Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Balancing Act of Great Food and Good Nutrition





Nobody’s perfect, and that’s especially true when it comes to eating a healthy well balanced diet. “All these years and we still know that balance, variety and moderation are the keys to good nutrition and that includes enjoying occasional splurges,” says dietitian Jill Melton, editor of Relish Magazine. Melton and more than eight thousand nutrition expert colleagues meeting at The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Food & Nutrition Conference in Philadelphia gathered to learn the latest research and sample the best new healthy food products.


How to find a happy balance between healthy living and enjoying great foods was the focus of a series of lively panel discussions held in the spacious and welcoming Nestlé́ exhibit booth designed to look and feel like a home.  Dietitians gathered around an oversized dining room table and spilled into the aisles to listen to leading nutrition experts and expert observers talk about the challenges of promoting nutrition through the lifecycle from infancy to the elderly.  Invited by Nestlé́, I served as the moderator for four fast-paced 20-minute chats and – woah – did I learn a lot!  First off - Nestlé́ is the world’s largest food company with a commitment to nutrition, health and wellness. 

Good Food, Good Life
Nestlé́’s headquarters is in Switzerland and is most associated worldwide with their wonderful chocolate. But did you know that Nestlé́ USA develops and distributes so many other popular leading brands including Lean Cuisine, Stouffers, Buitoni, Libby’s Pumpkin, Juicy Juice and Carnation Breakfast Essentials? Nestlé́ Waters hydrates and quenches the thirst of millions with such iconic brands as Perrier, Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino, as well as Nestlé́ Pure Life purified bottled waters in the U.S. 
Nutrition Numero Uno
I learned more about the broad reach and respect for the Nestlé́ Nutrition Institute (NNI), too. NNI shares state-of-the-art science-based information and education with nutrition and health experts all over the world. And while most of us are familiar with their consumer brands – including childhood faves Ovaltine and Nesquik – Nestlé́ Health Science works with nutrition professionals to offer products for people with special health needs such as Boost, the nutritional supplement beverage for seniors who need a boost of protein, vitamins and minerals. 
Nestlé́ Professional, serving healthcare institutions, restaurants and schools, offers unique services, balanced products and valuable resources for the food pros specializing in away from home eating experiences.
Start Healthy – Stay Healthy
Now that you’ve glimpsed the scope of the company’s core mission to help people start healthy and stay healthy throughout life – here are some highlights from the hot topics of Nestlé́’s nutrition panels held during the 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition held in Philadelphia.

Healthy Hydration
Officially titled “Nourishing Healthy Living: Nutrition Throughout the lifecycle, including healthy aging, super foods and balanced eating,” this panel discussion got right to the heart of the matter – how nutrition can make a difference in the support of good health throughout the lifespan - from infancy to the elderly to support wellness and when we’re not that well to help nurture us back to health.  
Each of the dietitians on the panel are experts in working with the elderly and in medical care settings so have been on the front lines of seeing health declines in patients that could have been prevented. One of the simplest yet most important observations is that many elderly patients are dehydrated.

"Some elderly people don't know they're thirsty and can end up in the emergency room by not being hydrated, which affects brain function," says Carol Siegel, MS, RD, Head of Medical Affairs, Nestlé́ Healthcare Nutrition. Another challenge - the elderly are more at risk of dehydration because their mobility problems may discourage them from drinking water (they might not be able to run to the restroom!) and due to physiological changes.  

