Nutrition and Fitness with Randa

Vegetarian Linguini Pomodoro with Yellow Squash and Lemony White Bean Salad with Creamy Feta

There are zillions of  great vegetarian recipes out there, but somehow I always seem to wait until the last minute and end up creating a variation of something I read somewhere in a cookbook or on a recipe website. Last night's dinner was such a creation, and my husband and I were both pleasantly surprised at how satisfying and delicious it was. And I, how quickly it came together! (My kids, ages 4 and 6, who had just the night before watched the movie, Ratatouille, were quite pleased that they already knew the name Linguni and could match it to a steaming heap of it on their dinner plates.)

Over the last year since moving to the Middle East, I have been evolving into a habitual vegetarian cook, with meat dishes sprinkled in here and there. The challenge, albeit an entertaining one, is to make sure there is enough protein in any given meal to satisfy the body's protein requirement. One should eat a minimum of 15 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oftentimes people wrongly assume that if there is no meat, poultry or fish in a recipe, it does not have enough protein.

Wrong! Combining the right carbohydrates in any given meal, or cooking with soy products and eggs, can definitely provide sufficient amounts of protein to sustain a healthy immune system and metabolism.

Here is my take on Capellini Pomodoro, coupled with a lemony, white bean salad with creamy feta cheese. I think you will find that most of the ingredients are already somewhere in your fridge or pantry. (If they aren't, they should be!)

Linguini Pomodoro with Yellow Squash

4 oz. linguini (or any other pasta you have on hand)

4 (or more) cloves of garlic, crushed

Two 15 oz. cans of diced or stewed tomatoes, partially drained

1 yellow summer squash, diced into small pieces

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar or red wine

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp. dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh parmesan cheese, grated

While the pasta is cooking to al dente, sautee the crushed garlic in olive oil for 3 minutes. Add yellow squash and cook for 3 more minutes. Add in tomatoes, vinegar or wine,  and seasonings; bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes. Combine the pasta and sauce, and sprinkle parmesan cheese just before eating.

Yields 4 servings

Total protein: 9 grams

Lemony Bean Salad

1 can white canelleni beans or great northern bean, drained and rinsed well

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Juice of two lemons

1/2 head of romaine lettuce, shredded

1/2 large red pepper,  sliced

1 tbsp. feta cheese, cut into small cubes (creamy if available)

1 tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted

2 tsp. dried oregano

1tsp. dried thyme

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the beans with 1.5 tbsp of olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. Sprinkle with oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and let sit for 20 minutes or longer while you make the salad. In a large bowl, combine lettuce, peppers, feta, and almonds. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, 1.5 tbsp olive oil, 1 clove garlic, salt and pepper. Pour over salad and mix well.

Entire salad yields 2 servings

Total protein: 20 grams


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Healthy “Brown Bag” Lunches

I realize it has been too long since I last posted - life seems to have gotten a little hectic! But here is a post that is helpful for both kids and adults when making lunches for school or work. My own son complains that I give him the same snacks all the time so I know we could all use a little help thinking outside the box when our thinking capacities are stunted!

It's back to school time again, so when planning meals and snacks, teach young children about making healthy choices by explaining how "grow-and-go" foods will help them feel good and have fun at school. Grow-and-go foods are foods high in complex carbohydrates, good sources of protein, include vitamins and minerals and a moderate amount of fat.

Here are some quick and easy ideas, some of them courtesy of the Defense Commissary Agency for lunch and snacks that are grow-and-go foods:

  • B-n-B wrap (Banana and nut butter wrap). Mash a banana and mix with any nut butter. Here is an opportunity to try a different butter - like almond butter, which is high in vitamin E and protein. If your child prefers, sprinkle with dried fruit or coconut for a different flavor. Spread it on a whole-wheat wrap or flat bread, roll it up, cut it up and bag it.
  • Turkey, ham or chicken with hummus or Greek yogurt wrap. Spread some plain hummus or Greek yogurt on a wrap, add meat slices, any cheese (optional), lettuce or spinach and cucumber slices. Roll it up and bag it. Hummus or Greek yogurt adds a unique flavor, so if your children do not like it, use mustard or a little mayonnaise.
  • M-n-C roll up (Meat and cheese roll ups). Take any thinly sliced luncheon meat and your children's favorite cheese, sweet peppers and thin cucumber slices. Roll it up and bag it.
  • Pita pocket with curry chicken salad. Take chopped chicken and mix it with a little curry, Greek yogurt, chopped celery and chopped carrots. Put it in a whole wheat pita pocket with spinach or romaine lettuce.
  • Flat bread or bagel pizza. Toast a flat bread or 1/2 whole or sprouted wheat bagel and make a pizza with a little spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and your choice of vegetables such as spinach, tomato slices, squash or broccoli.
  • Stuffed Bagels. Stuff with cottage cheese and berries or stuff with omelet pieces and sprinkled cheese.
  • Baby carrots, cucumbers chunks, grape tomatoes, hummus, whole-grain crackers and pita chips. Put some hummus in a small container to use as a dip. Bag the carrots, cucumber chunks and grape tomatoes. Also pack some whole grain crackers or pita chips for energy-packed carbohydrates.
  • Vegetable Roll Up. On lavosh or whole wheat tortillas, spread roasted red pepper sauce or pesto, add vegetable sticks and roll. Or, spread with bean dip, sprinkle with jack cheese and grated carrots and zucchini, and roll.
  • Also try lettuce leaf wraps. Stuff lettuce leaves with egg salad or canned chicken and olive spread, then roll. Or stuff with hummus and vegetable shavings and roll.
  • Whole what pita stuffed with ricotta cheese, goat cheese and herbs. This is for kids who like a little variety with their cheeses!
  • Tortilla chips, plain yogurt and salsa. Cut up tortillas in quarters, sprinkle a little salt on them and heat them in the microwave for a minute or two. Mix the yogurt, for protein and calcium, with salsa or just put plain salsa in a small container for a dip.
  • Trail mix. Mix almonds, peanuts, dried fruit and whole-grain cereal for a nutrient dense, energy-packed food and bag it. This is a great "take it anywhere" kind of food.
  • Great snacks. Cheese sticks, nuts, yogurt tubes, dried fruit, fresh fruit and canned fruit (packed in water) all make great snacks and additions to lunches. Mix a handful of granola with dried apricots and cranberries and pumpkin seeds. (Try to avoid the pre-packaged snacks such as Lunchables, that contain more fat, salt and unnatural ingredients than a child needs, not to mention the excessive packaging made with petroleum derived plastic and dyed cardboard.)

I encourage you to keep trying certain foods that your kids may not care for - one day, they may just change their minds unannounced. My 5 year old was never crazy about tomatoes, and one day out of the blue, he ate an entire bowlful of sweet baby grape tomatoes and loves them now! Don't give up!

If you have some healthy brown bag lunch ideas, please comment. We would love to hear!

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Got Milk? Chocolate Milk Refuels Muscles After a Workout

Many of us can remember squeezing Hershey's chocolate syrup or blending cocoa powder into cold milk for a chocolate milk treat. Now ready-made chocolate milk can be found everywhere, from Starbucks to health food stores. Until now, we have overlooked this sweet drink as nothing but a kid's after school treat.

Studies are now showing that it is no longer simply a dessert item, but also a drink that helps muscles recover after exercise, beating out even carbohydrate sports drinks.

"The combination of carbohydrates and protein in low-fat chocolate milk appears to be "just right" for refueling weary muscles", says William Lunn, PhD, an exercise scientist at the University of Connecticut.

The research involved eight male runners in good physical shape who ate a balanced diet for two weeks. At the end of each week, they took a fast paced, 45-minute run.

Following each run, the men drank either 16 ounces of fat-free chocolate milk or 16 ounces of a carbohydrate-only sports beverage with the same number of calories.

Post-exercise muscle biopsies showed increased skeletal muscle protein synthesis -- a sign that muscles were better able to rebuild -- after the milk drink, compared with the carb-only beverage.

Additionally, drinking fat-free chocolate milk led to a higher concentration of glycogen, or muscle fuel, in muscles 30 and 60 minutes after exercise, compared with the sports drink. Replenishing glycogen after exercise helps future performance, Lunn says. This is also proof that it is very important to consume at minimum a snack - at best a meal of carbohydrates and protein - after an intense workout (walking the dog while window shopping does not fall into this category!)

While only men were studied, one would expect women to gain the same post-workout benefits from chocolate milk.

"While the studies were small, there's no reason not to reach for fat-free chocolate milk after your next workout", says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD, of Healthworks Fitness Center in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "Athletes can consider it an inexpensive nutritional alternative to engineered sports beverages for help with post-workout recovery," she tells WebMD.

A healthy chocolate milk option

In Summary.........

Chocolate milk that is low-fat or non-fat provides energy, protein, calcium and seven other essential nutrients (including potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin) and is quickly absorbed in the body. It is not a surprise that this sweet, inexpensive drink is a great post-workout option for those who exercise at greater intensities and duration.

There are many choices out there, but try to look for chocolate milk that is not loaded with preservatives, fat and sugar. Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk and Organic Valley Lowfat Chocolate Milk are two of the best in terms of both good taste and health.

Using Cocoa

You could also make your own using unsweetened cocoa. Cocoa derives its health benefits from flavonoids, which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants to counteract some of the cellular damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans.

Many cocoa powders are processed and contain such undesirable additives as hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and milk products. Look for as pure of a formulation of cocoa as possible with the lowest calorie content, such as Green and Blacks Organic Fair Trade 100% Cocoa Powder.

Here is a recipe for homemade hot chocolate:

  • 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp. organic sugar or sweetener of choice
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 c. low-fat or non-fat milk
  • a bit of vanilla, if desired

Combine cocoa, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Heat it on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the paste from sticking to the pan. After about 1 to 2 minutes, add milk and vanilla. Mix it all together until it reaches your preferred temperature.

Source: Web MD Health News

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