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The Heart Warming Side of Dark Foods

Happy February Friday!

Dark foods like dark chocolate, dark leafy greens, and black beans get their power from their their deep-dark pigments, which contains powerful phytonutrients that can defend against inflammation, lower blood pressure and keep blood flowing smoothly, which are all good for your heart.

Get a scoop of dark goodness today!

Dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa) is not only a soothing for your tastebuds, but your heart reaps the rewards, too.


Image courtesy of online.wsj.com.

Numerous studies have found a daily dose of dark chocolate to be beneficial for  your cardiovascular system.  A study in the British Medical Journal (2012) of 2,013 people with the metabolic syndrome (i.e., large waistline or “apple shaped”, high triglycerides, and/or insulin resistance) who ate dark chocolate every day showed marked improvement in blood pressure levels and cholesterol levels.  It’s important to note – that an ounce of dark chocolate – about 100 grams of polyphenols (the powerful chemicals inherent in cocoa) is a healthy dose.  Like anything, don’t overdue it.  I enjoy Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa Bar!  The make a Wasabi Dark flavor now – I’ve got to try that…


Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

Dark leafy greens like kale, mustard and collard greens are jammed with eye-protecting carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as betacarotene.  Plus, they are packed with vitamin K for blood clotting, iron, and B-vitamins like folate, which is essential for normal reproduction and brain and spine development of a fetus.   You know that  strong aromatic scent of kale – and other cruciferous veggies from the Brassica family like brocolli and Brussel sprouts, comes for chemical compounds called indoles – which have been shown to great to cancer prevention.  Leafy greens contain chemicals called resins, that bind with bile acids to lower cholesterol levels. Should you eat greens raw or cooked?  Steam cooking kale and other greens shows the best results for cholesterol lowering benefits (i.e., bile acid binding) thus, keeping your heart and arteries healthy!

Black beans


Image courtesy of seriouseats.com.

I love beans for their vibrant color and culinary diversity.  Black beans with their rich dark color are sure to be good for you.  Black beans, along with pinto, kidney and navy beans, are part of the Phaseolus vulgaris L. bean species, also called pulses.  They are amazing for your heart with a bevy of fiber (1/2 cup gives you 5 1/2 – 8 grams of total fiber), especially soluble fiber for cholesterol- lowering.  This is why the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends beans as an essential part of their Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes  – think of it as ‘TLC’ for your heart!   Have a heart healthy day! -VSR

Top 3 Foods for A Healthy Heart

Wear Red for Heart HealthHappy February!  Today kicks off American Heart Month with “National Wear Red Day” to show your support and create awareness about ways to prevent heart disease.  Your heart health is important – heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in America.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 90 seconds a women has a heart attack in the United States.   So, let’s talk prevention.

With healthful eating being one of the major tenets for keeping your heart healthy (along with decreasing alcohol use, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking and physical inactivity); try to get some of these foods in.

Top 3 Foods for Heart Heath



Glass teapot and tea cup

Image courtesy of karenhickman.wordpress.com.

Make time for tea today!  There are over 100 studies on tea and heart health and statistics show that 160 million Americans are drinking tea daily with black tea topping the list with 85 percent of people choosing black tea.

Research for the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea and Human Health,  revealed that drinking only a cup a day of black tea can keep your blood vessel functioning well (even after a high fat meal) and lower blood pressure, reduce the incidence of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular disease by 10 percent.

The good news you are getting a lot of nutritional value for your buck – it costs a mere 3 cents to brew a cup of tea at home.  Steep it for 3 – 4 minutes to get the best benefits – and choose it unsweetened, iced or hot.



Image courtesy of driscolls.com.

Who doesn’t love to sweet pop of a fresh berries in your mouth?  From strawberries to blueberries to raspberries, exciting research is pinpointing a “berry benefit” for your heart.  Recent research in the American Heart Associations’ journal, Circulation, revealed from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which recorded the eating habits of 93,600 women ages 25- 42 years old over 18 years, that women who regularly ate (3 servings per week) strawberries and blueberries lowered their risk of heart attack by one-third over those women who didn’t eat berries regularly.  What’s the magic in berries?  It’s the bold colors from compounds called anthocyanins that are believed to dilate arteries and prevent the build up of plaque or the condition, atherosclerosis, from occuring.  This bodes well for heart health.

