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Thursday
Jan022014

Reflavoring Low Sodium Soups

Low sodium soups are a work in progress. The food industry has bounced around with lowering and then adding back salt to their products (such as the Campbell's soup line) as health experts and researchers remain divided on the longterm benefit of eating a low sodium diet. That said, I know that I feel instant bloat after eating a high salt meal, so I try to limit foods like canned soups. The problem is that I love soup! Especially now when temperatures drop and it's dark by 4:30pm so that I don't feel much like cooking after work. We all know that low sodium soups (less than 140 mg sodium per serving) are pretty much lumpy, colored water—bleh.

One tip I've given to patients on sodium-restricted diets who love soup is to add extra water when heating the soup and to not drink all the broth. Thankfully I've discovered better-tasting soups such as Trader Joe's Low Sodium Butternut Squash and Creamy Tomato. Two Guys in Vermont, a company started by Jeff Weinstein and Doug Barg, has also been added to my approved lower sodium soup list!

Two Guys in Vermont soups come in three flavors, prepared in small batches using fresh ingredients. The Hearty Curried Apple and Butternut Squash soup is low sodium and the other two flavors are "reduced sodium" with 280 mg per serving. They're low in calories, ranging from 60-130 calories per 8 oz. serving, with 5 grams or less of fat. Each jar contains two servings, but even if you polished off the whole jar you'd be fine. The website says there are three servings of fruits/veggies in each jar, and you can taste it! There is so much natural fresh flavor of tomatoes, apples, curry, and more. This is the secret to making reduced sodium soups taste good: focus on tart, tangy and sweet to distract your taste buds from realizing the lack of salt.

I enjoyed these soups two different ways. Pairing a cup of the Apple Butternut Squash soup with grilled cheese; below is Ezekiel bread with Trader Joe's Light Mozzarella (this is the best-tasting light cheese out there and melts beautifully) heated in a George Foreman Grill.

Or my favorite way to use reduced sodium soups—doctored up with extra ingredients and liquid to make a large batch that will last a few days. Below I heated one whole jar of the Chunky Garden Tomato with a cup of skim milk, frozen broccoli and edamame, and whole wheat couscous. I combined all the ingredients in a pan and let it simmer until the couscous and vegetables softened.

Two easy flavorful super healthful meals for a cold winter night! You can find Two Guys in Vermont soups at the Whole Foods Markets in Cambridge or online.

Disclosure: I received soup samples for my honest review of the product.

Friday
Dec272013

A Tribute to Dana-Farber

I've worked at a lot of places in my lifetime. My first paying job was babysitting as soon as I turned 12. After that I worked light housecleaning at 15 and summers through high school at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. When I finished college I bounced around through several companies and positions. My husband on the other hand has had two employers his whole life. I guess I'm an idealist, believing there's always something else that will fit me better.

After college I'd left a career as a clinical dietitian to explore publishing for almost 10 years. I was working at a medical journal with great coworkers and benefits when I realized that I still wasn't happy. I really really missed helping people directly. When I interviewed for a position at a Dana-Farber satellite, I knew my chances were slim since I'd been out of the field for so long. My current boss who did the interview believed in me but there were doubts by other managers involved. I wasn't the top choice and had to wait for other candidates to fall away before the job was finally offered to me months later. 

It sounds like a cliché but I believe that what's meant to be eventually happens. I was scared to death to return to a clinical setting where in the past I'd encountered some difficult staff who didn't respect dietitians. But I'd always wanted to be involved with cancer patients at Dana-Farber, and even if I didn't get the job I was considering volunteering there. My experience at Dana-Farber for the past four years has been the utmost best of my life. I've never met an entire team of people so compassionate, kind and selfless. The patients' care, comfort and high level of treatment are the main focus of every staff member; even the volunteers and housecleaning team go the extra mile to serve the patients. I've never seen communication so tight among providers, nurses and support staff (providers have chatted by email late night discussing very ill patients). I educated and counseled patients but also developed relationships as I walked through their treatment with them.

In July our entire staff was summoned for a meeting and we were told that our satellite was closing end of the year. The breathtaking new multimillion-dollar Yawkey Center unveiled at the downtown Dana-Farber site in 2011 had not filled to capacity, and our satellite that was initially built to receive the overflow of patients from the main campus was simply no longer needed. It has been a very difficult past few months as staff have scrambled to find new jobs (thankfully most have so far) and for remaining staff to continue to care for longtime patients who refuse to leave our site until the doors shut for the last time. It has been most difficult to fathom that this team, this family, will no longer be.

I initially planned to take one or two group photos as a momento, but it turned into much more as I realized that all the treasure of this special clinic held endless memories, more than I could fit into this video. We are officially slated to close on January 31, 2014.

Thursday
Dec052013

Everything Avocado

I am completely nuts about avocados. But it didn't start out that way. Growing up, my mom who loved them was always coaxing me to try a bite. But she also had a taste for everything rich; she'd slather butter on Pecan Sandies cookies! So I didn't trust her food choices, especially as a teenager when I was dieting and following the fat-free trend at the time. I can't recall my first taste of avocado, but they're a regular part of my diet now. I buy four packs at Trader Joe's and if I don't eat or cook with them soon enough, my husband will devour them. He even recently started growing an avocado plant (see below), not because he hopes to raise a crop but he just likes how they look as a houseplant!

I've used them in the traditional ways, diced into salads, soups and sushi This avocado plant grows well in cool temperatures but needs a lot of light. You can see the avocado pit at the root of the plant. and mashed into dips and as a sandwich spread. I've added them into smoothies and baking (good for cookies). But my favorite way to eat avocado is straight up. I wait until one is perfectly ripe, cut it in half, and scoop the creamy flesh with a spoon. There isn't a strong distinctive flavor, but it melts on your tongue.

For my weight loss clients who sometimes need a snack before bed but don't want to overdo it, I recommend nutritious foods that are high in protein and/or healthful fats and low in sugar that will quell the hunger until morning: a handful of unsalted nuts, small wedge of full-fat cheese, large tablespoon of nut or seed butter, or of course avocados (about half an avocado). These snacks always satisfy and the clients still lose weight. 

There is one avocado recipe I'm gaga over: Avocado Pasta. It's the easiest, most indulgent yet healthful recipe I've ever made. Six minutes to cook the pasta, one minute to throw the rest of the ingredients in the food processor and another minute to blend, season, and give a final pulse. The avocado sauce tastes as creamy as Fettucini Alfredo, no kidding. If you've got a craving for comfort food, this is IT. The pic below shows it made with udon noodles (only because I had them on hand and they were quicker to cook than spaghetti) and without the Parmesan cheese...still super creamy. 

I've been so focused on eating avocados that I haven't mentioned the nutritional benefits! An avocado offers 20 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and more than 75% of its fat is a healthful unsaturated type. Check out these posts for more info:

A Is for Avocado 

Avocado Nutrition

Disclosure: Although I received financial compensation for writing this post, all views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely and entirely my own and based on my own unique experiences. For nutrition information on avocados, please be sure to visit the LoveOneToday.com website.