Friday, August 29, 2014

Are you getting enough Iron? And a recipe for Caribbean-Style Rice & Black Bean Salad

Iron is an essential nutrient, meaning we must eat foods containing iron to get the iron our body needs or we become iron deficient.  Iron has many important roles in our body, the most important being its role in transporting oxygen throughout the body and getting rid of carbon dioxide.  Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen throughout the body and helps our cells produce energy.  If we don't get enough iron in our diet, we may be tired, weak, and feel cold.   

How much iron do we need daily?

Gender and Age                    Iron DRI 

Males, 14-18                           11 mg
Males, 19                                8 mg
Females, 14-18                       15 mg
Females, 19-50                       18 mg
Females, 51 +                          8 mg

Which foods are good sources of iron?

Iron in food exists as two types, heme and non-heme. Animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry provide heme iron, which is the type of iron that is most easily absorbed. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods, like dark leafy greens and beans.  Non-heme iron isn’t as well absorbed as heme iron, although you can get enough iron in your diet solely from plant sources.  If you eat a primarily plant-based diet, just be sure to eat a variety of iron-rich foods, including beans and vegetables, dried fruits, dark molasses, and enriched whole grains and cereals.  Note that corn and cow’s milk are both poor sources of iron. 

What happens if we don’t get enough iron?
If our bodies don’t absorb enough iron, we become iron deficient.  Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body’s iron stores are so low that the body can’t make normal red blood cells.  Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin and fingernails, weakness, dizziness, headache and inflamed tongue.

Who is at risk for iron deficiency?
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have more blood volume, which requires more iron to transport oxygen to the baby and growing reproductive organs.
  • Young children have increased iron needs.  When babies are born, they have enough iron stores for six months.  After six months, their iron needs increase.  Breast milk and iron-fortified infant formula are good sources of iron.  Cow’s milk is a poor source of iron. 
  • Adolescent girls are often at risk because of restrictive diets or not eating a diverse number of foods.
  • Women with excessively heavy menstrual periods may develop iron deficiency.
What can I do to increase iron absorption from food?
  • Eat a varied diet.  If you don’t eat meat, choose a variety of plant-based foods to ensure you meet your iron requirements. 
  • Vitamin C helps you absorb the iron in plant foods (especially important for vegetarians), so include a good source of Vitamin C in your meals.
  • Proper stomach acid aids in iron absorption, so try not to take antacids.
To help you start fulfilling your iron needs, here is a simple recipe for a Caribbean-style grain salad with black beans.  The salad gets its flavor from cooking the rice in a sofrito--the blend of onion, garlic, peppers and herbs essential to Latin cooking.  

Caribbean-Style Rice & Black Bean Salad

Serves 10 - 12

1 medium onion, cut in large dice
2 garlic cloves
1 bell pepper (red or green), cored and diced
½ bunch cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups long-grain brown rice
4 cups water
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 jar green olives with pimientos, drained
zest and juice of two limes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

First, make the sofrito by putting onion, garlic, bell pepper, cilantro, cumin, coriander, cayenne and sea salt in food processor or blender.  Process until very smooth.

Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat.  Add rice and toast for 3 – 5 minutes, or until rice starts to ‘pop’ like popcorn.  Add sofrito mixture to the rice and stir.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cover.  Cook for about 50 minutes, or until rice is done.  Remove cover and fluff with a fork.  Let cool completely.

Add cooked rice to a large mixing bowl with the black beans, tomatoes, red bell pepper, olives, lime zest and juice, olive oil and cilantro leaves.  Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Celebrating Kids Eat Right Month

We both have cherished our moments in the kitchen (and garden!) for a long time. Growing up, I was in charge of these simple tasks: whipping the whipping cream, peeling potatoes, picking the peas and carrots, stirring almost anything, and taste testing...

While we realize not every child has the opportunity to pull a ripe carrot from the soil or pea pod straight from the vine, many advocates of healthy eating understand the value of connecting to real food. Farmer’s markets, trips to the grocery store, and even including children in the dinner-prep provides them with a window through which they can begin to understand where our food comes from, to taste how delicious it can be, and to experience the wonder of the food that nourishes us.

So in recognition of Kids Eat Right Month, here are our 5 tips to encourage healthy habits for children and adults of all ages.
1. Invite your child into the kitchen to help make dinner.    Kids are more likely to eat what they cook; they love projects, and cooking their own dinner gives them a sense of accomplishment and ownership.  Give them age-appropriate tasks like washing vegetables, measuring ingredients, dumping or stirring, and of course, taste testing.

2. Give foods fun names.  A recent study from Cornell University shows children eat twice as many vegetables when the veggies were labeled with cool, fun names, like ‘X-ray Vision Carrots’ and ‘Tiny Tasty Tree Tops.’  So, let your kiddos come up with fun names for foods and you’ll watch those veggies disappear!

3. Give kids choices.  Let your children have a say in dinner and they’ll feel empowered.  For example, when you’re making pizza, set out bowls of different types of vegetable (and maybe even some fruit!) toppings, and let your child build his own pizza.  You may be surprised when they choose spinach! 

4. Introduce new foods. Studies suggest kids may have to taste a food 15 or 20 times before she starts to like it.  So, keep serving that side of broccoli and encouraging your child to at least taste it.  Eventually, their taste buds will start to accept it—and even like it!  At the same time, include foods on the table that they already like such as carrots, beans, or berries!