So how are you going to get your three servings (at least) of berries a week?  Cut up strawberries over oatmeal, toss into salads and smoothies and sprinkle over plain yogurt.  Enjoy some berries for your hearth today!


Pistachio heart

Image courtesy of pistachiohealth.com.

Pistachios (and other tree nuts like almonds) are heart health powerhouses.  These little nuts offer a complete package of hearth health benefits as they are  jam-packed with plant-based nutrients called phytosterols, which are great for keeping cholesterol levels in check; heart-healthy, unsaturated fats for keeping blood vessels flexible; fiber for arterial and intestinal health, and plant-proteins for fueling muscles and keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Recent research in Nutrition Reviews revealed that pistachios have blood pressure lowering properties with their high potassium levels – and five randomised trials on heart health showed that pistachios are good for blood lipid levels – so they keep the LDL (bad) cholesterol down and the HDL (good) cholesterol up. So there are scientific reasons to suggest that eating 1.5 ounces of nuts like pistachios a day is good for your heart health.  Plus, their is research to suggest that pistachios help with weight management, as well blood sugar control – all good for your heart over the long term.

Grab a handful of pistachios as a snack or sprinkle pistachios into sauces, soups and yogurt.  A serving of pistachios is 49 kernels.

Enjoy feeding your heart well!








A Delicious Dose of Dairy

Cheddar cheese was on the menu at Marion Street Cheese Market at a recent tasting I attended with other local Chicago food writers and bloggers. I have to admit as a nutritionist, I definitely advise moderation when it comes to cheese, especially full-fat varieties – however, in this case, as the saying goes, “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” So enjoy, is what I did!

Courtesy of Cabot Creamery* – a dairy cooperative of 1,200 farms in New England and New York, this afternoon of cheese tasting was made special by Chef Leonard Hollander’s culinary creativity.  A delicious array of plates were made from Cabot cheddar cheeses: Clothbound, Private Stock and Sharp varieties expertly paired with wines and beers at each course.

The initial tasting plates of Cabot cheddars enhanced by a combination of locally jarred fruit spreads, jams, and pickled figs and candied walnuts.  All of the cheddars were delicious with their own unique characteristics.


And it kept getting better from Scotch quail egg on a bed of greens with Cabot Private Stock Cheddar shavings…


…to a pulled venison sandwich enhanced with Cabot Sharp Cheddar with a side of root veggie chips.  Simply delish! (Yes, a doggy bag was  needed!)


Unfortunately, I had to miss out on the cheesecake dessert, but I did go home with 10 Cabot cheddars.   I had no choice, but to host my own wine and Cabot cheese tasting party at my house the next night.  The winners were Clothbound with it’s crumbly, rich texture and mouthfeel and the Horseradish cheddar with its exquisite bite.  Great with a glass of pinot noir!


*Cabot Creamery Cooperative makes a whole line of cheddar cheeses, including 50% and 75% reduced fat cheddars, too.  (As a result, Cabot is one of my clients!)  And it helps that it all tastes fabulous…





Say Yes! "The Power of We" as Women on World Blog Action Day

Although I am all about food as the first line of health defense, the evidence continues to show that exercise is parallel to keeping our minds and bodies strong as new exercise movements crop up all over the world.  One of the most inspiring sessions that I attending at last weekend’s Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (#FNCE) in Philadelphia was called Strong Women, Synergies for a Healthier Future (disclosure: this is a new initiative by Pepsico aimed at 40-something women).  I am profoundly interested in women of this “special age” as not only am I of this age, but I am compiling research for a new book project.  As I listened to the panelists talk about empowering women in their 40’s to take charge of their health in new and innovative ways, I was impressed by a New York University professor who spoke about her neuro-research and how physical activity profoundly affects cognitive function – with better memory, recall and focus (I could use that!) Although it sounded like nothing that new , as she described her latest research and how she got her students up and moving in the classroom with a workout, which combines INTENTION and ACTION with maritial arts, yoga, dance and verbal self-affirmations called “intenSati”, I became intrigued.  I had never heard of it – have you?


