Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kale? Yes, please.

Kale is a Superfood from the Brassica family. It is a green leafy vegetable that is becoming increasingly more popular because of it's health benefits such as promoting good eye health, lowering cholesterol and detoxifying the body. Kale is also known for it’s anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants while still being low in calories. Super indeed!

The number of nutrients that kale contains is impressive. Kale contains Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, B6, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, Phosphorus and Copper. Kale also contains Lutein, Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber.

Kale comes in many varieties and colors. Dinosaur kale, which is sometimes knows as Tuscan kale, tends to be sweet and blue-green in color. Ornamental kale is more mild in flavor and great in salads because of it's tender leaves. Curly kale tends to have a stronger flavor and bumpy texture.
photo: Maria Quiroga
Kale is a great green vegetable to have stocked in the kitchen because it can be cooked in so many ways. You can stir-fry it, steam it, eat it raw, creamed, baked as chips or you can add it to a soup or sauce.

For most of us kale is healthy and nutritious, but if you have gallbladder or kidney problems you may want to avoid kale because of the oxalates. Kale is also heavily sprayed with pesticides so it’s best to buy organic kale when possible to avoid exposure.

I love kale and eat it a couple times a week in stir-fry and soup. How do you like to eat your kale?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Natural? Organic? What should I buy?

Photo by Maria Quiroga

Confused? You aren’t the only one!

The USDA states that “Natural” pertaining to meats and poultry means “containing no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed.” But this does not guarantee that the meat was raised in a humane manner, in a sustainable environment or was organically fed. It seems that the word “natural” would mean that no hormones or antibiotics were given to the animal, right?  Nope. The only way to be sure you are getting hormone/anti-biotic free meat is to buy Organic meat. What about poultry and pork? Poultry and pork in the U.S. cannot be given any hormones by law, but can still be given antibiotics. Only buying Organic poultry and pork will guarantee that no antibiotics were administered.

So is Organic meat the way to go? I would say YES. By purchasing Organic you can be sure you are buying products that meet strict guidelines stipulated by the USDA. Each farm must get verification by a USDA-approved agency independent of the USDA. By buying organic you know that the animals were fed 100% organic feed, provided access to the outdoors and were not given antibiotics in their lifetime. Organic animals are also not given growth hormones of any kind or fed other animals (yes even sick animals are chopped up and fed to our animals. Only cows, goats and sheep aren’t a part of this process.) Shocking, right?

The manner in which meat and poultry are labeled can be very misleading. Read the labels and remember that the terms “no hormones administered” and “no antibiotics administered” are only defined by the government and not enforced by them. Only buying Organic will provide you with the peace of mind that what you are serving for dinner is indeed hormone and antibiotic-free.

-Maria Quiroga

Monday, November 28, 2011

Craving Sweets?

Did you know that sweet cravings can be significantly reduced by including more sweet veggies in your diet? Sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, beets and squash are a few that works wonders on taming sweet cravings. Sweet potatoes elevate your blood sugar in a slow manner so there is no sugar crash after you eat them. They are more nutritious than regular potatoes are and a great source of Vitamin A. Try this recipe and see what you think!

Recipe of the Month: Sweet Potatoes with Lime and Cilantro

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 sweet potatoes
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
2-3 limes
butter or olive oil, salt (optional)

1.   Wash the sweet potatoes and bake them whole, in their skins, at 375 degrees until tender, about 40 minutes.
2.   Wash and chop cilantro leaves.
3.   When sweet potatoes are done, slit open the skin and place on serving plate. Season with salt and dots of butter or a sprinkle of oil, if you like, then squeeze fresh lime juice all over, and shower with cilantro leaves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Few Tips to Get Through the Holidays Without Packing on the Pounds

-       Trays of food at holiday parties can be dangerous, especially if there is someone circulating with food. It’s best to fill a small plate with your selections so you can see what you are eating instead of taking a sample here and there. Try to fill your plate with vegetables, fruits and lean meats. Avoid fried foods and cheese-laden options. All of those samples add up in no time and it might not even seem like you ate very much.

-       Going out to dinner to celebrate the holidays? Be careful if you are sharing dishes with friends or family at restaurants. We often tend to overeat if there is more than one option available. A small bit from each plate can add up to a lot without us even noticing! Your best bet is to order your own plate and commit to a healthy choice from the menu.

 -       Helping cook a large holiday meal? If you find yourself in the kitchen helping to prepare a holiday meal, be sure to eat some healthy food beforehand. It’s easy to unknowingly snack when you are cooking on an empty stomach. Also, make sure to stay hydrated. Often times we confuse thirst with hunger.

 -       Going for a seconds? Before you take a second helping, sit back and enjoy the company and conversation. Hydrate. Relax. Then if after 20 minutes you still aren’t satisfied, go ahead and have a few more veggies or another piece of turkey.

