4 Tips to Choose Eco-Friendly Coconuts

4 Tips to Choose Eco-Friendly Coconuts

Cracking the Coconut Craze

Coconut is having a major moment: hailed as a superfood, weight-loss secret weapon, and healthy kitchen superstar all rolled into one—coconut now sits at the center of many obsessions. And, it's showing up in a bevy of kitchen staples from vegan bacon strips to coconut flours, and cold-pressed oils to coconut creamers. 

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4 Surprising Foods to Optimize Your Health and Cut Your Grocery Bill This Summer

Potato Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon Coriander and Arugula Recipe Memorial Day - that unofficial kick-off to summer we’ve all been waiting for - means white pants, flip-flops, and breaking out some fun cocktail glasses. In my house, it also always means lots of food prep.

So as you head to the grocery store or farmers market to load up for weekend festivities, here are four surprising summertime foods that promise to optimize your health with some of the top nutritional value per penny while also delivering delicious taste in every bite. And, they are easier on the planet (and your budget) than grilling up a bunch of burgers and dogs. Add them to your next shopping list or look for them on your next trip to the farmers’ market this week to save big - and maybe even free up a little space in that budget for an extra Memorial Day cocktail.

Cheers!

Beans and Potatoes. When it comes to comparing the cost of fruits and vegetables, beans and potatoes come out on top. A recent study comparing nearly 100 fruits and vegetables found that beans and potatoes deliver the most nutrients per penny of the bunch. Beans and potatoes also boast impressive amounts of two nutrients the vast majority of Americans are falling well short of for radiant health– potassium and fiber.

Try smoky black beans this weekend in a soft grilled taco, a zesty homemade hummus made with chickpeas, garlic and fresh squeezed lemon or serve a side of black-eyed pea salad at your Memorial Day BBQ. And check out this bright and bold take on the traditional ho-hum Memorial Day Potato Salad Recipe from the US Potato Board (I have no financial relationship with them, just love this recipe): Potato Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon and Arugula.

Watermelon. The farmers’ market is the perfect place to find these ultra-hydrating, ultra-economical fruits at a bargain right now. Many supermarket chains also offer locally grown summer melons, so look there as well. One of the top fruits when it comes to the antioxidant lycopene, watermelon racks up even more nutrition points because it’s an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Two cups of watermelon is also a good source of potassium, a key nutrient when it comes to healthy blood pressure. As the name implies, watermelon is rich in water (about 92%), which is why they feel so heavy when you pick one up. It’s this high water content that makes it a fantastic summer food to nourish, refresh and hydrate at the same time. All this while helping you fit into that summer swimsuit, since one cup of diced watermelon has just 46 calories. Savor slices as a hydrating snack, cubed in a salad or as a refreshing dessert.

Portabello Burger with White Bean SpreadMushrooms.  Memorial day is the unofficial start to Grilling Season-and adding mushrooms to the mix can deliver major meat-lover appeal at a fraction of the calories and cost, while also slashing saturated fat and sodium. Mushrooms help you stretch your food dollar, since most mushroom varieties cost considerably less than meat per serving. Craving inspiration? Check out this ultra-tasty leaner greener burger (made by blending mushrooms and meat) the James Beard Foundation's new Better Burger Project is dishing up here.  Or fire up this mouth-watering Grilled Mushroom Burger with White Bean Spread  from Martha Stewart. And there are health benefits aplenty: whether viewed through a Western medicine, integrative medicine or functional medicine lens, mushrooms are considered one of the world’s healthiest foods and are rich in a variety of nutrients, including B vitamins, the antioxidant selenium and Vitamin D.

5 Must Have Items For A Sustainable Menu: The New Menus of Change 2014 Report from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard

Menus of Change 2014 What is the future of food in 3-5 years?

In 10-20 years?That’s the question I spent the last 3 days grappling with at the 2014 Menus of Change Summit, a ground-breaking conference that sought to tackle the most critical issues sitting at the intersection of human health and environmental sustainability (disclosure: I was given a free Media pass to attend).

A joint venture between the Harvard School of Public Health  and the Culinary Institute of America, Menus of Change is trying to lay out a new vision for what two-time James Beard Foundation award winning chef Michel Nischan called “our brittle food system”. Seeking to de-silo the worlds nutrition, foodservice, culinary and tech, the ultimate goal is threefold:   to forge a new dynamic, viable roadmap for serving food that’s utterly craveable and compelling to customers, in a way that is attractive to investors and business, but that’s  also sustainable and driven by health and nutrition. In other words, to really plumb the often preached...but less often practiced triple bottom line of “People, Planet, Profits.” And to attach hard, measurable metrics rather than soft, feel good language.

It’s a tall order, to be sure. And it was apparent that some of the companies present were more tied to the teat of the current status quo than others (for example externalizing costs associated with cheap livestock production that enables a $1 burger or soda). But to have the honest conversations, even if tense at times, was refreshing.

5 Must Have Items On A Sustainable Menu

To usher in the New Face of Food, to truly drive meaningful change and not just tinker at the margins, the group sought to identify targets that are  focused, clearly defined and transparent. In the ultra distill version, conference organizers challenged the audience to adopt the following 5 specific metrics in their Report:

  • Add 10% more produce every year (year over year) for the next 5 years. This will not only increase customers’ access to vegetables and fruits, it will likely reduce sodium levels.
  • Reduce meat portions in half of your menu items. Introduce recipes and concepts where meat plays a supporting role-leverage strategies from seasonal/local flavors to regional cuisines.
  • Always offer a 50 to 100% whole grain option with rice, pasta, potato, side dish and bread choices.
  • Tell your beverage suppliers that you want more innovative, natural, and less sweet beverage options-or better yet, craft them yourself.
  • Raise your standards for protein sourcing, including supporting producers who don’t administer antibiotics to healthy animals and doubling the different kinds of fish and seafood you offer, sourced from sustainably managed fisheries.

Rodale Organic Farm and Institute

A Taste of What’s to Come: Higher Quality Protein. More Produce + Whole Grains. Less Sugar.

You can read the CIA-Harvard 2014 Menus Of Change Report here . A blend of East Coast effeteness and West Coast innovation, it highlights the hot button issues at the crossroads of health, sustainability, and the business of food-including top nutrition concerns including sugars, whole grains, and the protein problem, which I've blogged about here. For a quick snapshot, check out the Principles Infographic here.

Memo from Millenials: “Share Not Just My Palate, But My Values” Millenial preferences are disrupting the landscape of corporate concepts and legacy brand. The quest for shared values is one of the top drivers of the mighty Millenials purchasing decisions (they will soon overtake Boomers in their buying power). And millenials have moved the consumer from being reactive to proactive: with today’s instantaneous access to information and social connection, brands need to be especially cautious-these values can’t be green washed and simply slapped on a label, they must be authentic, verifiable, and true to the brand’s core. Or Millenials will sniff them out, and fast.

To meet growing consumer expectations on cleaner, greener, leaner food-check out this a specific list of step by step principles developed by Menus of Change.

At the closing comments, Arlin Wasserman of Changing Tastes said simply: "Unlike many industries facing today's new world of resource constraints, climate uncertainty and economic risks, our solutions don't require massive investments in new capital or political legislation. We have only to change our menu."

You can check out all the conference discussion on Twitter at #CIAMOC.

Energizing Green Smoothie with Fresh Mint, Cucumber and Garbanzo Beans

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Green SmoothieSpring is such a perfect time to reflect on the renewal and regeneration that is possible in your own life by taking one step at a time towards your highest health. And with Earth Day right around the corner, here is a super green, refreshing and energizing new green smoothie I am loving right now, inspired by this innovative Vega recipe. When I first saw said recipe, I did a double take...garbanzo beans? I loved the idea of including an ultra clean protein source to the mix for some added fiber and protein that didn't have to come in a powder. So I invited my good friend over, food visionary chef Jason Kieffer, (former executive chef at Google and former vegetarian executive chef at Microsoft) and we set to tinkering with it. In short, we decided to amp up the herbs and greens, which are packed with bioactive compounds that support detoxification and health, added green grapes and cukes for bold green color and a hint of sweetness, and made a few other changes. The result? Let’s just say after multiple tries, this was the final version my kids wouldn't hand back to me, but guzzled down themselves.

