Making the Good Better

I have read two articles in the last week that I felt I could offer my two cents on, and wanted to share them both here. The first was simply a reader question-and-answer snippet in the Guardian, which my future mother-in-law told me about recently. The reader was looking for a dairy-free soy-free parmesan cheese substitute. And while the answer given by columnist Matthew Fort does mention nutritional yeast, it doesn't include my most recent favorite find: rawmesan! This works just as well as pre-grated parmesan to sprinkle atop pasta dishes a la those little canisters full of the powdery stuff. What it is NOT is a substitute for fresh, just-grated parmesan cheese. Even though the reader mentioned not being able to find anything close to resembling real cheese, I think this is a taste he/she will have to adjust to since they are unable to eat any cheese at all. It is tough to come to terms with, but once they realize that there are products out there to replicate the flavor, they may appreciate them more!

The second article was in martha stewart living's February 2011 issue. I love finding copies of this at London newsstands. It doesn't happen often, but when one pops up I have to buy it! There was an interesting article in there about 8 smart snack recipes to protect your heart. Unfortunately, this article appears nowhere on Martha's website! Tsk tsk Martha!

Instead, I had to do a little magical googling, and found this pdf from a registered dietitian who just blatantly typed up the article to hand out to patients/clients. I don't begrudge her for doing this at all! In fact, I'm tempted to start scanning in recipes/articles I find that seem worthwhile and helpful. However, the 8 snacks that Penny Kris-Etherton (Professor of Nutrition at Penn State) suggests are good, but not GREAT. While I was reading through, I thought how I would improve upon these recipes. So here are my suggested improvements on 8 nearly-there healthy snacks!

1. Tropical Salad

Arrange 3 slices each of chilled hass avocado, papaya, and cantaloupe on a plate. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Garnish with basil. Serves 1.

Update: First things first, I'd make sure that the fruit and basil was fresh and organic if possible! And to avoid sounding like a broken record, I would say that for all of the snack ideas. Secondly, I'd add some "oomph" in the form of nuts or seeds. Maybe sprinkle some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds on top, or flaked almonds.

2. Chocolate-Nut Mix

Mix 1 cup almonds (toasted and cooled), 1 cup walnuts (toasted and cooled), 2/3 cup dried blueberries, and 3/4 cup chopped dark chocolate. Makes twelve 1/4-cup servings.

Update: Before toasting the nuts, choose RAW and WHOLE varieties of almonds and walnuts. Do not include the dried blueberries unless they do not contain any sugar! And for the dark chocolate, the fewer ingredients on the package, the better. And I'd probably reduce the amount to 1/2 cup.

3. Tuna and White Beans

Mix together 1 can (5 ounces) oil-packed tuna (drained), 2/3 cup canned white beans (drained), such as cannellini, 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup torn fresh flat-leaf parsley, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt. season with pepper. Makes three 2/3-cup servings.

Update: There isn't much to improve upon here, other than to choose organic beans, and maybe include some veg, like a finely chopped piece of cucumber or celery.

4. Sardine-and-Pepper-Topped Cracker

Place 1 oil-packed piquillo pepper (drained and thinly sliced into rings) and 1 oil-paced spanish sardine (drained and halved, bones removed) on 1 whole-wheat wasa cracker. Top with a few baby arugula leaves. Drizzle with 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Serves 1.

Update: Instead of a wasa cracker, pick a brown rice cake, oat cake, or spelt cracker.

5. Red Wine and Dark Chocolate

1 piece (3/4 ounce) dark chocolate and 1 glass (3 ounces) red wine. Serves 1.

Update: This is clearly not a snack! Choose this for an after-dinner treat a couple of times a week, but I wouldn't label this as a healthy snack... but I do understand why it was chosen as "heart healthy" - both are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols.

6. Pita with Ricotta

Spread 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons part-skim ricotta cheese onto 1/2 small whole-wheat pita. Top with 2 or 3 dried apricots, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sliced toasted almonds. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon honey. Season with pepper. Serves 1.

Update: If you're able to eat dairy, go with a "full fat" ricotta rather than part-skim. This will ensure a whole food, rather than processed. Instead of a pita, again, go for a brown rice cake, oat cake, or spelt cracker. Choose dark, unsulphured dried apricots (not bright orange) and skip the honey (unless you're really feeling a sweet craving).

7. Salsa Tacos

Char one 6-inch corn tortilla over an open flame or under a broiler. Fill with 1/3 cup fresh tomato salsa, 1/4 cup torn romaine lettuce, 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons nonfat greek yogurt, and 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro. Serves 1.

Update: This is mostly okay, except for the salsa, which I assume they mean a store-bought variety. Easy and tastier to make some yourself! Fresh tomatoes, red onion, red chili, lemon juice, a little olive oil. you can mix and match. If you don't do yogurt, add in some black beans or chickpeas instead (mashed for spreadability!)

8. Apple, Peanut Butter, and Chili Paste on Lavash

Grill 1 triangle (1/2 ounce) whole-wheat lavash in a grill pan, or toast in a dry skillet over high heat until slightly charred on both sides, about 1 1/2 minutes. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons natural peanut butter and 1/8 teaspoon sambal oelek (asian chili paste; onto lavash. Top with 5 thin slices tart red apple, such as mcintosh, and a few watercress sprigs. Serves 1.

Update: Again, instead of whole-wheat lavash, choose a brown rice cake, oat cake, or spelt cracker, or slice of whole wheat or spelt bread. With the peanut butter, check the ingredients to make sure it is organic and doesn't contain any sugar. And instead of chili paste, but if you still want the spice factor, just sprinkle some chili flakes on top of the peanut butter.