How to Sneak Vegetables to your Kids (and picky adults)

Books have been written about this topic, it is so easy, but yet, not everyone does it. Why? I’m not sure. If you care about your health, you should optimize the nutrition in your meals, which doesn’t mean eating a wheat grass smoothie for every meal. I like the K’s myself, and by K’s I mean Kale and Kelp.

Kale is an amazing superfood, a relative of Broccoli and Cabbage and Cauliflower and that whole family known as cruciferous vegetables. Think of it like Broccoli leaves. Maybe your only familiarity with it is in the zuppa toscana at Olive Garden. It is a powerhouse of nutrition. Cruciferous vegetables on the whole are, super duper cancer fighters.

I garden, so I grow kale and its super easy in the summer to just go out and pick a handful of leaves, chop them up small, and add them to whatever. At the end of the season before the snows come (because I do not yet own a greenhouse) I harvest all remaining kale and freeze it, to still enjoy it during winter months… though eventually I run out and must start buying it at the store.

Kelp is also an amazing superfood. Sea vegetables on the whole are chock full of vitamins and minerals, perhaps moreso than any other food on the planet. Including minerals people tend to be deficient in. I know what you’re thinking “Gross seaweed.” But it doesn’t have to be. You can buy kelp flakes, powders, capsules, but I just make my own. I buy bags of dried kelp from Amazon then just run it through my food processor (it can take awhile, its tough), until it is in tiny flakes. I then sprinkle these on lots of dishes.

How do use this double K power? As I’ve alluded to, you tuck it in here and there. Tonight, for instance, I made tacos. And normally to make tacos you cook ground meet and taco seasoning and…. nothing? Why nothing? Why not add something to it? All you’ll taste is the taco seasoning and the meat, you won’t taste the kale I add, or the kelp I add. I also typically add diced bell peppers and green chiles to my taco meat, sometimes black beans.

Taco Meat Infiltrated with Vegetables

Taco Meat Infiltrated with Vegetables

Sure, you can see the vegetables now, before I add the seasoning, but after I do everything will be that brownish orange color.

You can add finely diced leafy greens to chile, soups, stews, any dish involving pasta & sauce, stir fries, quiche, underneath the cheese when making cheeseburgers (sneaky!), sloppy joes, any sort of ground meat dish really, and pretty much any casserole.

In addition to the dynamic K duo, spinach is also a good choice, or add some of all three. If you know what purslane is (a highly nutritious weed) you can also pick that and toss it in in the summertime, I do (though I also grow it on purpose). Another nifty thing is that leafy greens are among the easiest plants to grow. Even if you’re not much of a gardener, you’re eating leaves, not fruit, so you harvest the plant sooner and there are less pest and disease problems to worry about (if a caterpillar eats a whole in a leaf you can still eat the rest of it). So you can grow your own and just pick small quantities as needed to add a little more nutrition to your family’s regular diet.

So even if your kids (or husband/wife?) frequently turns their nose up at healthier foods or vegetables, you can sneak it in. Their heart will thank you, even if they don’t.

In Search of Better (Healthier) Butter

Most people I think want to eat and be healthy, and butter tastes awesome, but butter is bad for us right? So we shouldn’t eat it? Maybe, maybe not.

The Story Until Now

Once upon a time we ate butter, and fries cooked in beef tallow from small farm cattle operations, and we were generally healthier, then, many misguided people, including people you should never listen to like The Center for “Science” in the “Public Interest”, went on a publicity campaign saying how saturated fats were going to kill us and we should use trans fats instead. Turns out, they were wrong, as our health as a society deteriorated we’ve since discovered saturated fats aren’t all bad, trans fats are bad, omega-6 fatty acids are bad. Now those nutjobs are advocating against trans fats, and conveniently forget they’re largely responsible for the original adoption of those products. Shame on them.

Saturated fat is in fact, not bad for you. See here, here, here, here, here. All those butter substitutes we’ve been eating over the years, those are bad for you.

For men in particular, saturated fat aids testosterone production.

A Spoonful of Science

Butter substitutes have largely been made of trans fats or other fats that aren’t healthy. What is a trans fat, by the way? Well, it is about hydrogenation. What is hydrogenation? I’m glad you asked. A saturated fat is a fat in which all available bonding locations on the molecule are full with a hydrogen atom. If you remember High School chemistry you’ll remember that some molecules are more stable than others and generally that stability is caused by the molecules ability or inability to bond to other things. Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms preventing anything else from bonding to them, so they’re incredibly stable, and generally take a long time to spoil. Manufacturers love them because they make foods last longer.

Monounsaturated fats have a single free bonding location, polyunsaturated fats have multiple free bonding locations. These fats are not nearly as stable because that free bonding location can bond with something, and it will eventually, which is why monounsaturated fats (Omega-3s) and polyunsaturated fats (Omega-6s) go rancid (at which point they’re not healthy to eat). So they don’t make good additives to manufactured foods because of shelf life. This lack of stability also effects their ability to take high heat, and high heat can also make such fats less healthy.