For even more protein (the garbanzo beans add a modest 3 grams), simply add a scoop of your favorite protein powder.

Energizing Green Smoothie with Fresh Mint, Cucumber and Garbanzo Beans

Ingredients:

1/4 cup garbanzo beans (drained, rinsed)
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup English cucumber, diced
1/2 cup organic green grapes
1/2 cup ice
1/2 cup organic spinach
1/2 cup frozen mango
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (or about 1/3 of a lemon)

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Directions:

1. Place all ingredients in a Vitamix or blender and blend, on medium speed, until completely pureed. It’s best to do it on on medium instead of high to preserve the vibrant green colors of the herbs. Pour into glass and enjoy immediately.

On the Dr. Oz Blog: Curb Hunger With 3 Protein-Packed Breakfasts

Protein Packed Breakfasts - Dr. Oz - Kate GeaganAre you stuck in a breakfast rut? I know that for me, even though I'm choosing healthy foods, I still can succumb to being repetitious and robotic in what I'm eating.
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Which is why I'm so glad it's spring - nature's perfect season to refresh and renew tired winter eating routines.
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Here are 3 inspiring breakfast ideas from my most recent Dr. Oz Blog that capitalize on the latest research suggesting that protein can be key for unlocking sustained energy and easier, hunger free weight loss.  The best part? Aside from being a delicious new stretch, each is packed with at least 20 grams of high-quality, clean protein; so you can leave the table with a clean conscience.
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Check out my top 3 protein-packed breakfasts on the Dr. Oz Blog here!

Does your breakfast pass the protein test? Here’s why you should check: Researchers are increasingly zeroing in on protein’s ability to keep hunger at bay when compared to lower-protein breakfasts that have similar calories, fat and fiber. Read more...

Unleashing the Power of Womenomics to Fix the Food System

WomenomicsWho Rule the World? 

Some acts are small, powerful moments that ultimately ripple around the world, such as Malala Yousafzai. Some women are prominently forging new paths from the corner office, such as Sheryl Sandberg or Janet Yellen. And some women lead at the grocery cart.

Yes, that’s right-the grocery cart. The more I think about it, the more I see that Beyonce is right: Women, who rule the world? We do.

 

And it’s called Womenomics.

This Saturday is International Women’s Day. Which has me thinking about all of the inspiring national and global figures who remind me that there’s immense power to finding your voice, and to wielding your power “from whatever size stage God has given you” - as Oprah said to me once. And rather than a feel-good sounding moniker that’s soft on substance, womenomics is about power, and about making good business decisions that can change the marketplace.

Here’s the surprising truth. We women do most of the buying. In fact, we control  roughly 80% of consumer spending. That gives us enormous power.

Which means that our best resource to change the food system doesn't lie with Washington - or even with companies - it lies with us. We are our own most underutilized resource.

This is a profound revelation, and frankly, it’s one that many companies are hoping we don’t figure out.

But we have. Or at least, we are starting to. So how can we wield our considerable collective influence to press the levers that matter most for fixing our food system and keeping our children healthy? (if you doubt companies’ ability to change quickly in response to consumer demand, consider the current surge of gluten-free products at the grocery store).

 

Getting Antibiotics Out of our Meat and Dairy

To me, this is one of the most pressing crisis looming for our food system. In fact, at the risk of sounding dramatic, it threatens to unravel modern medicine as we know it. And it is something that isn't even required to be listed on a food label.

Over 70% of all antibiotics are being used on industrial farms :subtherapeutic, low dose antibiotics produce meat faster and more cheaply, and help compensate for crowded, unhygienic conditions. Yet the science has become clear - we are accelerating an antibiotics crisis. Here is an excellent evidence-based summary of the issue.  In fact, the Pew Charitable Trusts have compiled such compelling science on the impact of the misuse and overuse of drugs in factory farming, they've launched the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for all of us. A recent report from the NRDC even found previously undisclosed FDA documents showing that feed additives don't even meet the agency's own safety standards.

And you don’t have to be a meat eater to be concerned about drug resistant bacteria: research is finding people who live nearby these large farming operations are also at higher risk of MRSA.

Womenomics | Kate Geagan

As a parent, the notion that we are dangerously close to returning to a time when we lack the drugs to fight common childhood mishaps such as strep throat or a skinned knee terrifies me. As a nutritionist, I see that it falls squarely on my plate - because antibiotics are used to produce much of the conventional milk, meat and poultry products we put in our grocery carts, and order from restaurants and foodservice operations.

 

Using Womenomics to Change the Way We Eat

As women, science has zeroed in on some key differences in the ways our brains work: we are hard wired for collaboration. For finding common ground. For building consensus. For compassion. And for considering risk. (In fact, one famous comment made during the last Economic Forum in Davos noted that “Lehman Brothers may not have fallen so far so fast had there been a few sisters around”). Far from being soft skills, they are some of what enables to find our voice-and the conviction to forge powerful new paths forward.

While Washington drags its feet on meaningful fixes, womenomics is hard power- a roadmap to tell companies clearly and consistently a simple message: We want better from the food system. From the companies we trust to feed our children. And we are prepared to spend our dollars somewhere else (namely, on brands that choose to go antibiotic-free, or a restaurant serving animal products produced without low doses of antibiotics). It can be done. Read this piece to see how the Netherlands - a country with a similar dependence on antibiotics for industrial farming - is reaping real benefits from making the switch.  Here are 4 simple steps to get you started.

Will you join me? I hope so.

 

4 Steps to Take Now

  1. Invest in the Best: Buy only meat, poultry and pork that is certified Organic, Certified Humane,  or has a USDA “Process Verified’  antibiotic claim (explained in the EWG’s Meat Eater’s guide here). To afford the higher price tag, choose smaller portions and serve with robust servings of vegetables and legumes, and enjoy plant based meals (no meat or a little meat) a couple of nights a week.
  2. Spend Strategically: Spend food dollars on foods-and at restaurants-that serve antibiotic free meat and poultry. Many chains that are trying to source such products, such as Chipotle, will display this on their menu or website).
  3. Make Your Voice Heard: Speak up on social media! Or sign this petition asking the FDA to insist on responsible antibiotic use in agriculture. Think it’s not possible to drive change from the ground up? Check out how this food blogger convinced Chick-fil-A to go antibiotic free.
  4. Empower Women Globally: Look for the Fair Trade Certified seal on coffee, chocolate, tea and other products to help women around the world tap into their power.

 

How are you using Womenomics to change the way you eat?  I'd love to hear from you!

12 Ultra-Clean Proteins To Eat Now

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Protein is hot hot hot. Not only because growing evidence tells us it's linked to a slimmer waistline, greater satiety and better blood glucose control, but because globally speaking, protein production is one of the single biggest drivers of climate change-so getting it right is key. But not all protein is created equal-not only does the nutrition package differ among types of proteins, but the potential exposure to environmental toxins varies dramatically as well. Because I find myself prattling on about protein so often with clients and in the media, I decided to blog about it. Here are 12 of my favorite Ultra-Clean Proteins (meaning good for you, good for the planet) to eat now.

1. Super Seeds: Quinoa and Amaranth. 

ultra-clean protein

Even if you are a fan of the current anti-grain push on blogs and in the press, don't overlook quinoa and amaranth. These are two super seeds that pack an impressive wallop of protein, but can also do double duty of helping you get the benefits of whole grains in your diet (A recent study from Reuters Health  confirmed that most US children and adults are not getting enough whole grains in their diets, which are linked with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and a smaller waist). One cup of cooked quinoa packs 8 grams of high quality protein ( meaning that it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids), while a cup of cooked amaranth packs 9 grams, making these  seeds ultra clean protein additions to your diet. Amaranth and quinoa are also rich in must-have minerals, such as calcium, iron, selenium and magnesium. Try adding amaranth to pancakes, as a swap for pasta, as a hot breakfast cereal, or even enjoy it popped as a fun alternative to traditional popcorn (I showed Dr. Oz how to do that once on a segment a few years ago). Quinoa makes a perfect substitute for rice, or is great in salads, soups and stews. Both can be whipped into delicious savory  "patties" using an egg and a smidge of flour and herbs. Or my current fave-toast a few teaspoons of red or black quinoa in a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle on top of butternut squash or carrot soup-the perfect crunchy finish.

