Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are Bragg’s Liquid Aminos Really Healthy?

More than once someone has recommended Bragg’s liquid aminos as a healthy alternative to soy sauce. Being thorough and just a little obsessive about what I eat, anything new gets researched and so did Bragg’s.

It started with the simplest option, a good old google search which resulted in the manufacturer’s website for nutrition facts, then a few sites selling Bragg’s products. And  just few links down things got a little ugly and the questions started. Does it have MSG? Apparently it does. Is it low sodium? Definitely NOT. Is it a good source of proteins? That’s questionable.

MSG or monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer most of us are familiar with. It’s use or value is a highly charged issue which I will not go into here. Some people have an intolerance for MSG, but used in moderation most people are not affected by it. MSG is found in many foods, especially processed foods and condiments like tamari sauce and soy sauce.

Bragg’s liquid aminos had originally been labeled as having no MSG, but the FDA required Bragg’s change the labeling. There is no MSG added to this product, but contains MSG because of the way it is manufactured. For an explanation check out the following link:

A quick look at the nutrition facts on a bottle of Bragg’s might make it look low sodium but there’s a little misdirection going on there. The serving size listed is just one-half of a teaspoon and it contains 160 mg. of sodium, which is 960 mg. per tablespoon or about 40% of recommended daily value of sodium. Compare that to Kikkoman regular soy sauce at about 920 mg. of sodium per tablespoon or lower sodium soy sauce at 575 mg. sodium per tablespoon. This same tablespoon of Bragg’s yields 1860 mg. of protein, but that’s only 3% of the daily recommended protein intake for a 180 pound adult. You can get more protein from one ounce of black beans or one-fifth of an ounce of chicken, neither of which will load you up on sodium.

Is Bragg’s a healthy alternative to soy sauce? It doesn’t seem to be. It tastes similar to soy sauce, but for me lower sodium soy sauce provides the flavor I’m looking for with about 40% less sodium. The very small advantage Bragg’s has with it’s protein content can be overcome with an extra nibble of chicken or mouthful of beans.

For another opinion on Bragg’s check out:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wheat Berries

Wheat berries are wheat kernels that have had the husk removed. They are the ultimate ‘whole wheat’ food and can be used in place of other grains in many recipes. Wheat berries have a great nutty taste and very good nutritional values, being low in fat and high in protein and fiber.

I am always looking for something new and a couple weeks ago it was wheat berries. There are only a few decent recipes out there for savory wheat berry dishes and several have flopped for me. The recipe that follows is very simple, but was a hit the first time I made it. My wife didn’t get a chance to try it as the kids finished it off before she even got home. Today I made a double batch so hopefully there will be leftovers.

Basic wheat berry preparation:
1 cup wheat berries (dry)
3 to 4 cups water
In a medium saucepan with tight fitting lid bring wheat berries and water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 40 to 45 minutes. Turn off heat, allow to cool about 20 minutes and drain. Yields about 3 cups.

Wheat Berry Salad with Feta Cheese
I don’t usually have cheese in my recipes, but in this one the feta cheese is used more like a spice for its saltiness and flavor. This has quickly become a favorite in our house.
1 cup wheat berries, prepared as above
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 oz. feta cheese, finely crumbled
1 tbs. olive oil
3 to 4 tbs. red wine vinegar
¾ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. garlic salt
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine wheat berries, tomatoes and feta and set aside.
2. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over wheat berries. Chill. Makes 8 ½ cup servings. About 110 calories, 3 g. fat, 4 g. protein and 3 g. fiber per serving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Naan Bread Pizza

Naan is an Indian bread similar to pita that is cooked in a tandoor or clay oven. I began eating it a couple years ago just because I spied it in a health food store and it looked good. It is a great alternative to Italian bread for those of us with trouble chewing, as it has a firm texture but is not hard or chewy. Naan is also good with dips, especially hummus. I am sure it’s not an original idea, but one rainy night with very little in the fridge I came up with the idea for naan bread pizza. The first recipe is what I came up with that rainy night, but anything you can imagine on a pizza will work.

Greek Pizza
Ingredients (per pizza)
1 naan, about 4-5 oz.
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium tomato, chopped & drained
Garlic salt to taste
A little oregano
1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the bottom of the naan with the olive oil.
2. Combine tomato, garlic salt and oregano in a small bowl. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours to let flavors meld.
3. Spread tomato mixture on pizza and top with feta. Place naan on a cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until hot. Feta will not melt. 515 calories, 19 g. fat, 14 g. protein and 3 g. fiber per pizza.