Hydrogenation is the process of taking an unsaturated fat and adding hydrogen to it to make it more shelf stable. Then it becomes a trans fat. So read the ingredient list. The FDA has minimum thresholds for having to list grams of something on the label in the nutrition information, which is why cooking spray, which is fat, can claim to have 0g of fat. But every ingredient has to be listed so if you see “hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” it has trans fat, and you should avoid it.

Manufacturers initially loved trans fats because they could take a cheap vegetable oil, hydrogenate it, and make it stable (for frying or shelf stability), without having to put the scarlet letter of “saturated fat” on their label. They got the benefits of saturated fats, without the (what we now know to be misplaced) negativity.

Omega-6 and Omega-3

So, just stick to MUFAs (monounsatured fatty acids, known as Omega-3s) and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids, known as Omega-6s) right? Sorry, its more complicated. Our bodies do best with a certain ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s, and the modern diet is generally out of whack. When we eat far more Omega-6s we induce inflammation in the body and chronic inflammation is now known to be the cause of so much of our modern lifestyle diseases.

Further complicating the issue is that most fats are not comprised of a single type of fatty acid. See this nice chart. Olive oil, one of the truly healthy oils, and something you should eat at every opportunity, is 77% monounsaturated fat, 14% saturated fat (yes, there is saturated fat in olive oil), and 9% polyunsaturated. Soybean oil is 61% polyunsatured, corn is 62%, sunflower is 69%.

For animal products, fat profile is largely a product of what the animal eats. The old adage, you are what you eat, largely applies. What do you think most of our modern meat machine is fed?

Organic is NOT the Answer

So you might think, just buy organic and you’re good. No. Organic is largely a label and most people don’t know what it means. It doesn’t mean healthier, it doesn’t mean safer, it doesn’t mean tastes better. If you buy organic animal products it means the animal was raised without antibiotics, which has no bearing on the nutrition of the meat, it means the animal was not given synthetic hormones (it may have been given natural ones), which may or may not affect you depending on when the last dose to the animal was, generally though I would not worry about that, it also means the animal was generally fed organic feed, and organic feed would be feed that was raised without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, and instead natural pesticides and herbicides would be used (which are still chemicals, by the way). By ordering a milk from a cow fed organic corn and soy you may be doing something for the environment, but you’re not doing much for your health. Buying organic products is largely an environmental choice, not a health one. That is fine of course, just know what you’re buying.

When buying animal products the better label is “Grass fed” or “pastured” (which is not the same thing as pasteurized remember). A cow or pig or chicken fed corn and soy is going to have an unhealthy fatty acid profile regardless if that corn and soy are organic or not. When they’re grass fed and given a more natural diet however the fatty acid profile of the animal products changes, and they also pickup more vitamins and minerals as well. When a cow is fed corn and soy, they produce milk with more Omega-6s, when they are fed grass, they produce more Omega-3s, plus a bunch of other benefits.

This applies to fish too. Why do we think of fish as healthy, and a good source of Omega-3s? Because fish swim in the ocean eating kelp. In actuality, farm raised fish does NOT have as good of a fat profile typically, because farm raised fish is often fed corn and soy. Four legged animals function the same way, give them a good diet, and they’ll give you healthier meat and milk. Lard from pastured pigs (when they eat grass, weeds, bugs, whatever a natural pig will eat) actually has an Omega-3 content approaching that of salmon. Pigs fed primarily acorns can best it even. Pigs from islands where they eat a lot of coconut (super low in Omega-6) also end up with a really healthy fat profile. This is also why game animals (deer, elk, etc) have a reputation for healthy, they’re not out there eating corn and soy from a trough.

In short, to be healthy, it isn’t about what meat you eat. It is about what your meat eats.

The Butter Quandary

Knowing all of the above, I wanted a better butter. I have been able to find grass fed beef at our local farmer’s market, bison and pork over the Internet, and I finally found a local farmer with pastured pork I bought a half pig from. I could find some varieties of grass fed cheeses at the grocery store, but no milk, no butter, no eggs. Eggs may have to wait until I have room to raise my own, but after some research I did find some butter.
Better Butter Options
Kerrygold is butter from Ireland where all cows are pastured. I found it at Sams’s Club in stick form but I wanted to find a sub for spreadable butter still. I finally found a Kerrygold “spreadable” butter in a tub from Kroger. My wife also found some Organic Valley organic whipped butter at a health food store, and I also picked up a new “I can’t believe its not butter” product because I thought it might be a viable alternative. Some Organic Valley products are pastured or grass fed, but this particular tub of butter does not say anything about it on the label (also, based on color, I don’t think it is).

I decided to do a taste and usage test. Here is how they stack up nutition and ingredient wise:

Kerrygold Naturally Softer Irish Butter: 100 calories tbsp, 35% saturated fat (not that I care). Ingredients: Pasteurized Cream, Salt.
Organic Valley Whipped Butter: 50 calories tbsp, 18% saturated fat. Ingredients: Organic pasteurized sweet cream, salt.
I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter Deliciously Simple: 100 calories tbsp, 10% saturated fat, 3g Omega 6, 6g Omega 3. Ingredients: Canola oil, water, palm oil, nonfat yogurt, palm kernel oil, salt, natural flavor, lactic acid, vitamin A, beta carotene (for color).