2. Protein Powders: Pea and Hemp.

ultra-clean proteinPicking a protein powder can be overwhelming for many of us-some of them feel like they require a PhD in amino acid speak. And if you don't want to go with dairy or soy (wither because you have an allergy or an aversion), in the past you may have felt limited. Luckily, several companies have stepped up to the plate to deliver new lines of clean, vegetarian-friendly, soy-free proteins –and of the bunch, pea and hemp protein powders top my list. Nutty and sweet, hemp protein powders delivers high quality protein (they vary among brands, but many pack 10-11 grams of protein per 30 gram scoop), and boasts an impressive amount of the hard to get omega-3 fats. In fact, hemp's ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids helps decrease the risk of heart disease, depression and systemic inflammation. Pea protein is another of the next generation greener protein options, with highly digestible protein that comes in an almost "fluffy" texture. Like hemp, protein content will vary across brands, especially as different varietals of pea may be used, but plan on 24-25 grams of protein per 33 gram scoop. Some companies are even combining the two to create an ultra-clean protein powerhouse-check out  Vega One , which makes a great blend of the two and comes in a variety of flavors.

3. Meet the Meatless: Seitan and Tempeh.

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While it's well known that cutting back on meat can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint, for many of us, giving up our favorite meat-centric recipes and flavors can be hard. Really, really hard.  Which is why I love today's impressive seitan and tempeh options. Whether you're embracing Meatless Mondays, eating like a vegan until 6, or simply following the lead of Jay-Z and Beyonce and living more "plant based", these meat like alternatives can help. Unlike some of the rubbery, bland versions of yore, many companies today are delivering incredible products that deliver delicious flavor and mouthfeel when you want to go meatless. With their firm texture and ability to easily absorb flavor, both are healthy, clean meat alternatives that can help you stay lean and green (as they deliver protein while cutting back on calories and saturated fat). A cousin of tofu, tempeh is made from whole soybeans and packs almost 20 grams of protein per 4 oz. serving.  Seitan (often dubbed “wheat meat”) is made by rinsing away the starch in wheat to leave behind only the gluten: a mere 1/3 cup of seitan has in impressive 21 grams of protein. Enjoy in stir fries, try it seasoned and grilled on the barbe, or in to pump up the protein of soups, salads or chili.

4. Energizing Snacks: Chickpeas and Nuts.

Spicy Spanish Paprika-Roasted Chickpeas

When it comes to a clean, protein-rich snack, beans are one of the best options around. Period. Hummus still ranks as one one of my ultimate faves, with a whole new generations of options shaking up this category (such as wasabi edamame, white bean, lentil, and more). Made from blended chickpeas, not only is hummus rich in fiber and protein, is boasts  folic acid, zinc, and magnesium.  Crave crunch? Check out Saffron Road’s Bombay Spice Crunchy Chickpeas, or try roasting your own at home with this Spicy Spanish Paprika-Roasted Chickpeas recipe. One-half cup of chickpeas has 7 grams of protein, while 1/2 cup of hummus has 4 grams. Raw nuts, of course, are another easy, tasty, and quick win when it comes to ultra-clean plant-proteins. Roast them or eat them raw: their combo of protein, heart healthy fats and minerals make them the perfect, planet friendly on-the-go snack. One ounce of almonds, for instance, has 6 grams of protein.

5. From the Farm: Organic Poultry and Eggs. ultra-clean protein

Looking  for the most eco-friendly animal proteins? Look no further than  poultry and eggs: In addition to having dramatically smaller carbon and water footprints than pork, lamb, beef or dairy products, multiple lines of evidence tell us that poultry and eggs can be part of a diet for optimum health and healing. And eggs are one of the most economical proteins you can buy at the grocery store (1 large egg has 6 grams of protein). To really make these ultra clean, choosing organic -it minimizes your risk of exposure to things like antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, GMOs and more. Be sure to also look for the Certified Humane Raised & Handled seal  - it ensures that animals are raised in a humane manner, without hormones or antibiotics (read more about this seal here).

6. By Sea: Anchovy, Cobia or Barramundi.

ultra-clean proteinLooking to shake up your seafood? Anchovy, cobia, and barramundi are some of my top choices when it comes to sustainable seafood choices. And along with ultra-clean, lean protein, these fish are packed with an array of other benefits – from omega-3 fatty acids to selenium to vitamins D. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® program praises U.S. farmed cobia and barramundi as “Best Choices,” due to their low environmental impact, and wild anchovies received the “Good Alternative” seal. Unfamiliar with these fish? Cobia is touted to have the familiar deliciousness of sea bass, while barramundi’s delicate texture has been likened to striped bass, red snapper, or other premium white fish. On average, a 3 oz. serving of fish has 15-20 grams of protein.

What are your favorite clean proteins of 2014? I'd love to hear from you!

Cheerios Says No to GMOs (Sort of)

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CheeriosGeneral Mills sent shocks through the food world earlier this month when it announced that its flagship Cheerios cereal will be made without GMOs. At first blush it sounds like a victory for activists and consumer groups, who have been turning up the heat on many food companies lately around “natural” claims for food products that contain GMOs (such as Chobani) and supporting state by state legislation for mandatory GMO labeling. But like anything, the devil is in the details. First, the Facts

What do you need to know? Here are the 5 facts that I believe are worth knowing:

  1. Only the original Cheerios will be made without GMOs . All other 11 versions of Cheerios will still contain GMOs.
  2. Rather than touting “the more common “GMO-free”,  the labeling will state “Not made with Genetically Modified Ingredients”, because Cheerios are made in facilities that also manufacture GMO foods.
  3. The oats used in all of the Cheerios brands have never contained GMOs, but General Mills swapped 2 other ingredients to non-GMO sources: corn starch and cane sugar (instead of conventional beet sugar) to achieve the change.
  4. Cheerios - every single version - is already GMO-free in Europe.
  5. General Mills, the parent company, was a major contributor to defeating the high stakes GMO labeling legislation in Washington state.

 

Trying to Have it Both Ways?

So does this represent a major victory for the GMO movement, or an attempt to have it both ways that is only adding to consumer confusion and marketing clutter? Or perhaps something in the middle - say, a laudable first step for a cereal juggernaut to test consumer response, shore up new supply chains, and then move to more wholly to GMO-free products if the marketplace speaks loudly enough?

Personally, I am willing to wait and see on this one.

You can read expert comments from both sides here.

I have to question the intentions of a company that on one hand is touting their GMO-free brand while at the same time funding anti-GMO labeling legislation. I have read their reasoning here, but crave trust and transparency in my food. And a company that gushes about how great a non-GMO choice is for consumers while simultaneously promoting the safety and benefits of GMOs raises significant doubts for me about both trust and transparency. As Marion Nestle noted in a recent post on the topic:

“...by pouring money into fighting labeling, the biotech industry looks like it’s got plenty to hide.”

However, I know from my own work experience how incredibly difficult it can be for large companies - considering things like supply chain issues, labeling requirements, legal departments and manufacturing facilities - to pivot on a dime. While it’s incredibly easy in this age of social media saturation to quickly and ruthlessly point out what’s wrong with a particular company, if Cheerios’ move nudges other food makers to follow suit, it could truly change the food supply from the ground up - which is indeed good for us and good for the planet. Part of me wonders, does it matter if they phase it in in baby steps if we ultimately arrive at the same place? And I do have to give kudos to Cheerios for announcing this AFTER the changes have already been implemented. Far too often companies prefer to bask in the PR splash of a feel good announcement now, when a dig through the nitty gritty of specifics reveals said changes will actually be implemented further down the road (kind of like Congress).

So what do you think?

Will 2014 shape up to be the decisive year for GMO labeling? So far, so heated: earlier this week the FDA declined a request by the Grocery Manufacturers of America to adopt a definition of “natural” or to state whether ingredients derived from biotechnology - like GMOs - can be considered “natural”.

One thing is crystal clear: we vote with our wallets. And companies respond to consumer demand. Which means, that if you are really fired up about creating a more GMO-free supermarket, start by adding more organics (which are always GMO free) and certified GMO-free foods to your grocery cart.

