Hidden Benefits

Can you actually eat more, eat healthier and still lose weight? Does it sound too good to be true?

It’s not a “miracle” diet or a weight-loss pill.

It’s a matter of eating more vegetables and fruits. I often suggest starting a meal with a vegetable salad or soup. Research shows that this simple step curbs your appetite, so you end up eating fewer calories over all.

Earlier this year, a small but intriguing study found another way that vegetables can be used to reduce your total caloric intake.

Researchers added vegetable purees to main course casseroles and desserts. The purees added additional bulk to the food, while reducing the total amount of calories per serving.

Participants who ate the “manipulated” food ate 200 to 350 fewer calories per meal than those who ate the same food minus the vegetable puree. Their daily vegetable consumption also increased significantly. None of the research subjects were told about the added vegetables. They didn’t notice a significant difference in taste or satiation when they were finished eating.

Should you cut calories by adding pureed zucchini and cauliflower to your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe? It’s not a bad idea. It may even help get finicky youngsters (and adults!) to eat vegetables that they might otherwise spurn. (On the other hand, you’ll want to introduce whole “real” vegetables to your children so they’ll develop a liking for them at an early age.)

I suggest serving as many whole vegetables as possible, and adding vegetable purees when you think it might be helpful to your family’s diet. If you’re trying to lose weight, adding purees to casseroles, soups and desserts is certainly a good strategy.

It’s easiest to add vegetable purees that will either appear “hidden” or will enhance your favorite foods. Spicy dishes like chili and hearty pasta casseroles take well to added vegetable purees. Tomato puree adds a rosy touch to macaroni and cheese (see my recipe), while cauliflower puree blends in with the color of the cheese sauce. Pureed squash, pumpkin, applesauce, bananas, carrots, zucchini and pineapple all work well in baked goods, especially cakes, quick breads and muffins using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other hearty spices.

Here’s a delicious cupcake recipe chock full of vegetables and fruit:

Carrot Cupcakes (Parve)

1 can (8 oz/227 gm) juice-packed crushed pineapple*
1 cup grated carrots
½ cup pitted prunes
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 whole egg
1 egg white
½ cup sugar
¼ cup canola or light olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325F/165C. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Drain the pineapple in a strainer and reserve ¼ cup of the juice. Heat this reserved juice until it’s hot.

Using a food processor, grate the carrots and measure 1 cup. Remove them from the processor and set aside. Put the prunes and the hot pineapple juice in the processor and process until smooth.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a small bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the egg, egg white, sugar and oil. Whisk in the prune puree. Add the dry ingredients and then the pineapple and carrots.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 20-30 minutes, until they spring back when lightly pressed. Let them sit in the pan for a few minutes, then cool completely on a cooling rack.

Makes 12

* I’ve never found crushed pineapple in Israel. (Even though Dole brand is sold here, they seem to just bring over slices and tidbits.) I use whatever is available, drain it and puree it in the food processor after I’ve grated the carrots.

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Israeli Parliament Leads the Way to Good Nutrition

Healthy eating means different things to different people. Some add more fruits and vegetables to their diets but keep eating lots of sweets. Others cut out trans fats but forget about adding whole grains.

While many Israelis have been adding salads and whole grains to their diets, they continue to munch on salty snacks and rugelach. They’re actually eating more healthy foods. But at the same time, they’re still eating their favorite un-healthy ones.

A recent survey found that 81.7% of Israelis agree that “eating healthy food is very important.” But when asked if they actually eat healthy foods, only 62.4% of the respondents said that they were serious about doing it. While sales of olive oil, whole grains and other more healthy foods have increased, there hasn’t been a decrease in sales of highly processed foods that are often high in fat, simple carbohydrates, sugar and salt.

But now our Knesset (parliament) leaders are now trying to set a good example for us. They’re adding healthy foods and eliminating bad ones from their official meeting menus. We may not agree with their politics, but at least they seem to be on the right track with nutrition.

Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser pulled high-fat bourekas and rugelach from the menu during government meetings. In their place, ministers are now served granola, hard-cooked eggs, low-fat yogurt and cheese, whole grain bread and fruits and vegetables. Sweetened soda has been replaced with water.

Of course, like all of us, Knesset members have their own preferences “after hours”. Kadima head Tzipi Livni snacks on candy bars and salty snacks, though she says she’s trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoys fruit, vegetables, raisins and nuts. Foreign Minister Lieberman serves tap water, fruit and pretzels at his meetings. Then there’s Defense Minister Barak, who eats raw lemons, unshelled pumpkin seeds and salty cheese. He’s also known for his habit of eating food off of other people’s plates. (See if he’ll ever be invited to my house!)

Good nutrition means more than just adding healthy foods. You’ve got to stop eating the un-healthy ones as well. If the cabinet secretary can get our often unruly Knesset members to eat right, we certainly can do just as well, if not better with our own families.

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Coming to Your Table Soon – Weeds from the Negev Desert

Bedouin living in the Negev once survived on the wealth of wild plants growing in the desert. Purslane, Mediterranean saltbush, desert stork’s bill and sea aster (photo at right) are among those plants that are now being domesticated for today’s market. Agricultural researchers in Israel are creating high quality strains of these wild plants that will be easy to grow, have a long shelf life and appeal to modern consumers.

Why not just stick with the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes that we’re all used to?

Good nutrition is one reason. Purslane, a wild green that’s already popular in Arab countries, is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Sea aster is also high in iron and calcium, as well as vitamin C, protein and fiber. Desert stork’s bill was once used as a sweetener. Maybe it will join stevia and agave syrup on supermarket shelves.

Besides nutrition, it’s always exciting to expand your palate. Why not do it with native plants grown in your own (at least my own!) back yard?

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Diets – How to Spot a Fad

Diets have been around forever. Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or a lot, you’d like to do it easily and as quickly as possible. The diet industry is ready and waiting – there are hundreds of “quick fix” and “miracle” diets claiming to be the best approach to weight loss. All you have to do is…

Here’s where it gets tricky. It’s tempting to try something new and different. Or to buy special food, supplements and books that promise quick, easy weight loss. But before you do, here’s what to look out for:

1. Is the diet based on drastically reducing calories? Starvation-type diets rely on a simple trick: When deprived of food, the body’s natural reaction is to dump water. So most of the weight you lose on a very low-calorie diet is water. After you start eating normally, the body acts like a sponge and sucks up the lost water and you regain the weight.

2. Does the diet require you to buy pills, herbs, nutrition bars or supplements? There’s no such thing as a magic pill. Herbs and supplements will not speed up your metabolism, suppress your appetite or block the absorption of food, as they might promise. Besides, most supplements are not regulated. Many of them don’t contain what they say they do, and some have even been found to contain contaminants. Prescription weight-loss drugs are another matter, but require the supervision of your health-care provider.

3. A diet that eliminates meals or whole food groups is likely to lack essential nutrients. Likewise, a diet that focuses on eating just one particular food may come up short in important vitamins and minerals. While high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets may be safe and effective, it’s best to use them for short periods of time under medical supervision.

How else can you spot a fad diet?

It promises a quick fix

The claims sound too good to be true

It draws simplistic conclusions from complex data

It’s based on studies that are not peer-reviewed or are too small to draw conclusions

It’s selling you a specific product

Successful weight-loss involves good nutrition, portion-control, mindful eating and exercise. These long-term life style changes are much more reliable and healthy than the latest fad diet.

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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