Zucchini Pizza
Ingredients (per pizza):
1 naan, about 4-5 oz.
1 tsp. olive oil
2 oz. tomato sauce
Garlic salt and oregano to taste
½ cup zucchini, sliced very thin
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the bottom of the naan with the olive oil.
2. Spread naan with tomato sauce and add garlic salt and oregano to taste.
3. Arrange zucchini slices on top of pizza as desired. Place naan on a cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until hot. 440 calories, 15 g. fat, 14 g. protein and 4 g. fiber per pizza.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I was asked again today about my weight loss “How’d you do it?”. It’s a difficult question to answer. The questioner is usually looking for a short answer, like “give up butter”, “switch to diet soda” or another easy fix. That’s what we have come to expect in our instant society - take a pill and poof, problem solved.

The truth, however, is a more difficult answer. Was it really hard? As a whole, yes it was. But I didn’t do it all at once. Each piece of the puzzle was easy to place. Listed below in no particular order, each individual step was easy:

Give up red meat
More fish
More chicken
Only whole grains
More beans
Give up cheese
Switch to light mayonnaise and then give it up all together
A banana every day
A salad every day
A fat-free yogurt every day
Go meatless 2 or 3 days per week
Give up butter
Switch to low fat milk
Dried fruit instead of cookies
More tofu
Only brown rice, never white
Take fish oil
Take a vitamin
Give up tortilla chips
Get more sleep
More tea, less coffee
More water, less diet soda
And probably a dozen other things I’ve forgotten.

I never made a decision to do all these things at once. It began with dropping red meat and making sure I got plenty of fiber. Every week or two after that I added something new or made an improvement to my diet - a better food, new recipe or supplement. Each incremental change pushes just a little further towards my goal. I’m in a wheelchair - I don’t do anything fast! I’ve got 20 more pounds to lose and if it takes another year or so big deal.

What increments are coming up soon? Quinoa, Goji berries, red bush tea, an excellent rice and lentils recipe, marinated tofu (still perfecting that one) and a little more on supplements.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Able Chef's Healthy Sausage & Peppers

Turkey sausage is the reason this version of sausage and peppers is healthy. Combine that with lots of veggies and whole wheat pasta and you can indulge that savory, spicy urge without guilt. Now don’t turn your nose up at turkey sausage until you try it. My favorite part of turkey sausage? None of those little nasty hard bits of who knows what you find in pork sausage. Plus they have about one-third the fat and half the cholesterol of pork sausage. Colorful, flavorful and satisfying, this will become a family favorite. We like Shady Brook Farms brand turkey sausage. Makes 6 generous servings.

13.25 oz. package Barilla whole wheat pasta, prepared per package directions
1-1/4 lb. (6 links) Italian turkey sausage, sweet or hot
1 tsp. olive oil
1 or 2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3 to 4 bell peppers, a mix of red, green and yellow, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
3 or more cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
Red pepper flakes, cayenne powder or Tabasco sauce to taste

1. Cut sausage links into bite-size pieces and lightly brown in oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and continue sautéing until translucent.

2. Add peppers, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and red pepper flakes and simmer until peppers are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in pasta, heat through and serve. 460 calories, 12 g. fat, 28 g. protein and 12 g. fiber per serving.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Bean Salad - A Healthy Classic

This classic is another simple side dish that everyone will love. The most amazing part? I get raves about it every time I make it, yet there is nothing original about three bean salad. Full of fiber, protein and vitamins, it can be made from pantry staples. It can be used as a base for your own free form bean and veggie salad. Add diced bell peppers, wax beans or even zucchini. Fresh is best, but canned veggies work too. Make sure it chills for a couple hours before serving to help the flavors meld. The small red beans called for in the recipe are the type used in Louisiana-type red beans and rice. They are more tender than red kidney beans right out of the can. You can also cut down the amount of fat in the dish by decreasing the oil to about 2 tablespoons.

3 cups fresh green beans
15 oz, can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz. can small red beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup finely chopped onion, preferably Vidalia
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup canola oil
¼ tsp. garlic salt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blanch green beans in just enough boiling water to cover until tender-crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking and drain.