4 Green Halloween Treats Your Kids Will Love

Green HalloweenHalloween doesn't have to be scary for parents if you stick to a few simple rules: clean ingredients. No artificial stuff. Nutrient-rich where possible, without sacrificing taste or fun. And mindful of the impact on the planet. .

That said, here are 4 green Halloween treats that I am loving this season, broken down by category depending what you're looking for. Have others you’d like to share with me? I’d love to hear from you!

. justins peanut butter cups1) If You Crave: Classic Candy, but clean and green Try This: Justin’s Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Cups

Why It’s a Green Treat: If you are looking for a cleaner, greener version of a beloved candy, Justins’ your man. Justin's peanut butter cups have 2 important third party certifications that give you the trust and transparency you want in your treat: USDA certified organic ingredients, and Rainforest Alliance Chocolate. Plus, that dark chocolate and real peanut butter may even give you a smidgen of health benefits while your tastebuds are going gaga.

 

YumEarth2) If You Crave: Easy to Find, Affordable Organic Treat Try This: YumEarth Lollipops

Why it’s a Green Treat: I actually adore lollipops for Halloween, because they deliver a pop of color, taste and fun, but can have surprisingly modest sugar and calorie levels: One organic YumEarth pop has a scant 24 calories, just over 5 grams of sugar (a bit more than a teaspoon) and are colored with natural fruit, vegetable and root extracts instead of scary artificial stuff. And they satisfy all dietary walks of life: they are soy-dairy-peanut-gluten- free, vegan. They are also a great way to provide organic treats on a limited budget: no need to hit a pricey grocery store to stock up on YumEarth Organic as you can find them at Walgreens nationwide.
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Pistachios3) If You Crave: Good For You, But Fun Too Try This: POM Pistachios

Why it’s a Green Treat: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American consumes about 25 pounds of candy a year-with a hefty bite of that coming from Halloween. If you want to sidestep sugary treats all together it’s now easier than ever to do that but still feel fun, thanks to the mini-sized (1 oz.) pack of Wonderful Pistachios. Instead of a long list of ingredients, there’s just a single, nutrient rich food inside that is plant based. And it comes in a fun “spooky” green and black package that will have kids feeling the Halloween love. And the nutritional creds are impressive: at just 80 calories you get loads of heart healthy fat, 3 grams protein and 2 grams fiber to keep your munchkins fueled with clean energy for all those Halloween activities. Bonus? Leftovers can power your child as a healthy, hearty snacks as long as they last.

Veggie Gos4) If You Crave: Fitting in Fruits and Veggies Try This: Organic Veggie Go's

Why it’s a Green Treat: Want to get a serving of fruits or veggies into your child’s Halloween haul-that is, one that they will actually eat? While we all know that handing out fresh fruit is a no no- (and for my kids, at least, dried fruits like raisins that they see in their lunch boxes feel suspiciously like mom trying to make Halloween healthy) -these organic fruit and veggie strips are super delicious and fun. Made with whole organic fruits and veggies-some of the most eco-friendly foods on the planet- and no added sugars-and with some fresh flavor combos (including Cinnamon Spiced Beet, Carrot Ginger Apple, and Mountain Berry Spinach)-the ingredient lists are super clean, and deliver an excellent source of antioxidants (such as beta carotene) and vitamin A. But my guess is that your little gobblins may be to busy gobbling them to notice.
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For additional tricks and tips to healthy Halloween treats, check out my other Halloween blog: 4 Tricks to a Healthy Halloween (With a Bit of Green, Too).

6 Essential Foods to Buy Organic

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OrganicWant to know which organic foods provide the most organic bang for their buck? You’re not alone: in a time where every food dollar counts, many of us want to be sure we are investing wisely in foods that deliver a maximum benefit for the added cost that organic versions can sometimes have. So here are my Top 6 Organic Essentials - foods which science tells us deliver some of the most compelling, significant benefits for you, your family, and even our food system- when purchased organically. For my best tips on how to buy organics on a budget, check out my post here.

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1) Baby and Toddler Food
Bite for bite, an organic diet for your child is the safer, better choice because of what's not present in organics. Due to smaller body size, rapidly dividing cells, and still developing brain and nervous systems, several prospective studies have found early life exposure to a class of insecticides used in agriculture – called organophosphatesis-are linked with reductions in IQ and abnormal behavior associated with ADD, ADHD and autism. In fact a 2012 AAP report Pesticides in Children cited food as one of the most influential sources for children of pesticides. And the AAP’s Position Paper on Organics notes that organically raised animals are also significantly less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So choose organic for your baby and toddler. It’s a critical window for growth and development where organic matters most.
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Organic Milk2) Cow’s Milk & Yogurt. 
Organic milk-and and its popular cousin yogurt- represent one of the most powerful levers in our food system. That’s because cows are at the top of the food chain (about 70 % of the corn we grow goes to feed livestock), so by choosing organic milk you create a profound ripple effect that helps to shift our entire agriculture system away from things like herbicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Because USDA Organic Standards require that cows consume at least 30% of their diet from grazing and pasture-this translates into superior, higher nutrient product: organic milk has been found to contain 70-240% more omega 3s, to have a healthier omega 6: omega 3 ratio, to contain up to 50% higher levels of vitamin E, 75% higher levels of beta carotene, and 2-3x more antioxidants (2)(3). And a new study found organic milk contains 20-40% less artery clogging saturated fat than conventional, with significantly higher levels of healthy omega 3 fats (4). If you are following the USDA Dietary guidelines to consume 3 servings a day of dairy, the organic benefits really can add up.
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When you choose organic milk, you’re also saying no to added hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or other chemicals in your milk. Many moms are shocked to discover that the rBST allowed in conventional milk in the US (to promote milk production) is banned in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada.  And score one more for the cows: Did you know that organic cows live 2-3 times longer than conventional? That’s the finding of Stonyfield Yogurt’s Greener Cow Project.
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Organic Potatoes

3) Potatoes.  
Potatoes make my list because about one-third of  America’s total veggie intake is potatoes- and it is by far the top vegetable consumed by our children. But potatoes land near the top of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List because they have one of the highest pesticide levels of the 43 fruits and vegetables tested. (Chances are you probably already know about the Dirty Dozen: But it’s a good idea to take a look at this list, which is updated annually, and to try to buy organic versions of the foods you consume the most frequently on this list).
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Interestingly, potatoes are also the only PEELED vegetable on the Dirty Dozen list. Why? One reason is because a 2006 USDA study found that 81% of potatoes still contained pesticides even after being washed and peeled. Another challenge: while many root vegetables like potatoes absorb like herbicides, fungicides and pesticides from the surrounding soil while they are growing, potatoes are often sprayed with fungicides again after harvesting to prevent them from sprouting.
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With dietitians like myself encouraging the public to eat the potato peel as well (for all the fiber and nourishment it provides), given the science-and the sheer amount we are eating and feeding our children- it’s especially critical to choose organic.
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4) Beef, Pork and Poultry.  
Animals are what they eat. Which means that as you move up the food chain choosing organic becomes even more important, as pesticides and toxins tend to bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Organic beef must meet the same grazing guidelines as organic dairy (30% of diet from grass or forage), so that even for cows who aren’t exclusively grass fed, ensures that the meat has a better nutrient profile than conventional-including fewer calories, less saturated fat, greater levels of omega-3 fats and CLA. It also ensures that there will be no pesticides and no GMO corn or soy in the feed, as well as no hormones or antibiotics used on the animals. While pork and poultry are prohibited by the USDA to use growth hormones, many of the same other issues apply: a recent study has found that conventional pork contains a significantly higher risk of antibiotic bacteria than organic.
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Organic Kale and Spinach5) Kale and Spinach. 
Eating an abundance of dark leafy greens, either raw, lightly cooked, or in a smoothie-is one of the single best habits you can cultivate for optimal health and energy. They are deeply nutritious on so many levels. Yet with leafy greens all the rage, and kale in particular enjoying an extended reign as a nutrient powerhouse, it’s worth noting that both of these leafy greens are on the Dirty Dozen list. One of the key reasons is surface area. Think about it: broad, long, flat leaves mean that a heck of a lot of surface area has to be sprayed with pesticides to keep the pests away in conventional agriculture. And while we give em’ a good rinse before we eat, there’s no peeling, and little real scrubbing, because of the delicate nature of eating leaves. So keep eating em' in large amounts-but choose organic.
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6) Berries.  
There are 2 reasons berries make the list: Not only are berries also on the Dirty Dozen list- but research indicates that when we raise these crops organically and the plants are forced to fend for themselves, berries actually produce a more robust supply of those prized phytochemicals that are linked with superior human health. Organic strawberries, for instance, have been found have greater cancer fighting antioxidant activity, as well as greater concentrations of phenolic compounds and vitamin C. Another reason? With so many Americans buying strawberries out of season (remember when they were only available in summer?), chances are good that they are imported. And that most likely means they are coming from countries with significantly less stringent regulations for pesticide use. With berries perennially making the “superfood” lists, if you’re eating them regularly,  it’s important that you buy organic.

