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Show the Love

Happy Valentine's Day!Looking for an alternative to chocolate this Valentine's Day? Ok, you're probably not, but I'll still mention a delicious option available at Acorn's Bakery in Needham. There's some irony in going to Acorn's on the sweetest day of the year, as this popular little bakery is infamous for not showing the love. The owners have been dubbed the "Cake Nazis" for their lack of social skills, scaring off more than a few customers. But if you can look past their sour faces, you'll see a cozy eatery that offers a truly impressive array of scrumptious, beautifully made paninis, quiches, soups, breads, and pastries of every kind—all made on the premises (the owners are busy cooking at 5:00 am). Note that on a recent visit, I was greeted by new counter help who were refreshingly helpful and...smiling! A longtime favorite of mine is their fruit cake. Everything about it seems light. A layer of colorful fresh fruit sits on a light cream that is also spread between layers of light spongy cake. It's minimally sweet; in fact the fruit tastes sweeter than the cake. It reminds me of the fruit-topped cakes my family would buy in Chinatown. Celebratory meals would be heavy in volume and fat, so the dessert, if any, had to be very light: orange slices or delicate pieces of cake. Try this lovely cake for Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, or any holiday. Here are more images to salivate over:    



Super Bowl of Snacks

Turkey is to Thanksgiving as snack foods are to Super Bowl parties. In fact, the USDA reports that Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest day of food gluttony in the United States after Thanksgiving! So much for finally getting on track with losing those holiday pounds. Kickoff to final touchdown can mean three to four hours of noshing on gooey dips, salty chips, and greasy meat sticks. Try this tasty menu with lean protein, fiber, and healthful fats and nutrients. Shhh, just don't mention to your party crowd that you've fine-tuned their eats—bet they won't notice! 

Walnut Hummus surrounded by an array of crispy baked snacksWalnut Hummus — In a food processor, puree a 19-ounce can of chickpeas (drained) in small batches until smooth. Add 1/4 cup walnuts and process until smooth. (Optional: Add 1/4 cup jarred, drained roasted red peppers and puree.) Finally, add one teaspoon garlic powder and salt to taste. A final pulsing and you've got a rich-tasting nutritious dip. My favorite munchies to serve with it are baked and reduced in fat and sodium: Cedar's Pita Chips, Hint of Salt Triscuits, Tostitos Baked Scoops, and Synder's Organic Honey Wheat Sticks.

No Sweat Turkey Chili — This recipe is so SO easy and can be made the day before and reheated (actually tastes better). Serve over rice or with pita chips or baked Tostitos. Click here for the recipe.

Chocolate Dipped Fruit — You can't leave out the sugar so you might as well sneak in some nutrients. You can get this grand Super Bowl chocolate covered Edible Arrangement for $76 OR get inspired by the photo to make your own! Slice apples into wedges and cut bananas into marshmallow-sized chunks. Place one cup chocolate chips in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds on high power; stir well. Heat for another 30 seconds if not completely melted and stir again. Dip end of apple wedges into chocolate and lay on waxed paper to cool. Put a toothpick in center of bananas and dip ends in chocolate, then into crushed walnuts (use food processor) or ready-sliced almonds. Pineapple rings, melon wedges, and strawberries also dip well. You can refrigerate the fruit to speed up the cooling process.


Dear FitMamaEats: Feed My Bones!

Dear FitMamaEats:

Can you give some info on bone health? Many of my friends have osteoporosis and can't tolerate Fosamax. I have osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) and take Viactiv calcium supplements, which taste like real caramels! Are they ok to use instead of regular calcium pills? I know about milk and yogurt—what else has a lot of calcium? I've also heard vitamin D is important. I think that since we live in the north, we get less vitamin D from sunshine. Is there another way to get it, other than moving to Florida, which doesn't sound too bad right now! Do weight-bearing exercises help much?

Feeble Bones

Dear Feeble Bones:

More than half of Americans 50 years and older have osteoporosis, a condition of porous bones that become fragile and susceptible to fractures. There are ways to help or prevent this condition at any age:

Calcium.  The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that both men and women 19-50 years old get 1000 mg of calcium daily, and 1200 mg over 50 years of age. You know about dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, which are the richest sources of calcium, but you can also find the mineral in canned sardines or salmon (with the bones), green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, and turnip greens, as well as a growing number of calcium-fortified products like orange juice and cereals. Some people still don't eat enough calcium and may need supplements. The two common forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both are absorbed well, but people with low levels of stomach acid can absorb calcium citrate more easily. Calcium carbonate is less expensive and easier to find (it's found in TUMS and Viactiv chews). Whereas you should take calcium carbonate with food to improve its absorption, you can take calcium citrate on an empty stomach. With either type, taking too much at one time can lower absorption. So, for example, if you use two 500 mg pills a day, take one in the morning and one in the evening.

Vitamin D.  This mineral has been making headlines lately, with early research suggesting a protective effect against certain cancers and diabetes. However, its role in bone health is definite, aiding the absorption of calcium and promoting bone growth. Many of us may not be getting enough, particularly if you live in northern climates where the sun is not as strong certain months of the year, and because most of us now regularly use sunscreen, which lowers vitamin D absorption through the skin. Another reason is that the best food sources are probably not on our daily menus: cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, and fortified milk. Although the current recommendations for adults range from 200-400 IU daily, many experts now recommend closer to 800-1000 IU based on research findings. If you are over 50 years and have dark skin, you are at greater risk of not absorbing the vitamin effectively. It would be safe to use a supplement with at least 400 IU and eat some foods rich in vitamin D. You may want to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels with a blood test measuring 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which will show if you are deficient.

Exercise.  When bones are challenged, they get stronger. This means using a controlled weight such as your body weight, hand weights, weight machines, or resistance exercises to strengthen your bones. Low and high impact exercises like jogging, dancing, walking, hiking, and stair climbing also help to build bones. Yoga and Pilates are excellent for improving balance, posture, flexibility, and muscle strength, which can help prevent falls and fractures. Swimming, bicycling, and stretching exercises that do not use your body weight are not good for building bone; they are best used in combination with strength-building exercises. For more information on starting a strength-building regimen visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation and Tufts University's Growing Stronger program.

Other Great Resources:

National Osteoporosis Foundation: Vitamin D

National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements

Photos courtesy of whymilk.com