Kerrygold states that they get their butter softer by making it from early Spring milk which is softer for some reason to do with the type of grass the cows eat that time of year. Organic valley gets theirs softer by whipping it, incorporating air, so you’re essentially buying 50% air which is why you’ve got 50% less calories, half of that tablespoon is air. ICBINB is getting it done just by using softer oils.

In the spread/melt test, right out of the fridge on hot toast, the ICBINB spread and melted super easy. The Kerrygold performed the worst, it may be softer than stick butter, but it isn’t soft, the organic valley was better than the Kerrygold, but still not very easy to spread.
Butter Spread Test
On taste, Kerrygold won easily. It tasted like nice rich butter. The ICBINB tasted like canola oil mostly, which as the first ingredient makes sense, and compared to Kerrygold the Organic Valley just tasted bland.

Also, look at the color. Kerrygold is yellow, Organic Valley is almost white. Why? What the cows eat. That is beta carotene and other good stuff the cows accumulate from the grass they eat, color is a good way to know you’re getting grass fed animal products, the fats (yolks, dairy) should also be more yellow.

If you absolutely need something to spread very easily right out of the fridge I like the ICBINB. I like that I can pronounce every ingredient it has, I like it has double the Omega-3s to Omega-6s. However, real butter is fairly shelf stable and will not go bad if you let it warm up some, so for everything else I have to recommend the Kerrygold. You can fix the spread problem by letting it warm up, and the flavor and health profile is just so much better because it is grass fed (all Kerrygold products are by the way, including their cheeses).

If you’re wondering what about ordinary cooking. I’d never use corn, soy, or “vegetable” oil. I even do not like canola oil. Canola oil doesn’t have the ratio of corn or soy oil, but it isn’t close to ideal still, and I think it can often give foods a bad fishy taste. Olive oil, coconut oil, pastured lard or beef tallow, these are what you want to cook with. And of course, rather than worry about your fat intake, worry about your refined carbs.

How to cook brussels sprouts, you roast them

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I love brussels sprouts, I cook them at least 3 times a week, but it was not always the case.

I grew up thinking brussels sprouts were gross, because they have that reputation, that no one likes them, right? My mom didn’t cook them growing up, and I had never tried them until I was maybe 23. I saw them at the store once in the frozen food section, one of those “veggie and sauce” microwave deals, wanting some variety, I bought them, and tried them, they were alright, nothing to write home about.

A few years later I got more into cooking and roasting vegetables. Roasting, the application of high dry heat, carmelizes the sugars in most vegetables vastly improving them. I decided to try roasting some sprouts, and I made a discovery. Brussel sprouts were actually very very very good.


Not only are sprouts good, they’re very good for you. They’re a cruciferous vegetable along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage. This family of vegetables are all extremely healthy for you. In addition to the normal vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, you find in most vegetables, there are two very special things that these do for you.

Apparently, there is a compound within these plants that helps activate the process that flushes toxins from the cells of your body. Cancer is helped by carcinogens that encourage cell mutations, you should avoid such toxins, but in addition to avoiding them you should also ensure that any that make it into your body get expelled as soon as possible. One reason why a high fiber diet helps prevent colon cancer is that, quite frankly, it keeps things moving out quickly. This is the same concept, but on the cellular level. So eating these vegetables help purge your body of toxins. This is real science folks. I know using the phrase “purge your body of toxins” is reminiscent of various snake oil concoctions throughout history, but in this case, it is real hard science, tested and proven in the laboratory. For more on that science see here.

But wait, there’s more. There is a compound in cruciferous vegetables that literally encourages cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis), making them invaluable for people suffering from that disease. But additionally there is a theory that we actually have cells in our body forming tumors all the time, many many small tumors, that our body naturally kills off, and we develop malignant cancer when our body fails to do this house cleaning. So if that is true, then cruciferous vegetables also help terminate these micro-tumors, preventing malignancy in the first place.

So why not make broccoli?

Because brussel sprouts taste better? (they do, seriously) However, honestly, I hate cooking broccoli. It is just so fragile. If you undercook it, it is tough, if you overcook it it is bitter, and there is a very short window between the two. Cauliflower is more forgiving, and can be roasted well and used in things like mac ‘n cheese, but it is also the least nutritious of the lot. Both broccoli and cauliflower too I think are best fresh (frozen is not nearly as flavorful in my opinion) which is of course a little more expensive and a little less practical to keep in the house. Then there is cabbage, which I like, and I add it to meatloaf, casseroles, and of course make things like coleslaw a lot in the summer, but it isn’t quite the hot vegetable side you usually want.

Brussel sprouts work great frozen, have a huge time window for cooking, and are very nutritious (possibly the most nutritious of the bunch). I’ve actually tried this recipe with fresh sprouts a number of times, and it is never as good as with frozen (I don’t know why, it just isn’t). And, despite rumors to the contrary, it is very hard to overcook a brussel sprout (in the oven anyways). To top it all off, it is easy, it takes me less than a minute of labor to prepare this dish.