Raw Chocolate Pudding

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Raw Chocolate PuddingOf all the recipes I've done over the years, this is hands down the best:

Raw Chocolate Pudding

Because it's so incredibly simple! And because it is filled with nourishing, energizing superfoods. AND because the final product is so so so much greater than the sum of its parts. Somehow, a delicious alchemy happens when you blend these ingredients together, and the end result will satisfy your craving for something sweet, rich and decadent, but still deliver a dose of health. I personally savor a few spoonfuls in the afternoon with a cup of green tea. Plus, my kids adore it.

Need I say more?
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Check out the recipe below; I made it on The Dr. Oz Show a few years ago and he loved it too!

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.Raw Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:
6 large Medjool Dates, pitted
4 Tbsp good quality dark cocoa powder (unsweetened, at least 70% cacao, preferably Fair Trade)
1/2 ripe avocado
2-3 Tbsp water
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Directions:
Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides once or twice to be sure it's evenly blended. Enjoy immediately or divide into smaller "bites" and chill for a delicious pick me up.

 

Health From the Shelf: 4 Green Trends to Watch for 2014

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PantryAh, the ho-hum pantry shelf. Typically the last place we associate with healthy, vibrant foods that support health. But both Expo West and Fancy Food this year have made it clear that there’s a whole lotta shake up going on in the pantry, and both packaging and ingredients are getting a makeover for sustainability and health.  Here’s my take on some of the green trends worth watching for 2014 that will clean up your shelf for the better.

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Trend #1: Condiments Get Cleaned Up

Trendsetter: Sir Kensington Mayo and Ketchup The mega trend of eating cleaner food, and reaching for foods made with easy to read ingredients has finally come to the condiment aisle.  The time has come for both mayo and ketchup-condiments notoriously filled with many hard to decipher ingredients-to bask in a major makeover. Sir Kensington’s version boasts 50% less sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, 45% less sodium, and whole tomatoes. And their mayo reads refreshingly clean and simple:  Sunflower oil, eggs, lemon juice, vinegar, raw sugar, black pepper and mustard seed. That's it. These superlative sauces are also back in glass -the ultimate in recyclability.Sir Kensington Ketchup

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Trend #2: Beans, Tomatoes and Soups Go BPA Free

Trendsetter: Pacific Foods beans

Beans are one of my top lean and green superfoods-as they deliver  folate, fiber and protein in a low calorie package. Still, no matter how healthy the contents of the can (be it beans, pumpkin puree, tuna or tomatoes), growing evidence about the potential negative health and environmental effects of BPA has long pitted convenience and speed against possible health drawbacks (Check out this list of all cans that are BPA free). 

The new generation of tetra packs sidesteps all of this. BPA-free and recyclable, this packaging is popping up in larger numbers, giving you the same convenience but in a better-for-you package. And I have to be honest-despite the current pouch craze (one of the Top 5 Trends Spotted at Fancy Foods Sumer 2013), I personally prefer to see pouches used for baby food and the occasional camping trip, rather than taking over the shelf. Which they are doing with many, many products, in a trend I call "camping meets carpool".

It’s worth noting that the ultimate “greeness” of tetra packs is still hotly debated. While life cycle analysis shows tetra packs score green points for total carbon emissions and about a 33% greater efficiency in transportation that aluminum cans, currently there many US recycling centers which still don’t accept Tetra, and if they end up in the trash the supposed savings are a mute point. Bottom line: eat all the contents, rinse and recycle.

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Trend #3: Microwave Popcorn Gets a Greenover Quinn Popcorn

Trendsetter: Quinn Popcorn

This trend is long overdue-as the health benefits of whole corn kernels are impressive: an antioxidant-rich whole grain that packs fiber and satisfies our craving for crunch. I blogged about Quinn Popcorn earlier this year, and basically crowned them “the king of pop” on my own shelf. However, I think Quinn highlights many convergent trends: parents on a mission to make better food for their kids, greener packaging to be better for body and planet (the bag is free of all the traditional toxic coatings, and is compostable to boot), high quality ingredients, and the growing interest in non-GMO transparency. It’s exciting to think about how these trends will continue to transform the shelf in the future.

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Justin's Nut ButtersTrend #4: Newfangled Nut Butters

High protein and plant based, I have half a dozen nut butters on my shelf at any time-because they are such a staple of healthy living for my family. Hailed as a Top Trend for 2013 by The Sterling-Rice Group, the new generation of nut butters crafts an appealing blend of healthy, satisfying indulgence, as these nutrient powerhouses pack heart healthy fats, protein and fiber. Featuring a variety of  nuts and seeds such as cashew, almond, walnut, hemp and flax- as well as smaller regional brands featuring "raw" or "live" nut butters, they make it easy to eat well on the go. A spoonful swirled into breakfast, slathered on fruit slices, or savored as a snack, for instance. Be sure to choose those free of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. And two caveats-don’t be fooled by smidges of exotic sounding additions such as acai or seaweed, as I’ve blogged about before. And treat those uber indulgent ones-made with chocolate and a variety of added sugars-as dessert. But health from the shelf has never tasted so good!

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See any other trends hitting your shelves that are noteworthy? I'd love to hear from you!
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(Disclosure: I have received free product samples from Sir Kensington, Pacific Foods and Quinn Popcorn)

5 Ways to Green Your Grilling and Thai Soy Sliders

The summer sun is almost here, which means grills across America are about to be fired into high gear. I love grilling - for me, there's an almost primitive pleasure I derive from stepping outdoors and bidding adieu to the oven for a few months: the smoke. The smells. The sounds. And in our family, the consensus is that practically every food tastes better grilled-slices of crusty bread from the farmers market, fish or poultry with a snip of summer herbs, garden vegetables, even stone fruit like apricots and peaches.
You grill can not only be good for you, but it's good for the planet. Here are 4 of my favorite tips to keep your diet a cool shade of green during grilling season:
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Green Grilling Ideas:
1.Cook once, eat twice. When you fire up the grill, use all the available space to cook dinner tonight, plus enough for extra leftovers to take to work or school tomorrow. Like I said, practically everything tastes better grilled. And maximizing the food you grill means cooking with less energy per calorie of food.
 2. Marinate meaty mushrooms. Drizzle portabellos with a generous amount of olive oil, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes. Grill until soft and smoky on each side- as a side dish, a "mushroom burger" or in an omelet or salad, these are divine. With just 40 calories per cup, it's also a great way to also slash calories and saturated fat while still delivering bold flavor.
. 3. Grill an outdoor veggie pizza. The act of grilling utterly transforms pizza. The real flames and high temp create a deliciously crispy crust, with a fantastically smoked flavor. Simply buy some pre-made whole grain dough for your crust, and top with your favorite veggies and fresh sliced tomatoes (or your favorite sauce) and a small amount of good mozzarella for a fun dinner treat. Bonus points if you put on basil or oregano from your garden.
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4. Grilled veggies make excellent sandwich toppings. The grill can also help you shake off a lunch rut: Try roasting your favorite veggies on the grill (lightly brushed with olive oil, salt and fresh cracked pepper) and wrapping them with a whole grain tortilla and some hummus. Grilled sliced eggplant (like mushrooms) is another fantastic "meat like" alternatives.
5. Fire up Shrimp or Chicken Kabobs. Kabobs are a fun, easy way to serve smaller portions of animal protein-in a way that most people don't even notice. You can round out kebobs with  a side of whole wheat cousous and a yogurt dressing, or on top of summer salad greens.
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Want more ideas? Here's one of my all time favorite creations- my Thai Inspired Soy Sliders.  You can prep the elements in advance and then people can build their own (which kids especially love to do). These savory, smoky  bite-sized sliders have a refreshing contrast-the crisp, pickled vegetables with creamy sauce. Even carnivores will crave one.
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Have any more green grilling ideas? I would love to hear them! Please drop me a line.
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thai slidersThai Inspired Soy Sliders

Yield: 5 Tofu Sliders
Inspired by the popular bahn mi Thai sandwiches that many Thai food trucks sell, these tofu sliders are a delicious twist on the typical slider, and are packed with fresh flavors.