"The body becomes dryer as you get older," says Val Wendel, MS, RD, LDN, Healthcare Channel Sales Manager, Nestlé́ Professional. Adding more nutrition to hydration – as with Boost beverages and Trio soups – can offer a solution. Wendel says, "Fortified soups and beverages provide an excellent source of nutrients and hydration." 
Easy To Swallow Solutions
Simply sipping soup and enjoying a cool glass of water is a big challenge for folks with swallowing problems that may be caused by stroke or as a side effect of radiation. "Swallowing difficulties can increase the risk for malnutrition,” says Maureen Huhmann, DCN, RD, CSO Manager, Clinical Sciences, Nestlé́ Nutrition.
Huhmann, a specialist in oncology nutrition, described how the odorless starch-based thickener called Resource Thicken Up Clear is used to thicken liquids to help patients with dysphagia (swallowing problems).
Drink Up Before School Kids!
Kids are vulnerable to dehydration too. In fact, "64% of kids go to school dehydrated,” says Carol Savage, MS, RD, Manager, Beverages Division, Nutrition, Health & Wellness, Nestlé́ USA. So when you send the kids off to school, whether on the school bus or when helping them put on the seat belt in the car, hand them a bottle of water or a container of Juicy Juice. By the way, milk hydrates, too – even chocolate milk.
Think About Your Drink
The take home from this panel of nutrition experts: dietitians care about keeping folks healthy and hydrated and a lot of the solutions are pretty simple – and tasty! You just have to know the power of proper hydration to think about your drink.
Nestlé́ products like Nestlé́ Pure Life help address a hydration deficit occurring in the elderly and in kids," says Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion.

Mindful Eating
The second panel was packed with nutrition experts, including Dr. Barbara Rolls, Penn State University Nutritional Sciences Guthrie Chair, Dr. Wahida Karmally, dietitian and Director of Nutrition, Columbia University and Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington. Diving into the discussion about nutrition, cognition and mindful eating, Dr. Karmally, whose research focuses on pediatric nutrition, shared this important fact,
"Eating habits are established in the first 6 years of child's life.”

And while most everyone agrees that nutrition is key to proper growth of body and mind, Dr. Karmally says the reality reveals big improvements are needed. “One in eight kids miss breakfast!”

In a hurry? I remember my mom giving me Carnation Instant Breakfast as I ran to catch the school bus. My favorite flavor is strawberry. I was always late because I couldn’t decide what to wear.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Carnation Breakfast Essentials offers a great breakfast substitute,” says Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner – what family meals look like today is the research focus of Dr. Drewnowski, who says, “The family meal is evolving.”  That means the balancing act of sitting around the kitchen table versus running off to sports practices and all of the other dinner time distractions is shaping the family meal today. 

The good news is that Dr. Rolls, author of “The Ultimate VolumetricsDiet”, wants parents to know that the balancing act of good nutrition can include occasional splurges. “You can eat anything in moderation,” She says.  And snacking is AOK in her book, too. “Find your healthy snacking pattern.”

Foods for the Future
What’s really a lot of fun is when discussions about nutrition burst into enthusiasm about great tasting, healthy foods. Leading the surge in discussing Foods for the Future, Lucien Vendôme, Director of Culinary Operations for Nestlé́ Prepared Foods says “We must all be passionate about nutrition.”  Vendôme, who is the creative genius behind the recipe development for Lean Cuisine, Buitoni and Stouffer’s Frozen foods, shared that frozen foods offer a tasty, nutritious and convenient solution for busy folks and families. 

Registered dietitian Jill Melton, blogger and editor of Relish Magazine, notes, “We are a microwave generation.” So it’s good news when food companies such as Nestlé́ stock the grocer’s freezer with delicious and nutritious microwavable options.
Melton, who was one of the founding editors of Cooking Light Magazine, observed that the word ‘light’ used to have a stigma; folks just assumed light foods wouldn’t be as good. But today that’s changed, and light eating is appealing and sought after.
Have Some Fun
Teaching the next generation to balance lighter choices with fun ‘splurge foods’ is an important goal for foods for the future.  And the lessons begin very early.
“The hardest transition for babies is from baby food to table food. Eating patterns begin to form at 18 months, and are set at two years of age,” notes Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition. Johnson-Askew also noted that one-third of kids’ calories come from snacks, so those snack choices should count towards good nutrition.

Balanced Eating
In the final panel, we get closer to ‘wear the rubber meets the road’ so to speak and that of course is the power of portion control, taste, enjoyment and the pleasures of the table.