So, without further ado, your directions:

How to Roast Brussel Sprouts

  1. Cut open a bag of frozen sprouts and empty it into a 9×9 glass baking dish so sprouts form a single layer (use a bigger dish if your bag was bigger than from my store).
  2. Sprinkle olive oil over, I use my little oil bottle (you know the kind made for oils that pours it slowly) and make a zig zag from one side to the other and back. Probably 2-3 tablespoons total.
  3. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of kosher salt, I just grab a fat pinch, I don’t measure.
  4. Grind a few grinds of fresh black pepper over it.
  5. Shake the pan to promote even coverage, then toss it into a cold oven and set the over to 425 and your timer to 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes, remove, and stir it. Put it in for at least another 30 minutes, but as I said it is very forgiving, and can go as long as another hour at the high end.

You can serve it as is, and I love them, but you can also dress them up with some butter or freshly grated parmigiana cheese.

They are sweet, crispy and brown on the outside, soft and savory on the inside, and a little salty.

Now I’ve seen many so called food experts warn against overcooking brussel sprouts (they must be thinking of boiling I’m sure) because they get mushy and whatnot, as if anything mushy is bad. We all like mashed potatoes don’t we? After an hour in the over the sprouts definitely no longer have the crispness of a fresh vegetable, but to those who would turn their nose up at my sprouts, I would ask them to try them first, perhaps they will echo my brother who, upon first trying them said, “The brussel sprouts are amazing.”

So I eat these at least three times a week, and I recommend you do too. They’re easy, they’re cheap, you can buy a lot and store them in your basement freezer, they taste amazing, and they’re incredibly healthy for you. In the future one day should you meet a Vulcan and should they tell you to “Live long and prosper.” You can answer that you will, because you eat brussel sprouts.

My Healthy Protein Muffins

My wife has a need for a good, quick, high protein & high fiber breakfast. She is in medical school and has to get up really early most days to go to the hospital and so she doesn’t have time anymore to eat her normal breakfast of either oatmeal or Egg Beaters. Her default option is a so called “power” or “protein” bar of any of a variety of brands. The problem is most of those bars contain lots of extra simple sugars and other sweeteners, and they also contain a lot of preservatives and other junk. When you eat simple sugars your body ends up burning them really quickly and then has to use insulin to counteract them, this results in cyclical manic & depressive metabolism in your body and it isn’t healthy, and it just makes you want to eat more. The more complex your food is, such as complex carbohydrates & protein, the longer it takes to digest and the more even your metabolism will be. This will help keep you energized longer and feel fuller.

So I decided I could figure out for her a muffin recipe that’d give her everything she wanted, and still taste good. These muffins are extremely nutritious and taste like carrot cake. Here is the recipe:

Flax Carrot Cake Protein Muffins

Healthy Protein Muffins

  • 1 Cup Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Soy Flour
  • 1.5 Cups Flax Seed Meal
  • 1 Cup Soy Protein Powder
  • 3/4 Cup Rolled Oats (Oatmeal)
  • 1/3 Cup Chopped Walnuts
  • 1/2 Cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
  • 1/2 Cup Normal Splenda
  • 2 Cups Skim Milk
  • 3 Medium Granny Smith (green) Apples, Pealed
  • 1 Cup Shredded Carrots
  • 1/2 Cup Egg Beaters or Egg Whites
  • 1 Cup Raisins
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 tsp ground cloves
  • 1.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 1.5 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • (optional) 1/4 cup pomegranate or other high antioxidant fruit juice (the expensive stuff in the small bottles).
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin pan (spray with non-stick spray) or line with paper liners.
  2. In large bowl mix together wheat flour, soy flour, soy protein powder, splenda, splenda brown sugar blend, salt, flax seed meal, oatmeal, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, baking powder.
  3. In food processor process carrots until you have 1 cup, usually 2 cups or more whole carrots goes into making 1 cup of finely shredded carrots. Set aside.
  4. Peel, core and quarter your apples. Process in food processor until finely & evenly shredded.
  5. In large bowl mix together shredded carrots, shredded apples, raisin, and walnuts until it comes to an even consistency.
  6. In large bowl combine 2 cups of milk, egg beaters, vanilla extract, and oil (and optional fruit juice). Whisk rapidly until it gets foamy, about 5 minutes.
  7. Pour milk & egg mixture into flour mixture and fold together using a large spoon or spatula, do not over mix and stop once you no longer see any dry ingredients.
  8. Fold apple & carrot mixture into milk & flour mixture using a large spoon or spatula, stop when all ingredients seem evenly dispersed.
  9. Ladle mixture into muffin pan, filling each cup to the very top, even overfilling slightly. Due to the protein there shouldn’t be too much rise. Should make about 18 muffins.
  10. Bake in 350 degree over for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

So, that is the recipe, now lets talk about it.

First I want to cover the ingredients. Stone ground whole wheat flour is the best kind of wheat flour you can buy, the stones give it a coarser grind and so more of the wheat kernels get into the final product, this increases the protein & the fiber. Mixing in soy flour gives added soy nutrition, more protein, and more fiber, including soluble fiber (stuff really good at cleaning out cholesterol). Flax seed is one of the healthiest foods to eat on the planet, it contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source (that I know of anyways) it contains large amounts of protein, and large amounts of fiber, without as much fat as other nuts. The buns I buy have flax in them, the pasta I buy has flax in it, and I add it to things I bake (even cookies and meatloaf). Then let us consider the soy protein powder. This is just pure protein as derived from soy, it includes soy antioxidants and is of course a great source of lean protein. Finally among the dry stuff we’ve got the oatmeal, which adds fiber, soluble fiber, and even some protein.