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Burgers: 5 whole grain dinner rolls 1 cup bean sprouts 1 small handful fresh cilantro sprigs 1 small handful fresh mint sprigs 1/2 hothouse cucumber, peeled and julienned 1 small jalapeño, seeded and julienned (or with seeds, if you prefer more heat)

Directions: 1. The night before, slice the tofu into 5 equal slices (about 3/4 inch thick). Cover with paper towels, place in a bowl, and drain overnight. 2. Place the drained tofu in a marinating dish. Place remaining marinade ingredients in a large liquid measuring cup. Using an immersion blender, puree all the ingredients together into a paste. 3. Cover both sides of tofu with the paste, and marinate for at least 1 hour. 4. Preheat oven to 400°F, and preheat your grill or sauté pan over medium-high heat. 6. Grill the tofu 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through (and with grill marks). 7. While tofu is grilling, place dinner rolls directly onto the upper rack in the oven. Bake for 5-6 minutes, until toasted and slightly golden on top. Remove. 8. To assemble: Slice heated dinner roll in half. Spread 1/2-1 tsp of burger dressing on each side of the roll. Stack grilled tofu with some bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, cucumber, jalapeño, and pickled vegetables. Top with other half of dinner roll and enjoy immediately.

Tofu Marinade:tofu marinade 1 carton extra firm tofu 2 cloves garlic 1/2 a large white onion 1/2 tsp ground black pepper 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp tamari or soy sauce 2 tsp sugar 1 tsp canola oil

Burger Dressing: 1/4 cup canola mayonnaise Juice from 1/2 lime 1 tsp sriracha

Pickled Vegetables - Kate GeaganPickled Vegetables: 1 tsp soy sauce 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar 3 tsp sugar or honey 1/2 tsp salt 1 bunch small Daikon or other radish, julienned 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned

Pickled Vegetables Directions: Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Add carrots and radishes. Marinate 30 minutes - 1 hour (can be made the night before). Drain well before use.

Burger Dressing: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk until combined. Taste and add more sriracha if you prefer more heat. Set aside.

Soy Recipes: The Perfect Earth Day Plant Food

Earth DayEven up here in the mountains, spring has begun: tiny green shoots are poking out boldly from snow, our skis are being traded in for bikes, and my kids are pestering me for later bedtimes now that daylight stretches longer into the evening. While many health experts anoint New Year as the pivotal time to make changes to your diet or routine- I think spring is actually the perfect partner for the following reasons:

 

- With warmer days comes lighter clothing, a powerful motivator to slim down and tone up what's underneath.

- Farmers markets dotted with fragrant spring fruits and vegetables make healthy eating delicious, inspiring and easy.

- Days are longer (just ask my kids), so it's easier to get out side into the sunshine for some activity-for a natural serotonin boost- a neuro-transmitter that's directly linked to happiness.

Which brings me to soy. The perfect food to think about this time of year. Whether your goal is to spring clean your diet, lose weight, add more vegetarian meals to your life, do something green for  Earth Day  or get your family's diet back on track after all the heavy eating of winter, freshen your routine by adding these 2 delicious soy recipes I created below.

Why soy? Whole soy foods (as opposed to refined, processed soy isolates) are nutrient rich plant proteins which contain all 9 essential amino acids. And soy plant protein is a lean and green superfood- low in calories and with a smaller carbon footprint than meat, poultry or fish -especially if you choose USA grown, non GMO soy.  Want to go a deeper shade of green for Earth Day? Go vegetarian 1 day a week (check out  the Pinterest Meatless Mondays board for some serious mouth watering inspiration LINK). Science suggests that going vegetarian just one day a week creates a greater environmental saving for the planet than switching to an all local diet -that's good new for folks like me who still have snow in their yards, and some of the shortest growing seasons of anywhere in the country.

I hope you'll wake up your tastebuds with these delicious recipes that my whole family loved! Let me know what you think.

Roast Edamame with DukkahRoast Edamame with Dukkah

Yield: About 1 ½ cups

A great snack or appetizer, this protein-packed finger food features dukkah, an Egyptian mix of good-for-you ground roasted nuts and spices.

Ingredients: 1 14 oz. package frozen edamame in pods 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil 4 tbsp. dukkah (recipe below)

Directions: 1)      Preheat oven to 375°F. 2)      Place frozen edamame on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and 3 tbsp. dukkah, and mix to combine. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. dukkah on top. 3)      Bake for 12-15 minutes, until edamame are roasted and fragrant. 4)      Remove from oven and pour into serving dish. Enjoy immediately.

Dukkah Recipe: Makes about 1 ½ cups

Ingredients: 2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts 1/2 cup sesame seeds 2 tbsp. cumin seeds 2 tbsp. coriander seeds 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds 1 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions: 1)      Preheat oven to 375°F. 2)      Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant and slightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. 3)      Using a spice grinder, grind hazelnuts into a powder (in batches if necessary). Pour in a medium bowl and set aside. 4)      Place sesame seeds in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat and toast until golden, stirring frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Add to ground hazelnuts. 5)      Add cumin, coriander and fennel seeds to cast iron skillet and warm, stirring until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. 6)      Using the spice grinder, grind cumin, coriander and fennel. Add to ground hazelnut mixture. 7)      Add salt and pepper and stir until combined.

Tofu ScrambleCurried Scrambled Tofu with Apricot Toast

Yield: 2 servings

Inspired by Indian flavors, this easy breakfast is a fun protein-rich, vegan twist on scrambled eggs.

Ingredients: 1 carton silken tofu 2 scallions, finely chopped 1 tbsp. Canola oil 2 tsp. curry powder 1/8 tsp. onion powder 1/8 tsp. kosher salt 1 slice whole wheat bread 1 tsp. apricot preserves

Directions: 1)      Gently break up tofu into large chunks, and place in a strainer over a bowl to drain. Place 2 paper towels on top, and weigh tofu down with a heavy item (such as a bowl). Allow to drain for 25 minutes. 2)      Heat canola oil over medium heat in a medium-sized nonstick pan or cast iron skillet. Add scallions and sauté for 2 minutes. 3)      Add curry powder and continue to sauté for 2 minutes, until well combined. 4)      Add tofu, and gently fold the scallions into the tofu using a rubber spatula. Add onion powder and salt. 5)      Heat mixture over medium heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes. To stir, gently shake the pan and fold tofu with a spatula. 6)      Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. 7)      Toast bread and spread with apricot preserves. Slice into 2 triangles. 8)      To serve: Place 1/2 of the tofu on a plate with one of the apricot toast triangles.

For more info:  Follow hashtag #FaceofClimate for Earth Day.

Natural Products Expo West 2013: Top 4 Trends in Natural & Organics

Natural Products Expo West 2013I’m just back from Expo West 2013, where I was looking for the latest trends in organics, natural and eco-friendly eating. Here are 4 of the top trends that seemed to stand out:  

Trend #1: Our (Natural) Sweet Tooth Reigns

This first trend I noticed within about 10 minutes of arriving: it seems that organic and natural folks have as big a sweet tooth as the rest of America. While I certainly like the fact that the sugar may be organic, or the product may contain stevia (an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener) instead of say, aspartame my first thought as I cruised the Fresh Pavillion on Day 1 was ... things sure tasted sweet.  Agave, too, was everywhere. This sugared trend continued in the main expo hall: aisles teemed with sweetened foods from granola to energy bars, smoothies and energizing pouches, desserts to chocolate.

