As food trends go, organic is now mainstream, eating local is still riding a wave and most of us know more vegans than we did 10 years ago. Some of our friends have given up glutens, and we may have done so ourselves.
If you hadn’t heard of the Paleo diet before 2013, when John Durant wrote “The Paleo Manifesto,” you now may know someone who eats only what Paleolithic man could find in the wild. This pre-agricultural diet, sufficiently healthy or not, is yet another option for people who are tailoring their intake.
People are motivated by health, the environment or ethical reasons. For some, it’s all three.
If in this new year you resolve to eliminate, cut back or substitute, your research will point you to the best methods based on your reasons, but it can be confusing. Not only do nutrition dos and don’ts flip previous positions but also social media give everyone the chance to make any claim.
For a long time, nutritionists warned us away from whole milk, butter and lard, then the message changed — better to eat the real thing; forget margarine, shortening and fat-free half-and-half.
“From the science I have learned, we know fresh is better and fat is about moderation,” said Cindy Javor, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the food and nutrition educator for Penn State Extension. “Butter is less processed (than margarine),” and lard is less processed than shortening.
Vitamins and minerals are removed in processed foods, which are higher in bad trans fats, she said.
“The diets we recommend are higher in seafoods and lower in the high-fat meats,” Javor said, adding that the Mediterranean diet is among the best for reducing carbohydrates and increasing fiber, vitamins and minerals.
It takes effort to eat selectively, especially if multiple reasons motivate you to do so. Here are a few grains of thought:
Meat is not necessary for protein. You can get all the protein you need from dairy, leafy greens, nuts, beans and legumes, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, beets, carrots — the list goes on. Beans and rice, and legumes and rice, are considered a complete protein when paired. Beans are deemed a superfood because they have no cholesterol or fat and pack a punch of potassium, folate, iron, manganese and magnesium.
Fish is a great source of protein. Add more fish to your diet if you want to stop eating other kinds of animals, and an added benefit is Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The downside is over-fishing of some species in some waters and the incidence of mercury in some areas. Seafoodwatch.org is one source for finding out which fish to avoid and which are abundant enough to eat.
Good substitutes for beef are bison and venison. Both are much leaner than beef, although bison is expensive and venison is hard to find unless you’re a hunter or know one.
If gluten is not in your future, you have several options. Almond flour is nutritious, but because almond plants require large amounts of water, if you care about the environmental impact, there’s amaranth flour, which might be the most nutritious of all flours. (The greens also are edible.) Spelt contains gluten, but if gluten isn’t your issue, spelt is higher in fiber and protein than wheat.
Quinoa is a complete protein. Quinoa, a seed related to the spinach family, has become so trendy among foodies that its price has skyrocketed. The demand has caused farmers in the Andes — the only place it is grown — to fight one another over land. If you want to support Bolivian quinoa farmers, but not to the point of conflict, you can alternate quinoa and the ancient grain kamut, which nutritionists at Northwestern University report has 30% more protein than wheat, and freekeh, which has four times as much fiber.
Collard green and
black-eyed pea soup
After having had collards and black-eyed peas served separately at many gatherings, I adapted this recipe to combine them as a soup.
3 cups dried black-eyed peas
1 ham shank
Large mess of collards, cleaned and chopped
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper, to taste
Place black-eyed peas and ham shank in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Then simmer on low, about 2 hours, until almost tender.
In another pot, add greens and red pepper flakes. Pour water to cover the greens; then add cooked shank.
Cook greens and shank on low heat for 2 hours. When ready to eat, pour black-eyed peas and broth into pot with greens and simmer, about 20 minutes.
Remove shank and cut it into pieces to add to the dish. Add black pepper to taste. I use a portion of the ham and save the rest for another dish.
Makes 4 servings as an entree, or 8 as a side.
Quinoa-crusted baked fish
with cucumber-lime salsa
½ cup quinoa
Canola oil for the pan
For the fish:
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1½ pounds firm white fish fillets (I used catfish)
For the salsa:
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup frozen cubed peaches, thawed
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
½ teaspoon salt
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add quinoa and cook for 10 minutes, then strain well. Spread quinoa on a towel to dry. Transfer to a sheet pan and let air dry. Transfer to a medium bowl
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil the sheet pan or an oven-safe dish that will accommodate the fish in a single layer.
Place flour in a medium bowl and stir in the salt.
In another bowl, whisk eggs. Toss fillets in the flour mixture to coat. Dip each fillet in egg then coat with quinoa and place on baking sheet, making sure fillets do not touch.
Bake for 15 minutes or up to 20 minutes for fillets thicker than ¾ inch, such as cod.
For salsa, combine all the ingredients.
Serve fish hot with salsa on the side.
Makes 4 servings.
— Adapted from
“The Whole Grain Promise”
by Robin Asbell (Running Press; October 2015; $20).