Physical activity is “good for your brain!” the NYU scholar said emphatically.  Then she got us all to our feet and we began bouncing in place to music.  As we followed her punching out in front and then up toward the ceiling, the instuctor had us repeat after her.  She said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” —  and we said “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” in a repetitive rhythme.   We pushed out and she said, “I can get what I want!” and we said, “I can get what I want!”    Although screaming out the affirmations made me feel silly and self-conscious, it was empowering to use my voice as my heart rate sped up.  I am not sure if it was the group support or the research behind the fact that  it changes your brain to get up and  moving or the adrenline rush of working out in my fancy shoes in a convention center, but this activity got me thinking that we need to use our voices to proclaim what we want and change the way we think about ourselves and what we can accomplish.  It’s empowering to say, Yes!”  I look forward to taking it home to  Chicago…

Check out intenSati at www.satilife.com.  Follow @intenSati.

A Fall Favorite – The Almighty Apple

I had the priviledge of guest blogging for www.theprofessionalhypochondiac.com this month. It’s all about delicious apples…

Happy October!  As nature passes the seasonal baton to autumn, my mind immediately goes to brightly-colored leaves, cozy sweaters and crunchy apples.  Apples?  Yes, apples in a vast array of colors, flavors and varieties are
here.  From Granny Smith to Fuji to Pink Lady to Royal Gala to Honey Crisp, there’s so much to be excited about with apples – namely your health!  Apples like most plant foods contain health-enhancing compounds called polyphenols, as well as a subclass known as flavonoids, which offer a whole host of health benefits for our bodies.

Recent research in the international journal, Advances in Nutrition, examined the link between apple consumption and human health, specifically as it relates to what makes the almighty apple stay on top of the
health podium.  This fall fruit’s rich polyphenol content contributes color, flavor, texture and its unique metabolic
activity – and thus nutrition science shows that eating apples may help you fend off heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, mental decline as you age and even weight gain.

I get this question a lot, “Is an apple a day enough to keep the doctor away?”  Yes – according to a large, on-going trial, the Women’s Health Study, 1 apple a day (or 2 – 6 apple a week) lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by 27 – 28 percent in participants who ate at least 1 apple a day versus those that didn’t eat any.  Also, an apple a day can boost antioxidant activity in the body – which was a positive result of a study conducted in Turkey in which 15 elderly participants ate a small apple every day for a month.  The researchers concluded that the Turkish apple-eaters had higher levels of antioxidant enzymes in their blood – a big plus for keeping cells healthy.  In addition, apples are naturally low in calories and high in fiber and fill you up on fewer calories, thus giving them an edge in waistline management.

I appreciate the versatility of apples in cooking.  Whatever the culinary pursuit from apple butter to chutney to salads to desserts, this fall favorite is sure to please every taste bud in your house…

Apple Berry Oat Bake

Use any apples you like for this recipe, although Honey Crisp apples are delicious for baking.

Yield: 8 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 cup

Prep Time:   5 minutes

Cook Time:  45 to 60 minutes

Each serving has:


g total fat

g saturated fat

g trans fat

mg cholesterol

mg sodium

g carbohydrates

g fiber

g sugars

g protein

percent iron

1 cup apples,

1 cup

1 cup
fresh blueberries

2 tsp.

1/4 cup

2 cups

6 TB.
canola oil

2 TB.
flaxseed, ground

2 tsp.

3 tsp.
maple syrup

1/2 cup
white whole-wheat flour

1.         Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread fresh apples and berries in a baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar.

2.         In a medium mixing bowl, combine walnuts, oats, flax seed, cinnamon, maple syrup, and flour. Pour over berry mixture.

3.         Cover tightly with sheet of foil and bake until fruit begins to bubble, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

4.         Scoop into bowls and serve warm.

A version of this recipe can be found in my book, The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.

Viva La Mediterranean Diet

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  In conjuction with Oldways’ Mediterranean Diet Month Celebration here is my blog post for today…enjoy!

I am a food-loving dietitian, author, and mother of two young children with a nutrition & culinary communications practice in Chicago.  My recent book, The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods, offers a whole host of powerful reasons why the Mediterranean diet is beneficialfor children and adults for health, disease prevention and longevity.  With plant foods like whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables being the cornerstone of the Mediterranean way of eating, it provides a rich and vibrant culinary landscape for delicious meals every day.  In my travels through Italy and Spain, I certainly got exposure with plates drizzled with olive oil loaded with grilled vegetables, whole grain pastas, lentil and berry salads and the proverbial glass of red wine to wash it all down.   It was not only a feast for the eyes, but healthy fuel for the body and soul.

