What Makes Good Food
Empty calorie foods are
worse than you think. Here's why.
After smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, food is the main
determinant of our long term health—even hereditary or genetic diseases
can be influenced by what we eat. Most of today’s debilitating illnesses
such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer that are rampant in
the U.S. can be prevented by a healthy life style that includes a proper
diet, regular exercise and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Food reflects our culture, self image and much else. But it's core
purpose is to nourish our bodies.
Food provides us with the
energy and nutrients we need for survival. Nutrients such as
carbohydrates, fat and protein give us energy and material for building
the cells in our bodies. Also important are vitamins and minerals, which
though they provide no energy, they form parts of body structures and
provide aid necessary for all metabolic processes that maintain our
health and keep us alive.
The nutrients found in foods
support muscle growth and repair, strong bones and joints, healthy skin,
teeth and hair, good vision, proper digestion, good circulation, proper
excretion, healing of wounds and illnesses, mental sharpness, proper
function of sexual organs and all other bodily functions.
Some nutrients contained in food are considered "essential" nutrients
because our bodies cannot manufacture them. Water, certain forms of
carbohydrates, some fatty acids, certain amino acids (protein) and all
vitamin and minerals are essential nutrients, which, when not obtained
from food, can lead to serious and even life-threatening deficiencies in the
It's obvious that the best foods are nutrient-dense, but it's not always
obvious why that is the case.
Nutrient Rich Foods vs.
Nutrient Poor Foods
Foods can be classified according to how rich in nutrients they are. On
one end of the spectrum you find foods that qualify as the highest in
nutrient density, meaning they contain the highest amounts of nutrients
Broccoli, for instance, is one of the most if not the most nutritious
vegetable we can eat—the highest in nutrient density. Broccoli is a
powerhouse of nutrients per
calorie—its’ rich in potassium, fiber,
calcium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A as well as carotenoids like
beta-carotene and lutein and flavonoids, which are phytochemicals
important for preventing and fighting disease.
On the other end of the food spectrum, we find foods that are have zero
nutrients, such as doughnuts, french fries, white breads, sodas,
store-bought baked goods, crackers, chips and thousands of other junk
By providing us with
calories but few nutrients, these foods "displace" nutritious foods,
creating a condition of mild or not-so-mild starvation -- even as we
gain weight from taking in too many calories.
It's a myth that empty
calorie foods are neutral -- neither bad nor good. That myth is
expressed every day by people who go ahead and have that piece of cake
because they were "good" and had a salad for lunch.
The reality is that in order
to get proper nutrition, you need 100% of your daily calories in the
form nutritious foods. Let's say, for example, that a person needs 2,000
calories per day to maintain her weight. If she eats 1,500 calories of
nutritious foods and 500 empty calories, she's getting about 3/4 of what
she needs for optimum health. This is oversimplified, but you get the
idea: Empty calorie foods are not neutral. They're bad, because they
displace the nutrients you need.
Another myth is that empty
calories plus vitamin supplements equals a healthy diet. In fact foods
are marvels of chemistry composition and contain hundreds of compounds
such as phytochemicals, for example, that give fruit and vegetables
their color, flavors and smells and provide us with important
antioxidants. In other words, vitamins are just part
of the nutritional quality of foods. There's much else in there -- a lot
of it, no doubt, yet undiscovered by science -- that our bodies need.
The other major reason why
empty calorie foods aren't mitigated by vitamin supplements is that
almost all nutrient-poor foods come loaded with bad stuff like refined
sugar, trans fats and so on. Doughnuts, for example, are the epitome of
“bad” food. The fact that they’re loaded with sugar and that they offer
zero nutrients is not their worst offence. The biggest problem with
doughnuts, like nearly all fried and baked goods and most junk food is
that they are loaded with
trans fats, which not only increase the bad cholesterol but they
actually decrease the good cholesterol drastically raising your risk of
heart disease and other illnesses.
When our bodies don't get
all the nutrients they need, they perceive "starvation" at the cellular
and organ level, triggering intense cravings that lead to overeating and
obesity. If those cravings are satisfied with more junk food, the
nutrition starvation grows, even as we gain weight. It's a vicious cycle
that's very common nowadays. People assume that obesity is caused by
eating too much food. But its core cause is often not eating enough
Stay tuned for next issue when I discuss how to get the most out of your
calories while getting to know which fruits and vegetables are the
highest in nutrition density.
love to hear from you. Click here to send e-mail!
Good Things In Store
When homemade applesauce is not an option,
Solana Gold makes
several organic flavors of applesauce. For example, in last week’s
recipe I called for apricot apple sauce, which Solana Gold makes and it
is the best tasting store-bought apricot apple sauce I have ever tried.
New research has once again found strong evidence linking vegetarian
diets (with no meat of any kind or fish) to reduced risk of developing
colorectal cancer. The findings boost and corroborate the many
scientific studies indicating that a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables
and grains and low in meat, especially red meat, is more beneficial for
According to Oxford University’s Dr. Sanjoaquin who was in charge of the
study, the fat in meat causes higher excretion of bile acids, which then
produces other substances that promote the growth of tumors.
Additionally, meat contains certain compounds that are formed during
processing and high heat cooking, which alter the colon’s normal cell
growth balances and in turn can result in colorectal cancer.
The study also found that vegetarians who eat more than 5 servings of
fruit per week were over 40% less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
For more health research news check out
my news site every
day for health related breaking news.