5. Eat together as a family.  The research is clear—kids who eat dinner with their parents are healthier, happier and less likely to get into trouble as a teen.  The best conversations in our lives—and often our best memories—usually happen around the table.  There are 1,440 minutes in a day—make at least 30 of those minutes a dinner with your kids, and you’ll all be happier! 

Here are a few online resources filled with articles and ideas for cooking with your kids.
Kids Eat Right ( is a site of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, focused on kids nutrition. 

Spatulatta ( teaches children to cook with free step-by-step videos and encourages children to eat more vegetables and fruits.

Super Kids Nutrition ( provides articles, tips and resources for raising healthy eaters. 

The Kids Cook Monday ( provides articles, tips and resources for cooking with your kids.

ZisBoomBah ( is an interactive website that helps families get excited about healthy meals. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dark Chocolate Date Bon-Bons

It wasn’t until I bought my first food processor that I really started to feel like a legitimate home cook. It sounds so silly to say now, but I remember walking into Macy’s, picking out my favorite model, and feeling so proud when I brought it home. I felt beyond accomplished when I made my first batch of homemade hummus. And then pesto. Just like all the chefs on The Food Network had shown me.

It’s funny how the little things can make such a difference. It wasn’t until after I purchased my food processor that I really started to flex my cooking muscle. Of course, it took me approximately 45 minutes to figure out how to lock it in and start it correctly, but that’s besides the point. It gave me the extra bit of confidence I needed.

This recipe below is one I’ve learned to love, thanks to my food processor (but don’t worry, you can make it in your blender, too!). And it’s even more fun to eat than make, which is certainly an added plus. These little bon-bons have gotten me through many afternoon-lulls, when I needed that little something special to power me through till 5:00. Pack them in your lunch for a simple, nutrient-dense take-to-work or take-to-school treat. I hope you enjoy them!

Dark Chocolate Date Bon-Bons

¾ cups pitted dates, chopped (approximately 6)
½ cup pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
¼ cup flaked coconut
¼ cup dark chocolate chips

1.      In your food processor or blender, add all ingredients and pulse until you have an even texture.
2.      Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls.
3.      Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Enjoy, preferably with those you love. 

The Dietitian Is In: Olives

When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!

Question: Are olives healthy, even though they are high in sodium?

Answer: Although olives seem to get most of their attention for their heart-healthy oil, olives by themselves offer important health benefits. Whether they’re Greek-style black olives, Spanish-style green olives, Kalamata, French, or Californian, olives are a plant food rich in phytonutrients that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Two particular phytonutrients found in olives— hydroxytyosol and oleuropein—appear to reduce oxidative stress, and help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. The heart-protective benefits of olives may also be due to their high monounsaturated fatty acid content, a type of fat well-touted for its ability to improve cholesterol levels. Additionally, olives are a good source of fiber, iron, copper, and vitamin E. Despite these substantial benefits, some varieties of olives do pack in a significant amount of sodium. One large black olive contains 32 - 72 milligrams of sodium, depending on the size and preserving technique. To help offset the naturally bitter taste of fresh-picked olives, many undergo brine curing (submersion in a salt solution) for several months. Because the olives are preserved in the solution and absorb the sodium content, rinsing them prior to eating will do little to lessen the sodium. However, you can reap the benefits of olives without overloading on sodium by letting olives provide the central flavoring—no additional salt is needed—in pastas, sandwiches, dips and spreads.

—McKenzie Hall, RD

This Q & A was written by McKenzie for the April 2014 issue of Environmental Nutrition.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Apple Oat Pancakes (with Peanut Butter & Raspberry Topping)

Last week while home in Alberta visiting friends and family, I had one of those meals that I wish I could press the “pause” button on. I was eating the yummiest pancakes in the company of wonderful people before heading to the last full day of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Now I’m back in Los Angeles and getting into the groove of things again. But, I’m still dreaming about those pancakes.

So, this weekend, I was inspired to create my own healthy pancakes topped with a classically comforting flavor combination reminiscent of a PB & J. These pancakes are more dense than the typical fluffy variety but they leave you feeling just the right amount of satisfied. Even better? They can be made in an easy 10 minutes. Keep the leftover pancakes in your fridge and pop them in the toaster for an on-the-go, wholesome breakfast to enjoy the rest of the week.

Apple Oat Pancakes (with Peanut Butter & Raspberry Topping)

Ingredients for pancakes:
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 cup of whole rolled oats
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 egg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients for topping:
8 ounces of low-fat yogurt or plant-based alternative
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 cup berries of your choice


1.      In a blender or food processor, combine oats, apple sauce, egg, cinnamon, and vanilla. Blend to develop pancake batter.
2.      Drizzle the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat and drop spoonfuls of batter into the skillet to form the pancakes. Once the pancakes start to bubble, flip until cooked through. The pancakes should appear golden brown on both sides.
3.      In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt and peanut butter.
4.      Top pancakes with desired amount of peanut butter yogurt sauce and berries.

Makes approximately 4-6 pancakes.

Enjoy, preferably with those you love.

Although we do work with the National Raspberry Council, we were not compensated for this post.  
All our opinions are our own.  We really do just love berries (and pancakes)!