While one of the USDA’s current nutrition messages to combat obesity is “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” Dr. Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University, argues that the message should be to eat more of certain foods to fill up the plate. “People tend to eat a consistent amount of food. If you tell them to just eat less they don’t like it because they don’t want a plate that’s half empty.” Dr. Rolls’ research shows that eating more foods – which are higher in water content such as fruits, vegetables and soups - adds volume to the plate and satiety to support weight management.  

Easy Veggies
Making it easier to get more vegetables into meals, frozen vegetables and frozen entrees that include veggies offer simple solutions for complicated modern days.

“I always recommend mixing prepared foods with fresh foods,” says Katherine Brooking, RD, blogger, author, media personality and founder of Appetite for Health.  Blogger Colleen Padilla, known as Classy Mommy, says “Moms are always looking for more convenience.”

And with taste and style in mind Kristen Colapinto, blogger at Social Vixen, suggests, “One trick I use is taking prepared food out of their packages and placing on a plate to make it seem more presentable.”  I love this idea! Especially because I have a passion for pretty plates and even collect them at yard sales. Treat yourself and set a pretty table even when you’re smart to save time by choosing delicious frozen entrees.
Write it if you bite it!
Helping people keep track of what they’re eating and how much was discussed, and Katherine Brooking emphasized the power of the pen and recommends her nutrition minded clients keep a daily food journal. After a week they get a snap shot of where those extra calories may be coming from.  I say “if you bite it, write it.”
Dietitian Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion, sums it up very nicely, “Pleasures, balance and understanding are core pillars of what Nestlé́ wants to convey to the marketplace.”
So, the delicious lesson learned  (and echoed throughout the four nutrition expert panels for Nestlé́) is to find a happy balance in your food life – seeking healthier options for every day and enjoying occasional splurges. Oh, and don’t forget to drink some water!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pleasures of Pantelleria


In the salted caper room at Bonomo and Giglio on Pantelleria

 One of my favorite ingredients – whether sprinkled on pizza, tossed into a salad or paired with olive oil and lemon to adorn grilled fish – are capers.  Slightly sweet, mostly salty with a tangy bite capers add a bright note to many dishes.  
Caper plants clinging to the earth bound for Bonomo and Giglio 


Capers are the unopened flower buds of bushy plants that cling to stonewalls or are cultivated close to the ground. On the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily just 36 miles from the coast of North Africa, the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sun produce high quality capers prized for their flavor. “They are the best capers and I like them because they are cured in salt and not pickled,” says chef Piero Premoli of Pricci Restaurant. Premoli is featuring a menu of Sicilian dishes throughout October including a cured tuna with capers and the region’s classic caponata stew with eggplant and capers.
Olives, tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil love in Pantelleria


Pleasures of Pantelleria 
If you haven’t been to Pantelleria or even heard of it, join the club.  I was invited by a non-profit food and nutrition organization called Old WaysPreservation and Exchange Trust to join a group of writers and culinary experts for a symposium to discover the island’s uniquely healthy food and lifestyle habits.  
It's a desert out there. The island of Pantelleria gets very little rain fall. 


The rocky island is pummeled by the wind forcing olive trees, grape vines and caper bushes to lie low growing outward not upward. Citrus trees are cradled in walled gardens to protect the fruit.
“There’s still a little magic out there,” says Phil Meldrum of Food Match a specialty foods importer attending the symposium. “When you find something with a taste particular to that area it gives me goose bumps.”
 Pantelleria capers on freshly caught swordfish makes me swoon. 

Stone cliffs, stonewalls, stone buildings, and piles of stone create a harsh landscape surrounded by the crashing sea. Minimal rain means cactus blooms and bougainvillea blooms offer the only color. 