Q: Amira, As usual, your newsletter was appreciated and the
recipe you provided in your most recent edition sound really good, but
I've been hearing really bad things about sucanat. Wouldn't organic
sugar (of course used moderately) be a healthier option?
JM, Carpinteria, CA
A: Sucanat is often confused with Sucralose (sold as Splenda).
Like sucanat, Sucralose is derived from sugar. It's made by taking
replacing three hydrogen-oxygen atoms in each sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.
It's supposed to be 600 times sweeter than sugar and doesn't have as bad
an aftertaste as other artificial sweeteners. The body can't metabolize
Sucralose, and therefore it adds no calories. The effects on long-term
health by eating Sucralose are not entirely known, but
doubts in the scientific
and health communities are spreading. I'm generally suspicious of
"foods" made by chemists, rather than nature, that human bodies don't
recognize as food. I would avoid Sucralose.
Sucanat, on the other hand, is basically dehydrated cane juice and it is
a great sugar alternative. Along with organic Rapadura and organic
molasses, sucanat offers the most nutritional value among all
manufactured sweeteners. Sucanat and Rapadura are made from sugar cane
juice extracted through a mechanical process (no chemicals are added).
The juice is clarified, minimally filtered and evaporated. The remaining
syrup is crystallized to create the wholesome sweeteners, which retain
all the vitamins and minerals along with molasses and caramel flavor,
making them excellent substitutes for any recipes that call for regular
Organic unrefined sugar is definitely a healthier alternative to
white table sugar, however, sucanat is superior to both, nutritionally
For more on this sweet
topic, check out my series on sweeteners on issues
a detailed sugar comparison table.
Words of Wisdom
"Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes
from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm
and a deep love of food to bring it to life."
Georges Blanc, Ma Cuisine des Saisons
Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the
Click on the picture for a closer look!
T-n-T Chipotle, Basil and Tomato Pasta
This delicious pasta dish made with an Italian style sauce or ragú is
high in protein and other nutrients. It’s a great meal when you’re
feeling under the weather as it has lots of garlic and antioxidants that
help prevent and even cure colds.
About the ingredients:
Chipotle is a smoked-dried and very hot chili (jalapeño) pepper that is
generally added to soups, stews and sauces for flavor and spiciness. The
chipotle chile, which is dried by smoking, has a deep dark red color and
looks wrinkled. Dried chipotle is often not easy to find but canned
chipotle “en adobo”, a tomato base sauce flavored with spices and
vinegar is sold at most supermarkets and all Mexican grocery stores.
Canned chipotles will last a several weeks to months. Once the can is
open transfer the remaining peppers and sauce to a glass container and
keep covered airtight and refrigerate for later use. Dried chipotles
will last for several months but must be stored in a cool and dry place.
Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Equipment: Food
processor or blender
Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
Water for boiling pasta in large pot (enough to cover pasta)
1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
12 fresh garlic cloves
1 large onion peeled and cut in 4 pieces
1 ½ chipotle peppers (dried or canned)
1 large carrot washed, peeled with ends trimmed and cut into small
12 fresh plum tomatoes peeled and seeded (or 28-oz whole peeled canned
20 fresh basil leaves (plus more for garnish)
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
⅛ teaspoon rosemary
8 ounces tempeh, finely crumbled
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces of finely cubed baked tofu, about ¼ inch (tomato basil or Italian
10 ounces penne rigate made from durum wheat semolina or your favorite
type of pasta
½ cup regular plain soymilk (fresh or aseptic)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Reduced fat Veggy Parmesan cheese alternative (optional)
1. In a large pot, boil water for pasta. Heat sunflower or canola oil in
a separate large pot over low heat. Meanwhile, process garlic and
onions in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. Take ½ cup
of garlic and onion mixture and add it to heated oil sautéing for 5
minutes over low-medium heat.
2. In the meantime, add chipotle, carrots, tomatoes, fresh basil, thyme,
oregano, sage, red pepper and rosemary to the remaining onion and garlic
mixture in the food processor and process until well pureed and set
aside. Add tempeh to sautéing onions and garlic and sauté for 3 more
minutes. Add tofu sautéing for another 3 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta
in boiling water as indicated on package instructions, stirring
occasionally. Set timer. When pasta is done, drain then toss well with a
teaspoon of olive oil to prevent from sticking.
3. Meanwhile, add the tomato puree content from the food processor to
tempeh and tofu mixing well, simmering and lightly covered with lid for 5
minutes. Reduce heat to low, add soymilk mixing and continuing to stir
occasionally, simmering for another 5 minutes covered with lid. Turn heat
off, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, stir well. Add
cooked pasta to sauce and mix well. Serve and sprinkle servings with
alternative parmesan cheese and fresh basil garnish.
Cook’s tip: To peel and seed tomatoes immerse them in boiling water for
about a minute then transfer tomatoes onto a colander placing under cool
running water for 30 seconds. Peel skin away, cut in half and remove
seeds and core. Sauce may be cooked 2 or 3 days ahead.
Amount Per Serving
Calories From Fat (25%)
% Daily Value
Total Fat 8.00g
Saturated Fat 1.26g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.67g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.57g
Trans Fatty Acids 0.00g
Dietary Fiber 3.28g
Sugar Alcohols 0.00g
Net Carbohydrates 34.73g
Vitamin A 1844.46IU
Vitamin C 16.37mg
Vitamin B6 0.25mg
Vitamin B12 0.02µg
Pantothenic Acid 0.22mg
daily values based on a 2000 calorie diet
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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.
Copyright© 2003-2004 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.