Monthly Archives: June 2015

Pizza – Making it Healthy!

I had some friends over for dinner recently – I made pizza – whole wheat flour and semolina crust, topped with lightly sautéed spinach, onions, garlic and tomatoes.  I’ve found this very nice reduced-fat (30% fewer calories from fat) mozzarella cheese from SuperMaxi.  I’ve got a nonstick pizza pan that is ancient!  But it still works, and I don’t feel uncomfortable about eating two slices, knowing that I’ve chosen ingredients that won’t break my calorie bank.

I’ve recently joined the mailing list for America’s Test Kitchen – they review cooking equipment, post recipes and lots of great info about food science.  I enjoy Chris Kimble’s weekly podcast – he’s low key, philosophical about food, and his interviews are always interesting – I listen as I’m walking on the Tomebamba river in the morning, or as I’m walking to Spanish class.  I recommend it!

 Susan’s PizzaScreen Shot 2015-06-03 at 08.22.50

Here’s a recipe for my pizza:

Depending upon weather conditions and where you live (high humidity, altitude, etc.), you may need more or less flour, so go slowly.
I use a Kitchen Aid Mix-master with a dough hook attachment.  I’ve had this model for more than 12 years and it still works perfectly, but any stand mixer with a bread hook will do.  By the way, since the dough needs to be kneaded, a blender won’t do.  You can also make the dough the old-fashioned way and burn some calories at the same time.  Add flour to the yeast mixture slowly, a ½ cup at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon until dough can be turned out onto a floured (preferably cool) surface.  Then, knead for at least 6 minutes (adding remaining flour), until dough is elastic.

Pizza Dough
1 cup warm, not scalding, water
1 packet or 2 Tbsp active, dry yeast

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp honey
½ cup whole wheat flour
approximately 3-5 cups unbleached bread flour
1.  Place warm water, yeast, and honey in the bowl of the mixer.  Stir to dissolve
yeast, add ½ cup of whole wheat flour, stir until incorporated, and wait about 15 minutes, until it gets a bit bubbly.

Using the dough hook attachment on slow speed, add bread flour in about ⅓ cup at a time (about 3 cups—or more as needed) and then increase speed and knead until dough comes together and doesn’t stick to the mixer bowl.  You should be able to stick your index finger into it and leave a slight impression—it shouldn’t be too sticky to handle.

Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, place the ball of dough in the bowl, turn once to coat, then cover with plastic wrap or your bowl’s cover. Let sit for 30 minutes until the dough approximately doubles.  Now you’re ready for pizza!

Punch down and follow directions for pizza below.This recipe makes enough for two thin-crusted pizzas. You can also refrigerate dough in a large zip-lock bag—just shoot a quick spray of cooking spray inside—for about two days.

Before making the topping, “stage” your dough.  Roll out or spread in a nonstick pizza pan or rectangular pan that’s been sprayed with cooking spray and cover with a dishtowel—let rise a second time, at least 45 minutes. The recipe for dough makes one large pizza…with a thin crust.  Do this so the dough has a chance to raise again—it makes the crust good and chewy.

Pizza Topping
Cooking spray
red pepper flakes: ⅛ tsp (optional)

red onion, small diced (about 1/2 cup)

garlic, 2-3 cloves, diced

spinach, fresh, 10-oz pkg, rinsed and patted dry – or try collard greens or kale
mushrooms-sliced, 1 cup—I like Portobello, but any will do!
tomato-fresh, 1 large or 2 medium, chopped

Fresh basil – 1/2 cup shredded (optional) or 2 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
Part-skim mozzarella cheese—or any shredded hard cheese like Parmesan-shredded or grated

Coat a nonstick sauté pan with a quick spray of cooking oil and heat over low-medium heat.

Sauté red pepper flakes over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add red onion and garlic; stir and cook for 2 minutes – don’t let garlic burn – it will turn bitter.

Add spinach or other greens; cover and cook 3 minutes; uncover, stir, cover, and cook for another minute or so, until wilted.