The wheat flour is available at most stores, my local stores also carry the soy protein powder, the flax seed meal, and the soy flour. They don’t carry it in large quantities so you might have to look harder, but they do carry it. Try looking down the baking isle by the speciality flours or gluten free fair, or if there is a healthy living or organic food section in one of the dry goods isles. If you cannot find it at a store you can buy it online at say Amazon or find it at a health food or nutrition store.

Moving on, the muffins also contain a lot of carrots & apples. This ups the fiber and provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It makes the muffins a serving of fruit & vegetables for your daily needs. Eating healthy isn’t just about eatting fewer calories, but also about eating more nutritious foods, apples & carrots are both highly nutritious.

We’re using 2 cups of skim milk in the muffins, this is a lot of liquid but all the protein based dry ingredients really need liquid to balance them out. The milk provides good milk protein, which is just about the highest quality protein you can get outside of meat, calcium of course, as well as typical vitamin D.

The muffins use Egg Beaters or egg whites instead of normal eggs. Egg Beaters are just egg whites that have had food coloring added (to look yellow) and some vitamins added. By not including any of the yolk you cut down on around 70% of the calories and 100% of the cholesterol in eggs. Normally this might result in a less moist baked product, but all the fruit in these muffins contribute adequate moisture.

We also add 1 tbsp of olive oil to counteract some of the stickiness of the protein and provide help with residual moisture. You could use any oil, but olive oil is healthier and provides more vitamins and antioxidants.

We’re only using a 1/3 of a cup of chopped walnuts, other recipes might call for more. The issue with walnuts is they’re basically a less healthy version of flax seeds. They contain less fiber, less protein, and less omega 3 fatty acids, but many more calories. Compared to any other nut walnuts will be healthier, but compared to flax seed meal they’re just not. So we’re only adding the walnuts for crunch factor, but still they do contribute protein, fiber, and omega 3s, just not as much as the flax does.

The raisins contain a lot of sugar, but it is all natural unrefined sugar, so that isn’t so bad. Raisins also contain tons of antioxidants, they’re one of the most antioxidant rich foods, and they’re still a little juicy so they provide a nice texture contrast with the nuts when eating the muffins.

Then there is the Splenda. Splenda is a great sweetener that tastes like sugar so you hardly notice the difference. In only a few applications can you not replace sugar with Splenda. In this case we’re using Splenda Brown Sugar Blend & normal Splenda. The Brown Sugar Blend is a blend with real brown sugar, so there are calories there, however it is necessary because brown sugar contains properties that sugar substitutes just don’t. In total using Splenda probably saves 50-100 calories per muffin.

Rounding up the rest of the ingredients are the baking soda & baking powder. These items are what create the bubbles in the muffins that allow them to rise and be fluffy. It is important they not be too old so check the expiration dates on yours, also, if you bake regularly, you may think I’m asking for a lot of both, and I am. This is because all the protein in the mixture requires extra help in rising. Then of course there are the spices, you can add more or less depending on how much you like the carrot cake flavor.

The last ingredient is the optional fruit juice, and really this is optional. If you want a little extra flavor and or antioxidants you can use it. Use the good juice though, the 100% fruit juice of pomegranate, blueberry, mangosteen, acai, or other high antioxidant fruit juice. This juice is usually not stored by the other juice, but usually in a refridgerated section and usually is fairly expensive and comes in smaller glass or plastic containers. I like using it as an additive and I never drink it straight.

So, that is all the ingredients and why I use them.

As far as the cooking method goes, it is very important to mix all the things separately as I have indicated. Firstly you want to mix the dry stuff thoroughly before it gets wet to make sure the baking soda & baking powder as well as the spices get evenly distributed. You cannot overmix it at this stage.

Then you whisk the milk & egg mixture to make sure it gets thoroughly combined but also to create those bubbles that will also help to create air pockets & rise in the final mixture.

Finally you mix the apples & carrots thoroughly to make sure they end up evenly distributed and so the end muffins aren’t like all carrot or all apple depending on which muffin you bite into.

The reason you cannot simply add everything together and then mix is that excessive mixing of the flour once the liquid has been added will cause the protein called gluten to get even more rigid making the muffins even more chewy than they’re already going to be. So you mix the 3 main component mixtures thoroughly prior to mixing it all together so that when it all does come together you have to do as little mixing as possible. This concept is important for just about any baked good, you almost always want to mix the wet stuff & the dry stuff separately before adding them together.

If you end up with 18 muffins and use everything I have mentioned you’ll get the following numbers per muffin:

  • 205.5 Calories
  • 11.08g Protein
  • 5.7g Fiber

Try finding a health bar that contains so few calories, so much protein, and without any added weird or unhealthy junk such as high fructose corn syrup, or any sort of hydrolyzed protein. Also, my muffins contain no saturated fat, no trans fat, and no cholesterol.

