Want to make your family healthy and strong? A new book is out that will help moms figure out what really is the best food to put on the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table.
Lisa Sharkey: Not simply the best tasting, but the best for you, based on scientific evidence. That book, The 10 Things You Need to Eat: And More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them, by Anahad O'Connor and the Food Network's Dave Lieberman, focuses on those super foods that will do everything from making you smarter and boosting your immune system, to preventing obesity and promoting longevity.
10 Things You Need to Eat
Lisa Sharkey: Why pizza? Most moms I know would avoid that food because it's greasy and fattening and filled with carbs. Defend this food, please!
Anahad O'Connor: Pizza, when it's made the right way, can actually be a health food. Sounds like heresy, of course. But there's plenty of research that proves it.
First, there's Italy, the motherland of the Margherita pie. Studies at hospitals there showed that people who ate at least a serving a week of pizza were 40 percent less likely to suffer heart disease than those who never ate it, and frequent eaters -- those who had two or more servings a week -- were 60 percent less likely.
We know what you're thinking. That's Italy, and this is the United States: two very different countries and populations. But consider that scientists at Harvard studied the diets of nearly 40,000 women and found that those who ate the most tomato-based sauces and foods -- including pizza -- reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent, compared to those who ate far less. Another study in the International Journal of Cancer in 2003 looked at 8,000 people and found that the risks of several cancers were lower in men and women who ate the most pizza and other tomato-based foods. And there's plenty more research. The numbers just don't lie.
So what gives? Well it comes down to lycopene and other phytonutrients in the tomato, which benefit health and practically beg to be cooked. Chopping and heating makes them more bioaccessible, and adding a little healthy fat further enhances your body's ability to absorb them because they're fat-soluble.
The Italians have the right idea. They take thin crusts, dress them with olive oil, and then pile on the tomato sauce and sprinkle a moderate amount of cheese on top. In the book, you'll find a recipe for a pie that goes a step further in the health department. And it tastes amazing. After all, in a cookbook written by two guys who live in New York City, the home of the slice, we had to do it right.
Lisa Sharkey: What the heck is quinoa? I can barely spell or pronounce it, let alone prepare it for my family! It's a grain and you call it a protein. How so?
Anahad O'Connor: Quinoa -- pronounced "keen-wah" -- is not just any grain, it's a wonder grain from South America. Or, as the Incans called it, "chisaya mama," for the "mother of all grains." They knew what they were talking about. One cup of quinoa is packed with as much protein as four eggs. That's something you don't see too often in the plant kingdom. And it's not just any protein, it's what nutritionists call a complete protein, because it contains all the essential amino acids. It's also loaded with fiber, iron, and other nutrients, and it's low in calories. It's such a complete food that NASA scientists have looked into packing it on shuttles for astronauts on long-duration space flights.
Lisa Sharkey: Everyone says if I feed my kids fish, they'll get mercury poisoning, but you recommend fish in the book. Help me figure this out!
Anahad O'Connor: Fish is such a scientifically solid food for your health that it's a boon to any dinner table. But many Americans are rightly concerned about mercury and other contaminants. In the book, we sort through the scientific data to point you in the right direction: we explain when it makes sense to buy farmed fish and when it makes sense to go with wild, and we scan the seas for the types of fish that are lowest in the stuff you don't want, and highest in the stuff you need, like Omega-3s. Then we provide a bunch of recipes that are almost too good to be healthy.
Lisa Sharkey: My kids hate greens, and yet you suggest broccoli is practically a cure-all. What can I do to keep my kids from pushing it away at the table?
Anahad O'Connor: Raw broccoli has a strong flavor that a lot of kids find unappealing. But when you cook broccoli, it becomes much more mild, which makes it a lot easier to dress up. Try seasoning it with flavorful sauces -- Asian-inspired sauces based on soy, ginger, and a touch of brown sugar are a good way to go, and Asian is pretty universally kid-friendly. Broiling broccoli is another fun and easy way to make broccoli taste different and delicious.
Lisa Sharkey: What's your food-based trick for curing insomnia?
