them exciting. 

Snack healthy.  Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks, especially when served with a tasty dip, like hummus, peanut butter, or yogurt. 

Eat together.  Family meals are important for development.  Not only do they promote healthy eating habits and decrease the risk of obesity but they also improve social behaviors. 

Play together.  Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity daily.  Playing counts so get out there and build a snowman together.    

Keep your family fit and healthy through the summer by making nutrition and exercise accessible and exciting.



"My favorite aspect of my job is that I help people improve their lives.  It is truly fulfilling to see a client succeed and lead a healthier lifestyle. Don't Diet! EAT HEALTHY, LIVE HAPPY!"

                                                                                 -Yours In Health,

                                                                                   Kristin Niessink MS, RD, LDN

                                                                                   Phone: (401) 368-7614