So, if you’re trying to lose weight or just want a quick & healthy breakfast, make up a batch of these, and refridgerate them for storage, or freeze them. (All the unsatured fats & proteins in the muffins really can end up going bad quickly, so keep them in the fridge). If frozen you can thaw them as needed by taking one out the night before and putting it on the counter in a container of some sort.

Eat one or two for breakfast, depending on your weight loss goals or calorie needs. If you plan on eating two though don’t eat them at the same time. Eat one, and wait until you’re hungry again (even if it is just 30 minutes) before eating the second one. This will keep your metabolism going and keep your fuller longer.

If you like this recipe, check out my similar healthy chocolate brownie recipe too.

Know your Spuds

The Humble PotatoMmmm, man food, meat and potatoes. And yet this is a nutritional food blog, so can I still do man food? I know can do healthy meat (but that is another post) but can I do healthy potatoes?

Yes, yes I can.

But first, a primer on the humble spud.

Potato Primer

Potatoes are swollen stems, or tubers, of a vine in the nightshade family. They come in many varieties and can generally provide more calories per acre than almost any other crop, which makes them great as a starch staple.

There are many varieties of potatoes, but the three main ones are red skin, yellow, and russet. Russet and red skin potatoes have white flesh, yellow potatoes (also called gold or Yukon gold) are yellow inside and out.

Red skin potatoes are small waxy potatoes, they have lower starch content and can better hold up to liquids without falling apart. This makes them excellent in stews or cooked with roasts or in any application where you will be doing long wet cooking. The skin of red skins is also often left on, merely cleaned with a stiff brush before cooking. Of course red skin potatoes are also good mashed.

Yellow skin potatoes are medium, medium in size, medium in wax, medium in starch. They’re generally considered to make the best mashed potatoes and are also good in fried applications, and do alright in a stew. These are the ones I buy most often. You can leave the skin on or take it off with these ones.

Russet potatoes (the big brown ones) are large mealy potatoes and aren’t at all waxy, they’re good baked, and pretty much only baked. They aren’t as good mashed as yellow skin potatoes, they don’t hold up in stews or other slow cooking dishes like red potatoes. I only buy these if I’m baking them individually.

Potato Health

Alas spuds are much maligned as unhealthy, but when you get right down to it and look at the calories in a typical potato you’ll notice something odd, namely, there isn’t all that many calories. Indeed, the potato hardly has any more calories than an apple.

What gets you with potatoes is the butter, the sour cream, the actual cream, the gravy, and everything else that you add to them. They’re rather bland alone afterall and it is all those high fat (though, you can make healthy gravy) toppings that make the overall dish unhealthy.

So, don’t be afraid to cook potatoes, just make sure you don’t smother them in butter. In situations where you’re not going to add anything to them they can be quite healthy, in moderation of course, a pound of any food at dinner will pack on the pounds. The healthiest application for a potato would be baked plain, but barring that when you use them in stews they aren’t seasoned with anything other than the stew broth, so the overall calorie addition thanks to the potatoes should be relatively low.

On the flip side, potatoes really don’t offer that much in nutritional value, not a lot of fiber, vitamins, or minerals. So in that regard they’re not doing you any favors.

What about sweet potatoes? Well, botanically speaking they’re not at all related. Sweet potatoes are rhizomes, potatoes are tubers, however sweet potatoes are healthier than normal potatoes. Not because they have less calories, in fact they have slightly more. Sweet potatoes are healthier because they are full of vitamins and minerals, they’re considered a superfood like carrots and in fact the survival of early American colonists has been directly attributed to the nutrition stored sweet potatoes provided during the winters. Also, sweet potatoes taste great when just seasoned with something like cinnamon, which doesn’t add any calories to the final dish.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

This recipe isn’t actually very straightforward, because first you have to make garlic oil.

First step, buy some nice crusty artisanal bread, from a bakery, not an aisle. Then get some fresh raw garlic and some olive oil, normal is fine, you don’t need extra virgin.

Peel the garlic bulb and separate the individual cloves, peel the cloves (try smashing them to assist the skin in letting go of the clove). Fill up a small glass baking dish, the smaller the better, with the cloves from 1 bulb. Then cover with the olive oil until the cloves are all submerged. Cover with aluminum foil and put in an oven at 350 (you did preheat the oven right?) for 50 minutes.

When your 50 minutes are up pour the entire thing through a strainer, with the oil falling into a dish (you’re saving the oil). Put the garlic cloves in a small container, add italian seasoning (rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, or just get an “Italian Seasoning” product that is premixed) and a pinch of salt, and mash gently with a fork or spoon until you have a paste.

Next, grate some “parmesan” cheese (parmigiano reggiano, aged 1 year atleast, better yet 2 years, expect to pay $15-$20 a pound for it, but it is worth it. Don’t use that stuff in a can, tip… save the rind when you’re done with the wedge you buy and use it to flavor a soup or stew, just toss it right in during cooking and remove it before serving)… so grate the cheese. Then slice your bread, spread on the garlic paste you made, cover with the cheese, and place on a cookie rack under the broiler in your over until the cheese is bubbly and starting to turn brown (keep your eye on it! it’ll happen quickly). Remove from oven, and enjoy the best garlic cheese bread you’ve ever ate.