Stir in mushrooms and continue to cook, covered, for about 5 more minutes; uncover and cook for 2 minutes until all liquid is evaporated.

Let cool about 10 minutes, and then spread over the dough.

Sprinkle on chopped tomato and basil, and then sprinkle on cheese.

Bake in the middle of the oven at 455 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is browned.

Optional additions:


Tofu, shrimp or sardines:  Boost the protein by adding tofu, fresh or frozen shrimp or canned sardines.  Use firm tofu, drain and pat dry, and cut into medium dice.  For the shrimp, use fresh or frozen small-medium; rinse and drain sardine.  Scatter over the pizza before sprinkling on the cheese.
Makes 8 slices

Nutritional information per slice (approximate):
Calories 207
Fat 2-3g
Saturated fat 1g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 4mg
Fiber 5g

Sodium 100mg
Protein 8-10g (depending if you add fish or tofu)
Carbohydrate 5


Red Bananas – Pura Vida

Oh My!  I just love red bananas!  Until I arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador, the only bananas I’d peeled were those long, skinny, yellow ones – how about you?

You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve uncovered the smooth, silky, creamy, slightly orange flesh of Red Dacca (the official botanical name)…so don’t miss it.

Now, I’m not one to memorize the genus and species of the fruits on my table, but the red banana has it all over the common yellow one.  Red bananas are shorter but plumper, almost hearty…the flavor sweeter, more red red bananacomplex.

According to Wiki, in Ecuador red bananas are known as Platano colorado or Plátano rosado. 

All bananas are nutritionally fabulous – they’re high in potassium and soluble fiber, making them heart-healthy.


And although they contain about 14 grams of total (not added) sugar, their glycemic index is relatively low – this is attributed to the fiber plus the fruit is rich in pectin.  Pectin helps blunt the natural sugar’s impact on blood glucose levels, so eating rich bananas aren’t off limits to people with diabetes.  Plus pectin is good for digestion.  Read more about the nutritional benefits of bananas on The World’s Healthiest Foods. 

We drove to to Machala from the Yungilla valley, and passed hectares and hectares and hectares of banana plantations – amid the thousands of rows of yellow bananas

mercado banana

we spied patches of our favorite red ones.  On our way back we bought a bunch from a roadside stand.  Sure, one dollar can buy you 10 – but until you’ve seen them, this statement just is a bunch of words – it doesn’t do it justice.  Each single red banana weighs the equivalent of two – even three yellow bananas.  They’re just big, fat, wonderful fruits. I’m in love 🙂

Back here in Cuenca, we buy red bananas at the 10 de Augusto mercado, on Calle Larga between Tarqui y Padre Aguirre.  Once you’ve had a red, you’ll never go yellow again.

Type 2 Diabetes – Can You Prevent It?

global diabetesLiving here in Cuenca, Ecuador, I’m both encouraged that there are more opportunities to eat healthfully – and discouraged that so many people are choosing to eat the SAD diet…the Standard American Diet. It’s not just North Americans who are eating fast food, greasy burgers, french fries and quaffing gallons of sugary soda – it’s Ecuadorians too – and they’re grappling with the unwanted side-effects of poor diet and less exercise – as most of the Western world is as well.

When it comes to our risk for diabetes – many people under-appreciate how lucky we are to have choice when it comes to what we eat. Food is one of the few things about our health and our future that we have control over.

Some things we have absolutely no control over. Our age, our height, our gender is set when we’re born.  Who our parents are, and the risk that they may pass down to us in terms of susceptibility to disease is written in stone – we can’t change our genes.

In North America, health experts predict dire straights ahead. One in three Americans born today will develop type 2 diabetes – with complications of heart disease, blindness, amputation, kidney failure and early death assured if the disease is not controlled.

More than 80% of newly diagnosed type 2’s are overweight or obese…type 2 is a “lifestyle” disease, one that’s closely linked to your weight and how much activity you get daily.
obese kids
In Ecuador, my new home, obesity and diabetes are growing epidemics – similar factors to what’s happening in the USA.