Anahad O'Connor: Most people know about melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle. It's used widely as a sleep aid and remedy for jet lag. Humans produce less and less of it as we age, but researchers have found that eating just a handful of walnuts can raise levels of melatonin in the blood threefold. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try eating a handful of walnuts each night. Not only will they raise your melatonin levels, but like all nuts, they contain monounsaturated fat (the good kind), and they help curb appetite. So you'll get to bed and avoid the midnight munchies.
Lisa Sharkey: I see you have a recipe for chocolate avocado mousse ... is this really edible? Please pass along the recipe.
Anahad O'Connor: Ha ha. Yes, of course it's edible, and it's delicious! The natural creamy fat content from the avocado works as a natural substitute for milk chocolate or heavy cream, both of which are less beneficial to your health than fresh avocado.
Here's the recipe:
Chocolate Avocado Mousse
12 ounces of good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 large ripe Hass avocado, pitted and peeled
¼ cup light brown sugar
6 egg whites
Melt the chocolate with the cinnamon and chili powder in a double boiler over hot water and set aside. Puree the avocado and brown sugar in a food processor until smooth. With the machine running, pour in the chocolate mixture.
Using a stand mixer or whisk, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites. Pour the mousse into six small serving bowls or wine glasses. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or covered overnight.
Lisa Sharkey: Beets are another tough one for my kids, but you say they are a must-eat food. Why? And how can I prepare them for children? Can I mix them with chocolate?
Anahad O'Connor: Beets aren't much to look at in their raw form, which is probably why they get no love from most Americans (including our president!). But pound for pound, they're one of the most nutritious and versatile foods you can find in any produce aisle. They're chock-full of vitamins and antioxidants, and a number of studies have found that eating or drinking them -- they work great in fresh juices -- can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. In our book, we include a lot of creative and unexpected ways to prepare and present beets. One of the aspects that we play up in our beet recipes is their natural sweetness, which actually makes them great for sweet preparations like smoothies and even desserts. One of our favorites is the beet and chocolate cupcake recipe. Funny enough, the earthiness of the beets is a great combination for cocoa.
Lisa Sharkey: How can I enjoy berries off-season when they are overpriced in the stores?
Anahad O'Connor: There's no reason you can't add berries to your diet year-round. When they're not in season in your area, just buy the frozen kind. They're often cheaper than the fresh varieties, and they have the advantage of being picked and then frozen at the proper ripeness, which means they come brimming with preserved nutrients and antioxidants.
Lisa Sharkey: You have a recipe for longevity which comes from the island of Sardinia, where one in every 200 people lives to be 100. Please share!
Anahad O'Connor: Yes, it's true. Sardinia is a longevity hotspot, an island where the rate of people reaching a hundredth birthday is about fifty times the rate in the United States! Take a seat at a typical dinner table on this sunny oasis and the odds are good you'll find a centuries-old staple called culingiones -- round ravioli stuffed with spinach and fresh ricotta. If it's a night where the main course is a cut of lean meat, then you'll almost certainly find it paired with spinach and potatoes, another Sardinian favorite. The common denominator on many Sardinian dinner plates is spinach. In the book, you'll find all the science that explains why spinach is such a powerful tool in the Sardinian centenarians' guide to long life, along with a bunch of recipes for everything from appetizers like Sweet Curried Spinach and Chickpeas, to entrees like Spinach and Lamb Farfalle, and our special Spinach Linguine with Spinach Arugula and Walnut Pesto.
Lisa Sharkey: My kids love burgers, and you have a secret ingredient and recipe that enhances the flavor while adding one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
Anahad O'Connor: Yes! That ingredient is the lentil. These little beans may seem meager and insignificant, but they're one of the highest fiber foods on the planet. A single cup has almost two-thirds of your daily recommended value of fiber -- at a cost of only 25 cents! Adding lentils to your diet is a cheap and easy way to lower cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease, and control your weight. In the book, you'll find a bunch of recipes that'll show you just how tasty these beans can be, including recipes for a turkey-lentil chili, and even a Better Burger that has all the flavor of a regular burger but only half the meat and fat (thanks to lentils).
|Lisa Sharkey is Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development for HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide. Sharkey also served as Senior Producer for ABC's Good Morning America. Lisa and her husband, architect Paul Gleicher, completed one of the country's first total Eco Houses, a "green" brownstone in Manhattan where they reside with their three children. They are the authors of Dreaming Green: Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire and have a web site DreamingGreenBook.com|