2. Combine green beans, garbanzos, red beans and onions in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. In a small mixing bowl combine remaining ingredients, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour over beans, chill and serve. 220 calories, 8 g. fat, 6 g. protein and 6 g. fiber per serving.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

Everyone, it seems, has a chicken noodle soup recipe and they are as varied as the people who eat them. This particular recipe came out of boredom, a lack of fresh veggies and the fact my van was in the shop. I had to make due with what was in the freezer and pantry. I don’t know if it was inspiration or dumb luck, but this came out just great. The rice noodles are not exactly the healthiest option, so if you like substitute brown rice or wild rice.
It may sound out of place but ham bullion gives this soup its Asian flavor. Goya makes ham bullion and it’s a great way to get ham flavor without the fat and calories. You don’t need much of it, so don’t be tempted to dump a whole packet in the soup without tasting it first.

1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut in bite-sized pieces
1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/3 packet ham bullion
2 to 4 tbs. soy sauce
2 clove garlic, minced
10 oz. package frozen spinach
4 oz. rice noodles, dry.

1. In a heavy pan with tight fitting lid, lightly brown chicken in olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add onion and continue sautéing until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.

2. Add chicken broth, water, ham bullion, soy sauce and garlic. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Add frozen spinach and simmer just until spinach is defrosted.

3. Stir in noodles and cook just until noodles are tender, about 7 to 9 minutes. 275 calories, 7 g. fat, 26 g. protein and 3 g. fiber per serving.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don’t Buy This Book! Or, if it’s too good to be true it probably is.

Light & Easy Cookbook, copyright 1991, Colour Library Books, Ltd., Godalming, Surrey, England

Ok, so you probably won’t be buying this book anyway, but it does point out a very important idea- don’t trust everything you read. I’m not sure where or when I got it but I skimmed through it over the years. Like many of my cookbooks, it is used mostly for ideas, not so much for exact recipes.

After hiding for a couple years I fished it out of a cabinet while looking for a kitchen gadget. Maybe some good ideas for the blog I thought. So I flipped to the low calorie section, read through a few and something seemed funny.

“Salad Paysanne” serves six, 21 calories each, so a little more than 120 calories for the entire recipe right? A quick check of the ingredients, add it up and the actual calorie count is over 150 calories per serving! Granted, that’s not much but do you really need 12+ grams of fat in a salad? That’s more fat than a McDonald’s cheeseburger! Then there is the “eggplant bake” at about 400 calories, not the 156 they state. Their “84 calorie” ratatouille has 150 calories from olive oil alone! Who are they kidding?

I could go after every recipe in the book, as each one has a glaring mistake or outright BS in it. The real point to this is don’t believe everything you read. It might be nice to believe you can eat some of these things but don’t kid yourself. Especially if your health is compromised by a disability, eating healthy is a challenge. Take it upon yourself to do a little digging, read the labels on what you eat and don’t accept what you hear without question. For a little more on figuring nutrition facts check out my post from August 3.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wheat Berry Breakfast - Saleetah

Whole wheat is an important part of a healthy diet and wheat berries are it’s simplest form. The problem I’ve had lately is finding good recipes for wheat berries. A Google search for wheat berry recipes yields lots of sites, but very little variety. By themselves, wheat berries are nutty and flavorful, have great nutritional stats and can be a stand-in for brown rice. However, they have a uniqueness that should be complemented by their own recipes. I will endeavor to find and invent more but the one unique wheat berry recipe I have found recently is saleetah. It makes a great use of wheat berry’s qualities. A Google search of saleetah gets you thousands of sites with the same exact recipe - a good start in need of a little help. The following recipe works much better. Makes 6- 3/4 cup servings.

1 cup hard wheat berries
3 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbs. maple syrup
2 tbs. brown sugar
1 cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, pecans or raw almonds
A little ground cinnamon

1- In a covered saucepan, place wheat berries, water and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes or until berries are tender. Discard cinnamon stick and drain.