While I absolutely applaud the cleaner ingredients - and in many cases - noble sourcing, the caveat for health professionals and the public is clear: many “organic and natural” products still qualify as indulgences - comparable in sugars (and salt and saturated fats) as conventional - so be sure to read the label. Especially if you are watching your weight. As a good rule of thumb, the American Heart Association recommends no more the 10% of your total calories come from added sugars per day-which I easily sailed over as I sampled my way through the Expo.

Trend #2: Greek Yogurt 2.0

Chobani's new Flip line pairs their greek yogurts with a variety of toppings

While I did sample some deliciously simple Greek yogurts, there’s a whole lotta newness in this space. Blessed by a health halo and a darling of dietitians for years (thanks to its high protein content, probiotics, and calcium and vitamin D), Greek-style yogurt was everywhere - but in its newer, more adulterated forms. Many products I saw seemed more akin to dessert than a nourishing staple; Greek yogurt coated pretzels, dessert bars, pouches & yogurt drinks filled the Expo. And Greek yogurt packaged with a side of sprinkle-in sweets was big too, like Chobani’s new line of Flips, with indulgent flavors like chocolate-coconut-granola and key lime graham cracker.

Powerful Yogurt for Men: Find Your Inner Abs

Great marketing props go to Powerful Yogurt: This brand new macho Greek yogurt for men boasts 25 grams per cup in original plain, dark manly packaging, and a hefty 8-oz. serving-a nice change from traditional yogurts, which seem to be whittling their sizes down on a regular basis. Other flavors have 20 grams of protein (compared with 10-14 grams for a standard 5-6 oz. cup of Greek yogurt), and are sweetened with a combo of sugar and stevia to keep the carbs and calories down.

Mama Chia squeeze pouches embody several trends at Expo West

Trend #3: Hot Ingredients & Packaging

In addition to agave, gluten-free, chia, and all things coconut were also on the hot list. Closely tied to the gluten-free trend was quinoa. This, to me,  is a good thing, as it's rich in protein and iron, quick cooking, and a delicious gluten free alternative that's a lean and green addition to any diet. Chickpeas were another strong trend: in flours, snacks, and main courses (tied to another hot trend-vegan). And when it comes to new packaging, get ready for a sea of pouches for grownups, from fruit purees to energy boosts to breakfasts. This Mamma Chia Squeeze was a great example of how many of these trends came together.

Saffron Road's sustainably sourced chickpeas pack plant protein and ethnic flair into snacks-two worthy trends.

My two top picks for lean and green super-snacks go to two chickpea products that I love for portability, sustainability, and kid friendly protein rich snacking. First round of kudos go to  Hope Hummus , who debuted their brand new portable hummus tubes; as a mom and a frequent traveler, thank you! These held up stunningly during our family's Disneyland escapades the next day. The uber tasty  Saffron Road Crunchy Chickpeas also should be a pantry staple: made from sustainably-sourced organic chickpeas, these are a great alternative if you’re craving a plant protein snack (with 6 grams of protein per serving). With no refrigeration needed, these are perfect for portioning out on-the-go in advance and stashing in your briefcase, desk or gym bag.

Trend #4: “Better for You” Popcorn and Chips

These tomato Snapz were satisfying, delicious, and may just be the next best thing for getting your lycopene

The quest to clean up chip’s reputation as junk food has been in the works a while, and the chips I crunched my way through continue to move that trend forward: with ingredients including lentil or garbanzo flour (boosting protein a bit), dehydrated vegetables (which may add a few more phytochemicals), seeds (like chia!), and  root vegetables. My personal favorite was a new company from the UK called Snapz whose dehydrated fruits like tomatoes proved one of the best taste experiences of the Expo. And the ingredient list couldn't be simpler: tomatoes. Well done, chaps.

With California lemon peel, sea salt and canola oil, Quinn had me at first bite.

Then there was popcorn. By itself, simple (non-GMO)  popcorn earns high marks for lean and green: at just 93 calories for a hefty 3 cup serving, it counts as a whole grain and is packed with antioxidants.  Quinn Popcorn earns my “best in show” green star award for turning microwave popcorn on its head. Fueled by two parents on a mission to make microwave popcorn healthy (read about the problems with traditional microwave popcorn here), Quinn popcorn starts with non-GMO corn, no rbST added cheese, 100% natural ingredients that sound like they come from your kitchen. The real innovation is the clean bag technology: Made from a 100% all natural bag that’s compostable, wth zero of the potentially harmful chemicals found in traditional microwave popcorn bags. And the taste? Innovative and fresh. Suffice to say I raised a few eyebrows as a 'oohed' and 'ahhed' my way through every sample of their booth.

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What other trends are you seeing in natural and organics? Or what's your takeaway from the Expo if you attended? I'd love to hear your take!

 

American Academy of Pediatrics: Changing Their Organics Tune?

American Academy of PediatricsIn a total disconnect, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued two papers in the past month on two of the hottest topics in the nutrition and health world: organics and pesticides. And the messages couldn't be more mixed. First, on October 22nd the AAP weighed in on Organic Food for Children (I was lucky enough to attend the press conference live). Their conclusion? Looking primarily at nutrient value of fruits, vegetables and milk,  the authors concluded that organic foods provide the same vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients as conventional foods.

What happened next? For most major news outlets, some version of the headline “Organic no better than conventional” rapidly spread throughout the digital world.

While the report did acknowledge that there may be a reduction in exposure to potentially harmful pesticides and antibiotic resistant bacteria, and paid token respect to it better for the environment, these points seemed to get lost in the report’s final conclusion that “in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease”.

 

But hold on...

 

This week, the AAP issued a surprisingly strong (in my opinion) policy statement which struck a different tone when it came to pesticides, one which painted the issue as potentially more serious in children, and something that pediatricians should bring up at your child’s next checkup.  The report, titled “Pesticide Exposure in Children” (and to be published in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics) provided these takeaways:

There’s a real health benefit to children of choosing an organic diet. The Policy cites food as one of the primary sources for children of pesticides-writing "for many children, diet may be the most influential source" (p.e1758).

The case continues to build for organicsStudies are getting more sophisticated (for example, we are now able to look at things like combined exposures and genetic susceptibility), and the past decade has seen a great expansion in the evidence supporting the adverse effects of chronic pesticide exposure. In fact, according to the authors, prospective studies have found early life exposure to a class of insecticides used in agriculture - called organophosphates- is linked with reductions in IQ and abnormal behavior associated with ADD, ADHD and autism.

What To do? First, Do No Harm. Then, Choose Organic (even just strategically)

It’s true that the first step towards healthy eating is to be sure you’re plate is loaded with the right foods: a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and heart healthy fats is the cornerstone of good health for growing bodies. But then, if your goal is to continue to maximize health and minimize risk, the evidence suggests that minimizing pesticide exposure is a sound next step that may provide real health benefits-and choosing organically produced foods to the extent that you are able is the best way to do that.

While I can understand that the AAP doesn't want to discourage families from eating a wide array of fruits and vegetables (and agree with that logic), to mention food as a primary source of  pesticide exposure in this policy, and then not  follow up with a recommendation to minimize that exposure through choosing foods produced without them, seems a disservice to parents. In fact, if this disjointed line of thinking were happening in my pediatricians’ office, I’d probably start looking for another pediatrician.

All of us deserve access to the best possible food for our families. And many, many of us are concerned about how to do this on a budget. Even just starting with the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen (which the organics paper cites as a viable resource) is a great step towards cleaning up your diet and protecting your family. Or check out my 9 Easy Ways to Go Organic on A Budget blog post for more tips and tricks.

 

Natural Products Expo West 2012: Top Natural and Organic Trends

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Pity the poor acai berry. At the recent Expo West in Anaheim, CA (which drew over 60,000 visitors), one thing was clear: this was the berry to beat when it came to claiming uber health benefits. I saw several older trends still going strong, such as the coconut craze, and chocolate-as-a-miracle-health-food (kinda forgetting it’s still an indulgence to be eaten in small portions).  There were lots of newcomers as well- and like any Expo, I had to ask: “what’s hot and what’s hype?” Here’s my take on natural and organic trends from Expo West 2012 that may come to influence a supermarket near you. .