Meanwhile on the counter a dish of olive oil will be cooling, except since you cooked it in garlic for 50 minutes it is now garlic oil. Put this in a little container (they sell neat little glass oil flasks at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond for a buck or so) and save it for when you make potatoes (or otherwise want garlic flavored oil).

Oh… right… potatoes, this post is about potatoes not garlic. So, you have garlic oil, and you have your chopped up potatoes. Put your spuds in salted boiling water until they’re done (when you can easily stick a fork in). Remove them from the heat, drain them, add some more salt to taste (start with a teaspoon), add parsley (the seasoning, not the garnish, there are two different kinds, the seasoning is technically called “Italian flat leaf”), and a few tablespoons of your garlic oil. Mash and serve (or hit it with some of that awesome parmigiano cheese and then serve).

My Favorite Buns

Brownberry Whole Wheat BunsNo, this post isn’t about what Catherine Zeta-Jones did in Entrapment, it is actually about my favorite brand of hamburger or sandwich buns.

These buns are relatively hard to find. In the two grocery stores where I regularly shop, the smaller one (only slightly smaller, still a big honking store) doesn’t carry them, only the slightly larger one does. They’re worth the little extra drive though.

When you’re eating a sandwich you need a bread product, otherwise it is not a sandwich, and there is no way around the calories in bread. Even the healthiest breads have calories. So, as per my nutritional philosophy, your goal should be to make sure those calories provide as much nutritional value as possible, and aren’t just empty calories like you get from white bread.

So, for this application I like Brownberry Speciality Whole Grain Sandwich Buns. These aren’t the Brownberry Whole Wheat buns in the red bag, these are a different type of whole grain bun by the same company.

There is whole wheat flour and high protein soy flour in these buns. That gives them a whopping 10 grams of protein per bun. That is huge for a bread product. You could take one of these buns, put it in a toaster, spread a little butter on it, and have a healthier breakfast (or other meal) than what a protein bar can provide. Buttered toast is a healthy option is the bread is this fine product.

The protein also provides structure to the bun. I absolutely hate it when I make a burger and the store bought bun (which is soft and squishy and full of preservatives to keep it soft and squishy) crumbled under the weight of the burger. These buns are heavy, strong, and can stand up to whatever burger you throw at them. So not only is it better for you, but it makes an easier eating experience.

Each bun also contains 5g of fiber, which according to the USDA is 20% of your daily needs, so that’s not bad either. Calories are a very modest 170 per bun, which is pretty low for a bread product.

Then of course, with all the complex ingredients and protein in the buns they’ll keep your fuller longer, on less calories, and more nutrition. All around they’re just a better option.

It is just my wife and I at home, and at 8 buns to a package we can’t use them quickly enough before they go bad, so I keep them in the refridgerator, it makes them last a couple weeks.

So how do they taste? Fine, good, no complaints from me. I’m to the point though where I don’t necessary prefer white bread in taste to whole grain bread. My carb starved stomach likes them both, they’re just different from each other.

Healthy Pasta

Barilla Plus PastaPasta doesn’t need to be unhealthy. As I say in my nutritional philosophy if you get the right kind of pasta it can really have good nutritional value.

Whole wheat pasta has been around for a long time, but this fortified pasta is new. I first saw it in’s grocery section, but eventually found an equivalent product at the grocery store where I shop.

Basically, they make the pasta using a wide variety of grains, including legume grains. On the box of the barilla I’ve got pictured it says it includes lentils, chickpeas, egg whites, spelt (a really high fiber ancient relative of wheat), barley, flaxseed (great source of omega-3′s), oat fiber, and oats. Additionally it is vitamin fortified with niacin, iron, thiamin, and folic acid.

So, the end result is you’ve got this pasta with twice the fiber of normal pasta (good for many cancers, namely colon which is the second most common cancer in the US or something like that), omega-3 fatty acids (great for heart health, so-called good cholesterol), and protein, which helps you feel full longer and build or maintain muscle. One 56g serving has just 210 calories, but 10 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber, with only 2 grams of simple sugars. That is better than what you’ll get from a protein bar, and its pasta!

You can also find breads with the same great fortifications and made with legume flours/flaxseed meal, nuts, etc. But that is another post.

Pasta doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. Your grocery store might not have the same brand I do, but look for similar types of pasta. Or, try a health food store or just order from Amazon.

My Nutrition Philosophy (or Chris’s Magical Miracle Diet)

I’ve never been fat in my life. My brothers were all large at one point growing up (they’ve since yoyo’d, though one is skinny now), my Dad is, but I was always the skinny one. I have a few life experiences that have punctuated my nutritional beliefs. The first I recall is when my older brother, who was quite chubby in his early teen years, but a sports fanatic, keep harping on needing more carbs, how carbs were good for you, and you needed to eat carbs to be healthy. I always thought it was total calories myself. Anyways, someone should have told my brother that yes, Lance Armstrong needs carbs, but if you eat more than you burn those carbs will turn to fat.

Perhaps the way some other countries do it is better, they don’t list fat, they list lipids. See, here in the US so many people think if you eat fat it becomes fat, if you eat protein it becomes muscle, and if you eat carbs it becomes energy. This is of course not true. All three get metabolized and turned into compounds your body can use for energy, any extra left over gets stored as fat no matter how it started.