2. Combine wheat berries and remaining ingredients. Serve warm or cold. About 260 calories, 7 g. fat, 7 g. protein and 6 g. fiber per serving.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Coconut Curry Brown Rice & Lentils

Lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and potassium. They are cheap and cholesterol free too. Trouble is, lentils are pretty boring when it comes to flavor. Traditionally, lentils are paired with meats, particularly pork and fats which detract from their nutritional assets. In this recipe, the flavor is there without all the fat and cholesterol of traditional recipes. Not everyone in the family likes curry, so we sometimes leave it out and still get flavorful results. This can be a meal in itself with a salad. Makes 6 generous servings. Lentils do not need to be presoaked like most other dried legumes. For a different flavor, try 3/4 teaspoon garam masala in place of the curry.

3/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 cup wild rice
1-1/2 cups chicken broth, vegetable stock or water
14 oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 to 2 tsp. curry powder
1 to 2 tbs. brown sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

1. In a small saucepan, combine lentils and chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

2. Add wild rice, coconut milk, curry and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 35 to 45 minutes until rice is tender and water is absorbed. You may need to add additional water. Fluff with fork and serve. 250 calories, 5 g. fat, 10 g. protein and 9 g. fiber per serving.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Unbelievable Vegetarian Chili with TVP

I served this to a crowd of people as part of a Fourth of July dinner. The vegetarians didn’t believe it was meatless and nobody else asked. Everyone really enjoyed it. Chili means different things to different people, so adjust as you see fit. When it’s just ‘me and the boys’ (my three sons) we spice it up with some chipotle chili powder or aji panca chilies. This makes a huge pot of chili because the TVP (textured vegetable protein) swells up as it rehydrates in the pot. TVP is cheap, very high in protein, low in fat and is a great meat replacement. I get TVP from a large local health food store. It’s $2.19 a pound, which turns into about 3 pounds when rehydrated. The 2 cups of TVP in this recipe is about 5 ounces in weight. Serve over plain brown rice. This recipe will easily feed eight to ten. It wasn’t until I put this recipe on paper and compiled the nutrition information that I realized how healthy it really is! Check out the excellent calorie/fat/protein/fiber stats below.

1 tbs. olive oil
1 cup sweet or red onions, chopped
2 cups red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, chopped
2 or more cloves garlic, minced
29 oz. can black or kidney beans rinsed and drained
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
2 to 4 tbs. chili powder
1/8 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne powder
Hot sauce sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups dry textured vegetable protein (TVP)

1. In large heavy bottomed pot heat oil and sauté onions until translucent but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add peppers and garlic and continue sautéing for another 3 minutes.

2. Add beans, tomatoes, water and spices to pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. The mixture will be watery.

3. Stir in the dry TVP. It will soak up most of the liquid in the dish, so be prepared to add more water if necessary. Simmer for an additional 15 to 30 minutes or until TVP is completely rehydrated and tender. Adjust spices to taste. Serve over brown rice. 360 calories, 4 g. fat, 23 g. protein and 14 g. fiber per serving, including ½ cup brown rice.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Able Chef's Cacciatore

There are so many things “wrong” about this version of cacciatore I had to put my name in front of it, lest I be accused of not knowing my cacciatore. Cacciatore should have mushrooms, but this one doesn’t. It should not have tomatoes, but mine does. It’s actually a family dinner that’s changed over the years and was easily adapted to healthy eating. Feel free to add other veggies- try yellow squash, green beans, frozen spinach or even cauliflower in place of the zucchini, or add a can of just about any vegetable or bean to stretch the recipe.

Serve it over whole wheat pasta, not that white stuff. We use Barilla whole wheat pasta at home. The thin spaghetti is almost indistinguishable from regular pasta and your heart will thank you. Makes 8 very hearty portions. Go ahead and cut the recipe in half if you need to. The chicken can be left in whole thighs or cut into bite-size pieces.

1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken, preferably thighs, well trimmed of fat.
1 tbs. olive oil
1 cup sweet or Vidalia onions, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped, about 1 cup
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
½ cup or more water
2 or 3 tsp. dried oregano
Dash or two of cayenne powder or a few dried red pepper flakes (optional)
2 or 3 small to medium zucchini, sliced, about 4 cups
1 medium can sweet corn, drained or 10 oz. package frozen corn
1 medium can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1. In a large covered pan over medium high heat, gently sauté chicken on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add onions, peppers and garlic and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes until onions are translucent.

2. Add crushed tomatoes, water and spices, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until chicken is almost tender, about 30 to 40 minutes for thighs.