Justin's Nut Butters1. Get Ready for Nut Butters 2.0 As a flexitarian, I am slightly addicted to nut butters. Packed with protein, heart healthy fats, and a slew of vitamins and minerals, they are perfect for a power snack or to slather on toast or oatmeal (I often carry single serve nut butters in my purse and car for snacking emergencies). But might we have taken things too far? Goji butters, phytoplankton butters, acaii butters and more joined this increasingly cluttered field-some which were an algae-ish brown color and tasted, well, like something algae-ish brown would taste.  I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we’ve taken things too far-we’re back to health food tasting more “healthy” than amazing. I also couldn’t help but question the actual health benefits one might receive from some of these combinations-is a smidgeon of goji berry in a nut butter better than, say, slathering a spoonful of your favorite local 100% blueberry preserves?

Bottom Line: If you love em’, there’s probably no harm in adding them to your cart. But unless you are excited to pay a premium for exotic add ins that may or may not confer an actual health benefit, ignore the hype and stick to flavors and blends where the ingredients have sound science behind them (like nuts and seeds).

2. Pity the Poor Acai Berry  “New” berries and superfoods from the remote reaches of rainforest or steppes are still granted an instant health halo. If goji and acai are old news, Sea Buckhorn from Tibet, Murta and Calfate from Chile, and a gorgeous Aronia berry from the USA are all newer superfruits that may be coming to a market (or supplement shelf) near you-all touted ORAC scores higher and more potent than acaii. But are they worth it?

Bottom Line: Until we see the science of real benefits in health outcomes, I put these in a “nice to have” category of eating. While these superfruits may boast ORAC scores that would make a health nut swoon, it’s an expensive proposition, as most come in powder or extract form, that you then add to smoothies or consume daily in addition to food. Paying $25 of $30 or more for a powder that you sprinkle into smoothies is likely a stretch for most Americans, who are just struggling to put enough fruits and veggies in their grocery carts.

. 3. Fancy A Seaweed Snack? Would you nosh on seaweed as a snack? You will be, if the trends at Expo are any indication. A host of different seaweed snack companies were there-and I’ve got mixed feelings about it. Of course, seaweed and sea vegetables are nutrient rich foods that can be a healthy addition to your diet-they often contain trace minerals and vitamins. However, in a perky little snack pack (which can be plain or seasoned), there’s an awful lot of packaging to preserve the delicate nature of seaweed, which felt wasteful to me (there may have been other companies there that I didn’t see who had a different packaging alternative, if so my apologies, I’d love to hear about you). Also, since the seaweed is so light, airy, and the eating experience so quick, I can’t help but wonder...being low in calorie, and have scant amounts of protein and fiber, I’m also worried that the typical American might not feel as satisfied with it-and will end up snacking again later.

Bottom Line: If you like it, could be a healthy addition-but caution with all that packaging. 4. Can you plant your bar in the ground? You’d Better, If You’re Calling it LIVE FOOD. Call it a “full circle moment”. Standing at the “Go Raw” booth the man proceeded to show me how you could literally unwrap the bar (a living pumpkin seed bar), plant it in dirt-and voila-it will sprout! I must admit, I was impressed-it gave me a a deep, primitive satisfaction that this food really was still somehow fresh food (now in a convenient, portable bar). Raw foods are heated just enough to destroy any potentially dangerous pathogens, but to keep the vital living secrets inside the seeds thriving. With all the push I’ve noticed of large conventional food companies trying to remind you how “close to the farm” and “straight from nature” their products are, this was a refreshing, immensely appealing approach.

Bottom Line: This is a trend that’s got real health benefits in my opinion. Will be interesting to see if it catches on mainstream. Loved it!

. 5. You Can Track Your Food Back to the Source.

Want to know exactly on which farm (or even which acre of the farm) your product was grown? Want to track the entire journey from field to bread, from bean to bar? No problem-many companies are now touting QSR codes that can be scanned to your smart phone and the unique story of that bar or loaf comes to life.

Bottom Line: Most people I know already feel overwhelmed with information overload. So while I applaud and admire the concept of transparency in the chain, I have to ask: will consumers care?

. What were your favorite trends from Expo West? What do you think of QSR codes? I’d love to hear from you.

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Posted with assistance from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD

Arsenic in Organic Baby Foods: Duped by the Organics Promise?

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A new study from Dartmouth University is making many moms pause and wonder if perhaps they have been duped by the promise of organics. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives  tested a total of 17 infant and toddler formulas, 29 cereal bars, and 3 energy shots for the presence of arsenic.  One ingredient in particular - organic brown rice syrup (OBRS)- seemed to be the common culprit, as products that contained OBRS contained up to 12 times the EPA’s safe drinking water limit for arsenic. Organic brown rice syrup is a commonly used sweetener (and carbohydrate source)  in organic foods, and is viewed by many as a healthier alternative to high fructose corn syrup. In the study, researchers found that the two toddler formulas containing OBRS as a primary ingredient had arsenic levels more than 20 times greater than the formulas that didn’t contain OBRS. The cereal bars and energy drinks containing OBRS also had significantly higher levels of arsenic than those bars and shots without the ingredient.  Arsenic is known to affect brain development in children (who, because of their rapid growth and development are particularly susceptible to the toxin), and may increase the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

 

What Does This Tell Us About Organics?

To be sure, headlines like “High Arsenic Levels Found in Organic Foods, Baby Formula” touches (or rather, stabs) at every mother’s soft spot and fear factor.  As a mother of two young children myself, the idea of arsenic in anything is at once terrifying and maddening, especially when it comes to our little ones. Many of us feel particularly irked by a finding like this if we’ve parted with our hard earned cash for organics in the belief that it’s a better choice for us and our children.

While the research is indeed newsworthy, here’s how I see the key takeaways.

Takeaway #1:  This story is about rice.

This study did not find that organic brown rice syrup contained more arsenic than conventional brown rice syrup. So the wrong conclusion would be something like “see, I knew organics weren’t any better!” or “shoot, does this mean organic is just as ‘bad’ as conventional?”.

What this study does do is highlight the fact that rice, because of how it likes to grow, can be a source of inorganic arsenic (“inorganic” in this case refers just to the chemical structure of the arsenic, not the USDA Organic certification program).  You see, rice plants like to absorb silica from the surrounding environment, which helps it stand up in waterlogged soil. The problem? Apparently arsenic looks a lot like silica to the rice plant, and is also absorbed to varying degrees depending on the rice variety (brown rice typically contains higher levels than white rice because the arsenic stays in an outer layer which is removed with polishing). To me, the takeaway is that we need to address lingering arsenic in our soil from past agricultural or industrial practices, especially when we are growing molecule-grabbing crops like rice. That we need a federal program to test arsenic levels in our food and beverages (see Takeaway #4). Or that if maybe (for now) it’s wise to limit products with brown rice syrup (including OBRS) listed as a primary ingredient until we have more information.

Takeaway #2:  Organics are still the best choice for you and your family.

Part of the clash in the “organic vs. conventional” debate comes in defining what we mean when we say  “better”.  While the science on the absolute nutritional benefits is still being established  (The Organic Center has the latest science here), when I personally use the word “better”, I mean that because organics protects you from added hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, irradiated food, potentially harmful pesticides and more (Stonyfield has a helpful list of specific differences between conventional and organic here ).  I believe you should buy organic as much as you can afford to-especially with key purchases like meat and dairy products, plus produce on “the Dirty Dozen” list. To help you, here are my tips to buy organics on a budget .

Takeaway #3: Organics are not immune to laws of nature.

Alas, just as organics isn’t immune to the laws of dieting (organic ice cream is still loaded with saturated fat and calories, for example, and organic candy bars are still candy bars), organic plants must still subscribe to Nature’s laws.  This study offers a good reminder that organics doesn’t automatically mean “safe”, but is a system like any other, that still needs to continually strive forward in best practices.

Takeaway #4: It’s time for federal regulations on arsenic in our food and beverages. 

Most of us are shocked to think that there are currently no US regulations regarding arsenic levels in food or juice. Hopefully, that’s set to change. Earlier this month, two U.S. Representatives introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set safety standards for arsenic and lead in juices within 2 years.  (Shortly after Dr. Oz broke a controversial story last year about arsenic in apple juice, Consumer Reports issued its own findings: of 88 apple and grape juice samples tested, 10% had arsenic levels that exceeded federal standards.