“It was frozen in time,” says dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, “We had very little red meat. It’s primarily a plant based diet that’s nutritionally really balanced with carbs from pastas, healthy fats from almonds, olives and olive oil and dishes flavored with herbs, fennel and capers.”  
Sharon Palmer and I enjoying 'studying' nutrition on Pantelleria.
Other common cooking ingredients included eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Since cows were not a traditional part of farm life here, there is very little cheese and pasta dishes and potatoes are sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs instead of parmesan.  
Just so you believe me. Pantescans add breadcrumbs to pasta.
Palmer notes, “We had traditional dishes handed down through the generations in an isolated farming environment so we had what they have there.” 
Even though there is a tradition of sweet cookies made in intricate patterns and shapes, the principal sweetener is made from reducing grape juice not refined sugar. 

“It’s nice that the healthiest traditional eating patterns happen to be the most delicious,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways.   

Mediterranean Medicine
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil - are well documented. Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “Since this diet is not low in fat people enjoy the foods more, lose more weight and they tend to eat more vegetables because they can add olive oil.”  The Mediterranean lifestyle leads to longevity, too. 
Olive oil contains more than healthy fats, it's rich in plant nutrients and antioxidants to promote good health.

Ligia Dominguez, MD of the University of Palermo says, “We want an active life in old age not frailty. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants which can add years to your life and life to your years.”
Dominguez says being “kissed” by the sun for at least 15 minutes a day boosts vitamin D levels naturally and getting enough sleep is important too. “I took a nap every day in Pantelleria,” admits Baer-Sinnot, “It’s the joy of resting to reduce stress.”
Grape harvest bonanza during my stay on Pantelleria.



The Italian Island of Capers, Olives and Wine


The gateway to discovery. Atlanta to Milan. Milan to Pantelleria.  

The Pleasures of Pantelleria. 
I'd never even heard of Pantelleria until I received an email inviting me to join a group of food writers, food purveyors and nutrition researchers for a trip with Oldways Preservation Exchange and Trust in September.
Oldways was founded to study and preserve the healthy ways folks used to eat and gather their food - from the mountains to the sea. 




Pantelleria. Don't you just like saying it?Now find it. It's an island off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea not too far from Tunisia. This is about as south in southern Italy as you can get. There's something irresistible about an invitation to someplace you've never heard of before. When I read that the island was famous for capers I replied to my hosts, "You had me at capers."





Benvenuto!

Arriving alone at the slightly modernistic looking Pantelleria airport (most folks in our Old Ways group traveled from New York or Boston or LA through Rome) my 30-something taxi driver who spoke only "hello" and "thank you" English was quite busy chatting in Italian on his flip cell phone while we crossed the island past lots of rocks and cactus in bloom and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

I took a photo of him and he smiled shyly. No, I don't have a crush on you - I just haven't seen anyone on a flip phone in a while. OK, on my best behavior. For now.


A tiny island of rough black, umber and grey volcanic rock soon softens to the eye with cascades of glorious flowers.
Purple and white bougainvillea abound.

 Stone walls are everywhere - Pantescan people are really good with rock. Tumbling out of crevices are long green tendrils that I soon learn are the mighty little plants that give us capers.  A little lemon and olive oil with this edible landscape and I'm ready to toss with pasta.
But, don't be tempted to pluck a wild caper and sample - I'll explain why later.

Caper plants spring boldly from boulders on Pantelleria.
This might be my favorite photo.




Sunset over the Mediterranean from my patio at The Mursia Hotel on Pantelleria. 


Alora, we arrive at the Mursia Hotel. The white washed building with a Moorish look  (we're only 36 miles from North Africa here) rises above the black lava rock majestically without need of embellishment. Entering the breezy lobby my eye is drawn beyond the reception desk to what I had been dreaming of all day. A swimming pool. Palm trees were a bonus. It's about 85 degrees outside.

Let me explain. The huge pool in the foreground is empty - an old pool once filled by the sea.
The new pool at The Mursia surrounded by palms and lounge chairs is nearer the hotel bar. Nirvana- a salt water pool.