The other experience was my Dad trying Atkins and insisting that ring baloney was good for you because it was high in protein and low carb.

But back to me, I was always skinny, and then I went to college. Dorm food is evil. 3 meals a day (well, 2 most days) of a full 3 course meal, gravy, desert, juice. I felt I was poorly educated on nutrition at this point in my life, and I didn’t eat well. I gained 40 pounds in 6 months. I’m 6’5 though so its not like I was huge, it merely increased my waist from 32 to 36, but still.

I’ve lost the weight since and I’ve found that I developed a core nutrition philosophy over the years of doing it, and this philosophy was directly responsible for the weight loss. This philosophy is culled from varying diets, medical information, nutrition information, my own tastes, and good plain common sense.

There are a few key components to my diet:

1. Eat lean protein as much as possible.
2. Eat only complex carbohydrates.
3. Portion Control, Portion Control, Portion Control.
4. If still hungry, fill up on calorie sparse foods rather than calorie dense foods.
5. Make sure every calorie has nutritional value.

Eat Lean Protein
Most people do not get enough protein, especially men as we have high protein needs. They say you need 1 gram per day per pound of body weight, check your food, do you get near enough? This is doubly true for people who are trying to build muscle (and what guy isn’t?) they say you need 2 grams per pound of body weight if you’re trying to build muscle.

Protein is also one of the best food to eat. It is less calorie dense than fats or carbs, it is also complex and takes awhile to break down so you feel fuller, longer, and your blood sugar doesn’t spike.

You also need complete protein. The only places you can get complete protein are from dairy products or meat. Veggies and even eggs do not have complete protein (all amino acids present).

Now, when I say lean protein, I mean low in fat. Beef is a great source of protein, but it is too high in fat and cholesterol to be healthy. Instead, try buffalo, fish, chicken, turkey. You can get protein from beans, peas, legumes, nuts (but watch the fat with nuts), and milk. Milk is a great nutritional food. Personally I drink whey protein shakes every day for lunch.

Eat only complex carbohydrates.
Refined sugars are evil. This is sugar and refined “white” flour. Complex carbohydrates in whole grains (oats, etc) or in veggies are much better for you.

When you eat refined sugars you digest it quickly, your blood sugar spikes & crashes which encourages more binge eating, and you’re getting 0 nutritional benefit most of the time.

Complex carbohydrates stick with you longer, take longer to digest, and at the very least have fiber if not other nutritional value.

So, the lesson here is no white bread, and use sugar substitutes as much as possible when cooking. No sweetened fruit juice, no regular cola. Check the sugar content of everything you eat. Even so called healthy “protein” bars usually have as much as 30 grams of sugar. That is as much as a candy bar. Don’t rely on how something is marketed, check the label.

Portion Control, Portion Control, Portion Control.
This is the most important thing possible, the most helpful thing, and the hardest thing to accomplish. Good portion control is a change in behavior rather than merely grocery shopping.

You need to train yourself to eat less, do not eat until you’re full, eat until you’re no longer hungry.

Also, you need to limit your portions of calorie dense foods. For instance I will still eat beef, but I limit myself to 8 ounces at one meal. No more 14 ounce ribeyes for me. (I also try to get leaner cuts like tenderloin or sirloin). An 8 ounce sirloin steak is very calorie light, so you can eat it and maintain a healthy diet (except the cholesterol, which is another issue).

I also now only allow myself to go back for seconds on vegetables, not the meat course, but that falls more under…

If still hungry, fill up on calorie sparse foods rather than calorie dense foods.

You can eat your fill of certain products. Berries, especially strawberries, watermelon, green beans, zucchini, squash, eggplant, carrots, these are all calorie sparse foods. Learn what these foods are, buy these foods, and when you’re still hungry after finishing your portion, eat these foods. Many have nutritional value beyond merely filling you up, so you’re doing good on that level as well.

These can also make good deserts or late night snacks.

Make sure every calorie has nutritional value.
This one is extremely important to me. I don’t try to eat well just so I look good, I want to live a long time. I try to eat foods that don’t just keep me trim, but also ones that fight cancer, heart disease, and anything else that can happen.

I need to eat, and I need to limit how much I eat to maintain my weight, so I want to be darn sure that every calorie I take in benefits me in some way. So I seek out foods high in antioxidants (blueberries), I look for fortified foods, foods high in protein, foods high in fiber. Colorful vegetables filled with vitamins.

So, for instance, pasta. Pasta isn’t really that healthy being a starch product, but I don’t get plain refined starch pasta. I buy whole wheat protein & omega 3 fortified pasta. It tastes great, gives me fiber, protein, and omega 3 fatty acids (good cholesterol, the stuff in fish and nuts). So, it is still 250 calories or whatever a serving, but they’re all calories with nutritional value, so I consider it okay.

For desert sometimes I will make a blueberry cobbler sweetened with Splenda with a cinnamon and oat topping. This is just under 200 calories in total, which isn’t much less than a small candy bar (Reese’s Big Cup is 220 calories). But since I’m getting great nutrition from the food I don’t mind the calories.

So that’s it, that is my nutritional philosophy, and when I post about healthy cooking in this blog, it is in regards to this philosophy that I mean.