One of my favorite family Mediterranean-style dishes – which is a twist on the Italian classic Caprese salad, is Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil Lentil Salad (featured
in chapter 19 of my book).  Eat this as a side dish paired with grilled fish or enjoy it as a main dish over a bed of mesclun greens.     

Mozzarella,Tomato, and Basil Lentil Salad

A refreshing Mediterranean-style salad is a delicious quick and easy lunch or
dinner. Add your favorite veggies, beans, or herbs.  Add a dash of curry powder for a unique twist and delicious flavor.

Yield:              Serving size:        Prep time:                    Cook time:

2 servings         1 1/2 cups                  5 minutes               `          30 minutes

Each serving has:

281 calories

11 g total fat

3 g saturated fat

0 g trans fat

9 mg cholesterol

139 mg sodium

30 g carbohydrates

15 g fiber

1 g sugars

17 g protein

21 percent iron

1/2 cup lentils, washed and drained

2 cups water or low-sodium broth

1 Tablespoon canola oil

1 garlic clove, minced

5 basil leaves, chopped

1/4 cup fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

Pinch of salt and pepper

Mixed greens (optional)

1.       Add lentils and water (or broth) to medium saucepan, bring to a boil, then cover
and simmer until liquid is absorbed and lentils are softened (about 20
minutes). If lentils are not soft, add more liquid (2 – 3 tablespoons).

2.       In saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.

3.       Toss garlic with lentils; add basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Season with salt
and pepper to taste. Serve cold or warm on a bed of mixed greens.

Feeding Friendly Bacteria to Boost Immunity

Today, I am the guest blogger on The Professional Hypochondriac website (take a peek for recipes, too!).  My post was on the power of probiotics (and prebiotics) to boost your immune system.  It’s such a fascinating topic as we are born with natural defenses to fight off foreign (disease-causing) invaders.  Food can help fortify our bodies with a greater microscopic fortress…

Whether you have svelte, six-pack abs or a slight muffin top, what’s under your gut’s exterior is vital to your overall health.  Your gut
is a powerhouse of metabolic activity, which keeps everything in your body functioning in good order. The intestines, small and large, are an active organ teeming with trillions of microscopic bacteria – some are believed to be beneficial bugs called ‘probiotics’, which serve as a strong fortress of immune-fighting defense; others are disease promoting pathogens a.k.a  germs trying to wage war inside of you every day.   Although your gut has a mind of its own, research shows that there’s a close link between your gut and the
emotional centers of your brain – so what you put in your stomach is directly connected to your mental well-being, too. Thus, what you eat can either make for a smoothly running stomach – or just the opposite: an unhappy, bloated and noisy tummy.

Eating gut-friendly fare filled with probiotics – or beneficial bacteria, maintains microbial balance and well-being in your gut.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi (Japanese pickled cabbage), contain a good amount of probiotics and fortify the lining of your intestines with immune-defending bugs like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

Additionally, there are foods that feed the good bacteria causing them to propagate on a larger scale.  These foods are called ‘prebiotics’ – they are carbohydrates that are fermented in the large intestine and fuel the beneficial microflora of your gut.  Some prebiotic-rich foods include garlic, onions, wheat, and Jerusalem artichokes.  Scientific research validates prebiotics as a viable means to benefit the microflora of our guts, according to an article in the British Journal of Nutrition (2010), as they can change the composition of your gut’s ‘ecosystem’ by enabling the good bacteria to outnumber the harmful ones.

Prebiotics may also work for a leaner gut.  Promising research in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology (November, 2011) revealed that the living landscape of your gut may have the potential to fend off fat accumulation around your middle. How does this work?   When non-digestible fiber is fermented in your large intestine by masses of microorganisms they release energy, as well as fatty acids called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).  The microscopic munching has shown to potentially help increase energy release and metabolism – all good for promoting efficient use of your food for fuel, which can mean a leaner waistline for you!