 -       Dessert. Let’s face it, most of us look forward to some freshly baked pie or other sweet treats during the holiday season. Of course you can indulge in some dessert once in a while, but perhaps this year only have a small slice of pie or share a piece with someone. 

 -       Keep Moving. Make exercising a priority during this busy time of year. Holidays can be stressful and stress can cause some people to overeat. Try going for a run or a bike ride instead of reaching for leftovers or that box of Oreos.
Remember, it's OK to indulge once in a while, but stuffing your face during the holidays is a quick way to put on a few pounds. Stay active this holiday season and with a little awareness, you can stay on track. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Multi-Grain vs. Whole Grain

Multi-grain. What does it really mean? Does the product contain whole grains? You would think so, but the multigrain claim can be slapped on a loaf of bread and not contain one whole grain! Many “multi-grain” breads only contain multiple refined grains. The FDA does not require companies to use whole grains in multi-grain products such as bread, so the consumer is frequently fooled by misleading claims.

What should we do as consumers?

Read the ingredient list carefully. Is every grain a “whole grain”? The ingredient list should specifically say “whole “ before the name of the grain. It’s also a good idea to look for the claim “100% whole grain”. This statement is actually regulated by the FDA to assure consumers that all of the grains in the product are indeed “whole grains”.

Why Whole Grains?

A whole grain consists of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Refined grains are processed which removes the bran (the outer layer) and endosperm. The only part of the whole grain that remains is the germ, which means it is no longer a whole grain. During this refinement process, the whole grain is stripped of phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Research has shown that including more whole grains in your diet can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Why eat empty calories found in refined grains when there is the option to eat whole grains that are delicious and healthy?


Friday, November 4, 2011

Snacking at the Airport

I recently traveled from Laguardia Airport to Detroit Metro Airport and noticed all of the new snack options. Yes, there were the usual suspects of sugar, highly processed snacks and candy bars, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very wide variety of nuts, trail mixes and fresh foods. Sure a $.30 banana will cost you a $1.00 or more, but at least the option is there.

I went with the fresh cut fruit and some raw walnuts. I love fruit and nuts for breakfast and snacks, so some strawberries, blueberries and walnuts hit the spot. It was nice to see berries and not just discolored melon and bland grapes.

Another new find were Mann’s Snack on the Go! trays. They contained chilled and bite-sized broccoli, carrots and celery paired with a lite Ranch dipping sauce/dressing in a small tray that is easy to throw in your bag and perfect to eat off of on the plane. The raw veggies are an excellent choice, but the Ranch dressing is an easy way to make this snack not so excellent. The Ranch dressing contains MSG, added sugar and additives like modified cornstarch. Eat the veggies and use very little of the dressing or better yet, skip the dressing altogether and buy some hummus to dip the veggies into.

Also, as I was checking out the nuts and trail mixes, I did discover that some of them had a long list of preservatives and additives. Some even added High Fructose Corn Syrup. So, before you buy, take a look at the ingredient list. Some options that seem like a good choice, may actually not be so good.

Soon I will bring some meal options from the airport restaurants.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eating Locally Grown Food

photo: Maria Quiroga

I would like to be able to call myself a locavore (an individual eating primarily locally grown food), but it's difficult living in the center of Manhattan. I am fortunate enough to live unique building where we grow some basil, chives, parsley and strawberries on our roof but most New Yorkers don't have outdoor space or time to grow anything. One great option for city dwellers is going to the Farmer's Market. There are quite a few in and around the city and more popping up every year. Another option that is becoming increasingly popular is joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Although you are never sure what you will receive from the farmer's crops, this can be a positive thing because maybe you will try a new vegetable you would never think to buy. Veggies from CSAs are also cheaper than purchasing veggies at the market. Also, in addition to vegetables, some CSAs offer the option to include local fruit, eggs and even meat to your weekly order for an additional fee. Of course the winter months put a damper on most CSAs but some do offer a small variety of vegetables and greens, so be sure to check what your area offers.

But why eat locally? First, I think local food tastes better since it is fresher. For example, local tomatoes are picked off the vine when they are just about ripe and almost ready to eat. Since they only have to travel a short distance, there is no need to pick the tomato early in order to allow it to ripen on it's long journey to your grocery store. Also, if food is traveling a shorter distance, this is better for the environment since there is less pollution. It feels good to support the local economy that you live in, so why get bland tomatoes from California when you can get some tasty ones from a small farming community 40 miles away? 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Honor of Halloween, Let's Talk Pumpkin Seeds!

After carving your pumpkin this year, save the seeds! These little buggers are full of nutrients and can add a nice crunch to a salad or oatmeal. Another option is to roast them and eat them alone as a snack. Delicious!