So far the only Italian word I really like is "Alora!" which I think means OK or implies "what's next?" or "then..."....which is like my favorite Spanish word "Entonces!" I will never work as a translator at the UN. But, I do know how to rally a group. "Alora! Time for a drink folks."

Winery Owner Cologero Mannino of Abraxas offers up a taste of the island's specialty - slightly sweet, nicely balanced  passito de Pantelleria wine.

How about another glass of wine? This is Italy. That's better.

Alessandro Luchetti bound for Florida International University in January demonstrates his handsome host skills.


Starting to relax into the Mediterranean lifestyle. 

Stay tuned for the next post......as the pleasures of Pantelleria continue. 











Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kale: The Queen of Greens in the Queen City

Kale Caesar! 


Just as perplexing as the rising star of one actor over another who’s just as or even more talented - who knows how a food once in the back row of the chorus ends up on center stage? 
Such is the story of kale. 
If you’ve crunched on kale chips, one of the internet’s recent recipe darlings, you know what I mean.
Kale, once a humble hero, is a cruciferous vegetable and cousin to cabbage, collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Described as a dark leafy green, kale comes in curly, ornamental, or dinosaur varieties.  It’s known as a winter green, but is actually available pretty much year round. Look for more kale creations as restaurant menus morph from summer to fall.  It can be braised as a side dish or tossed raw into salads.  Those super popular kale chips are created by chopping the relatively tough leaves into bite sized pieces, drizzling with olive oil and baking until crunchy.
Kale Caesar!
The writing's on the wall at Butcher & Bee in Charleston
Thought to be originally from Asia, the ancient Romans ate kale and it was a staple of the peasant diet throughout the Middle Ages.  But, chances are the Romans didn’t dine on a salad called Kale Caesar.  A foodie play on the salutation “Hail Caesar!” this healthier version of the classic salad usually made with romaine lettuce is on the menu at Butcher & Bee in Charleston, SC.  

The logo for Butcher and Bee - Get it? 


Hip and healthy dining at Butcher & Bee, oh there are plenty of pork products too. 

A popular place for lunch and themed dinners such as “Geechee Supper” or “Israeli Dinner”, Butcher & Bee blends hip with homemade. 


cherry pick this chair for your lunch time perch
The chairs are unmatched on purpose, have an old school feel - well kind of rummage sale feel - and customers wear t-shirts that say “Make Cornbread, Not War.”  

The crunchy green Kale Caesar at Butcher & Bee sports large croutons made from home made bread and zingy grated Parmesan. 
Knockout Nutrition
It’s a side. It’s a salad. It’s super kale.  Noted for its antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory effects and cancer prevention power, this queen of greens reigns when it comes to nutritional content. With only 36 calories in one cup of kale, you get the benefit of 5 grams of fiber, 15% of the daily requirement of calcium, 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1,020% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.
Kale is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important nutrients for eye-health.
Too much of a good thing.
Vitamin K, which is highly concentrated in kale, is important for normal blood clotting and promotes bone health. But too much vitamin K is a problem for anyone taking anticoagulants to treat blood clots, so they are advised to avoid or limit intake of kale because the high level of vitamin K may interfere with the drugs.
Another nutrition negative, kale is loaded with compounds called oxalates which can interfere with calcium absorption so if you’re a big kale consumer make sure to up the ante on calcium containing foods and beverages in your diet.
Kale Creations
Kale adds flavor and texture to soups such as minestrone.  Vegetarian restaurant, World Peace Café in Sandy Springs serves a kale based soup everyday. MetroFresh on Monroe mixes raw kale with jicama, sweet peppers and white balsamic dressing.  Chef Ian Winslade at Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland serves braised kale with grilled Georgia trout. Kale salad is the sidekick for flat iron steak at South City Kitchen.
Lunch at Butcher & Bee with Charleston cookbook author and foodie friend, Nathalie Dupree prolific terrific author of the brand spanking new 700+ recipes
Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking knows a thing or two about kale.