3. Add zucchini, corn and beans, cover and simmer until zucchini is tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Serve over whole wheat pasta or brown rice. 225 calories, 5 g. fat, 25 g. protein and 6 g. fiber per serving, excluding pasta.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Finding the right supplement

I’ve been laboring about this post for a while. I had a great volume to say, but since everyone is different my opinion may do more harm than good. There is so much information on the web and not all of it is good. The best advice comes down to three words: research, research, research. When you’re done with that, then it’s time to talk with your doctor.

One thing I won’t do is suggest a supplement. However, after you get an idea for a supplement, go to a trusted source to find out if the claims for that supplement are true or at least plausible. Also consider side effects and conflicts with your current medications.

I have had good luck finding reliable information on the Mayo Clinic drug and supplement website and’s alternative medicine website. Be patient and wade through the entire body of each article. Many supplements are quite powerful and the knowledge you will gain is important.

Take with a grain of salt anything you learn from vendors who want to sell you supplements. I have read inflated, ridiculous and even dangerous claims from websites clamoring for your dollars. When you are ready to buy try eBay. It’s not your typical online buying experience, but I have gotten some pretty good buys lately. No matter where you buy, compare first, as prices vary widely.

P.S.- I don’t sell supplements, on eBay or anywhere else.

Thai Curry Salmon

Made a great dish tonight, but no new recipe is needed. Just substitute 1 pound of salmon for the tofu in Thai red curry tofu. Adds about 8 grams of fat per serving to the listed nutrition facts. Cut fish into bite sized chunks and add after adding sauce and simmer about 7 minutes. Just awesome! Any fish will work, but salmon is the family favorite.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Figuring it all out

The problem with the recipes we are all used to is most do not have any nutrition facts included. I recently discovered a useful website by the USDA- USDA Nutrient Data Nutritional information can be found for just about any food or ingredient. It's especially useful for unpackaged items without nutritional labels, in particular fresh veggies, meats and other staples. Use it to check up on what you're eating.

The site is not perfect- it is a government site after all. You may want to limit your search terms. It doesn't seem to be able to handle more than a word or two, so search one term and wade through the results. Hope it helps!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wild Rice & Mushrooms

Brown rice is much healthier than white rice, but what do you do with it? This dish takes advantage of wild rice’s nutty flavors and firm texture. Serve a simply grilled chicken breast over this and you’ll look like a chef. It dresses up leftover meats too. A remarkably simple dish that yields rich results. Wild rice is much less expensive in the bulk section of your supermarket or health food store. Makes 6 side dish servings.

2 cups wild rice or brown rice
2 cups chopped white mushrooms
1 ½ to 2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan with tight fitting lid.

2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 35 to 45 minutes or until rice is tender. You may need to add additional water, depending on the water content of the mushrooms. Fluff with a fork and serve. 115 calories, 1.5 g. fat, 5 g. protein and 2 g. fiber per serving.

Watch for lots more wild and brown rice recipes. I got a million of 'em.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Veggie burgers that taste like burgers - almost

This recipe started out a year ago as just black beans cakes. After I discovered TVP, the recipe was adapted to work with TVP. I knew I got it right when a picky-eater friend went back for seconds. Beef broth makes the dish great, but adds no cholesterol and very little fat. If you want to grill these, make sure to brush the grill with oil too. For true vegetarian, use a hearty vegetable or mushroom stock instead of beef broth. Makes 8- ¼-pound size patties.

1 ½ cups textured vegetable protein (TVP)
1 ½ cups beef broth, vegetable broth or water
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. dried onion flakes
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Cayenne to taste
½ cup dried bread crumbs
½ cup egg beaters egg substitute
2 tbs. canola or olive oil

1. Bring broth and Worcestershire sauce to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in TVP. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Allow to cool.

2. In a food processor, add the beans and spices. Mix just until blended but not smooth. Add bread crumbs and egg beaters and mix until combined. Add reconstituted TVP mix until just combined. Refrigerate at least one hour.

3. Form into patties using a little less than ½ cup per patty. Mixture will be sticky so plastic gloves help. Place patties on wax paper and brush with canola or olive oil.

4. Preheat a non-stick skillet or electric frying pan. Sauté over medium high heat until well browned. Be patient- allow to brown adequately before flipping. Be careful not to burn. Serve over salad greens or on a toasted bun. About 160 calories, 15 g. protein, 4.5 g. fat and 6 g. fiber per patty.