2 oz of pumpkin seeds gives you about 19 grams of protein and 240 calories. These yummy seeds are also surprisingly rich in Iron, Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Manganese, Niacin, Thiamin, and Folate. Pumpkin seeds are not only a good source of protein but fat as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

5 Tips for Eating Healthy When You Are Traveling by Airplane

#1- Allow time before you leave for the airport to sit down to a nutritious and satisfying home-cooked meal If you leave for the airport satisfied, there is less temptation to purchase junk food at the airport or on the plane.

#2- If possible, pack a home-cooked meal and snacks. Some great choices are fruits, nuts, veggies, hard-boiled eggs or a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. A quick solution for people on the go is a Lara Bar. These bars have very few ingredients, good fats, taste great and are small enough to toss in your purse or carry-on.

#3- Try to avoid foods high in sugar and /or carbohydrates such as packaged pies or donuts. Soon after eating, your sugar and energy will drop and you will be hungry again and most likely feel sluggish. Not only are these foods high in fat, refined sugar and processed carbs, they are also low in nutritional value.

#4- Ask yourself if you are hungry or if it could be dehydration. Often times we confuse hunger with thirst. This is especially true when we are traveling and sitting in dry cabin conditions on the airplane. Reach for bottled water over sodas from the drink cart and avoid coffee and alcohol.

#5- What should you do if you have a layover and need to eat a snack or meal at the airport? Of course every airport has different choices, but as a general rule I try to stick to eating whole foods. What I mean by this is that I like to avoid processed/packaged foods and meals from fast food stands. I like to know what the ingredients are and how my food is prepared. This isn’t always possible so I tend to opt a pre-made salad with chicken from the airport café. Watch out for oily croutons and dressings loaded with fats and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). Use oil and vinegar when possible or ask for a lemon wedge. Sandwiches can also be a good option, but use common sense and read the ingredients. Avoid sandwiches with a long ingredient list or ones loaded with cheese/mayo or other processed condiments. Some airport cafés now offer fresh cut veggies with hummus or chopped up fruits. These are excellent choices that you can feel good about as well. Of course every airport has different cafés and restaurants. I will explore options from popular restaurants soon in another post about dining at the aiport.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talking Fat in the USA

One thing I find interesting is that people in the United States are so cautious when they talk about weight, but only when someone is overweight. They seem to have no issue letting someone know that they are too skinny. Interesting, right? I mean really think about it. Would you be more likely to approach someone you cared about that had gotten too thin or too fat? Why? Do we just accept the idea that people that are fat or getting fat can’t help it and will get their feelings hurt? Just how someone too thin can eat more/better, someone too heavy can eat less/better and move more. Of course it’s easier said than done, but no one is 50 pounds overweight that eats right and exercises consistently. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. There is no secret diet. It takes education, dedication and responsibility. But, the good news is that it is possible to make changes to your life and health. Yes, it’s harder for some, but that is why there are people like me that teach individuals how to eat and make time for exercise. It’s not easy. Nothing worth it ever is.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Goji Berries!

Did you know that Goji berries have protein? Did you know that they have more iron than spinach? Goji berries contain 500% more vitamin C than an orange (per ounce) and more than double the anti-oxidants of blueberries! These berries could also very well be the best anti-aging food (they naturally stimulate HGH or human growth hormone). As if that weren't enough, these little berries contain 18 different Amino Acids, including the 8 that are essential and over 20 trace minerals and vitamins! No wonder Goji berries are a popular food in Chinese Medicine.

1/4 Cup Serving (Approx. 1 oz, 28 g), Calories 90, Fat 0g, Fiber 4g, Protein 4g, Carbs 24g, Sugars 12g, Vitamin A 180% of DRI, Vitamin C 30%, Calcium 9% and Iron 15%.

Try Goji berries sprinkled on a fruit salad or with some nuts as a snack. They are delicious & super nutritious!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Welcome to my blog! I am excited to start sharing recipes and nutritional tidbits. Feel free to email me questions or suggestions. Have a favorite recipe you want to share? Send me a note.

My name is Maria and I am a Health and Nutrition Coach based in NYC. I am passionate about keeping active, eating well and feeling great. I love helping others learn more about food choices and lifestyle changes that make all of the difference. I am a competitive athlete, a visual artist and nutrition nerd.

I practice a holistic approach to health and wellness, which means that I look at how all areas of a person's life are connected. Does stress or lack of quality sleep cause you to overeat? Does low energy prevent you from exercising/training? It's necessary to look at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole.

My approach is not to obsess about counting calories or to create lists of restrictions. Instead, I work with my clients to create a happy, healthy way of eating. Together we will work to reach your goals in areas such as achieving optimal weight, reducing food cravings, recovering more quickly from workouts and maximizing energy. You will develop a deeper understanding of the food and lifestyle choices that work best for you and implement lasting changes.