For many the lack of physical activity and the ongoing transition from reliance on home-grown and home-cooked foods to highly processed foods, sugar-laden beverages – leads to higher rates of obesity, which critically increases risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What used to be seen only in adults is now known as type 2 diabetes – children as young as five are being diagnosed with this disease.

Because symptoms of Type 2 diabetes may be subtle at the start (blurred vision, poor healing, and neuropathy, excessive thirst and urination), on average, someone has type 2 for 6 years before they’re diagnosed – and by then, the damage is done…and it’s not reversible. Untreated and uncontrolled type 2 causes irreversible damage to eyes, peripheral nerves, then kidneys, and heart: it is the leading cause blindness, renal failure, and non-traumatic amputation.

The younger a child is when he or she becomes obese, the more likely they are to be obese as adults – and the higher the risk for type 2 diabetes.

How successful you are at controlling blood glucose meantype 2 dm kids either living with diabetes or getting very sick from diabetes. A diagnosis can be a lifesaver – why? Because from diagnosis you can take steps to prevent complications – you can control your future – day by day.

The Diabetes Prevention Program study conclusively showed that people with pre-diabetes can prevent and reverse the symptoms and improve insulin sensitivity. Subjects lost five to ten percent of their current weight, and incorporated just thirty minutes of moderate activity daily—and reduced incidence of progression to diabetes by 58 percent.

You can do this too. But, it’s got to be permanent. It’s not “lose weight and then go back to what you did before”. It’s losing weight by making permanent changes to your lifestyle with smart food and activity strategies. Weight loss has additional benefits, including lower blood pressure, less stress on joints and tendons, improving sleep and making you feel more energized. Keep up the activity, keep smart food choices permanent, and maintain your weight and your health indefinitely.

Get Screened
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is defined as fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater.  A diagnosis of prediabetes means blood glucose levels are higher than normal (a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl) but not yet diabetic. If this is your diagnosis, you can take steps to avoid advancing to type 2 diabetes.

Forestall Your Fate
Experts predict that children born today will be the first to have a lifespan shorter than their parents. Type 2 diabetes is called an “epidemic” and like any other disease transmitted by personal contact people are more likely to “catch” obesity if their family members—and especially if their friends—are overweight or obese. However, the reverse is true as well, and if your best friends and family take steps to gain control—getting healthier and losing weight—that’s contagious, too. Choose your friends wisely, and be a role model to your family.
woman exercise
How you choose to live your life may increase—or lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

Write down personal goals for losing weight and increasing activity: Some include staying healthy to avoid complications; feeling more energetic; fitting into good-looking clothes better.

Post your goals on your bathroom mirror, and greet them every morning – check in with them in the evening – how are you staying healthy? One day at a time.

Choose to Lose:  This week – what will you choose? Create one Food Goal and one Activity Goal:
I’ll switch to nonfat milk

I’ll cut one unhealthy food choice (fast food, anyone?)
I’ll eliminate soda and juice, and switch to water and a piece of fruit
If I choose a high calorie meal my other meals will be high in fiber and low in fat and calories.

This week I will walk for 10 minutes three mornings

This week I will use half of my lunch break to walk (either outside or using the stairs).
This week I will take an extra 20 minute walk on the weekend
I’ll get a pedometer and start logging my steps and increase my steps by 500 weekly.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease often passed down through generations. Take steps to make the changes to your lifestyle permanent, and defy your fate.

Speak with your physician if you’ve not exercised recently.


American Diabetes Association

American Heart Association

National Diabetes Prevention Program


Trying to Eat Better? Think Positive, Not Negative

Out of the Cornell Food & Brand Lab comes a new study that shows when it comes to helping you and your loved ones eat better – focus on the positive.

Instead of dealing with frustration and feelings of deprivation that results from thinking “no, no, no”…think yes!  Yes, I can eat this delicious fruit, and Yes, it will make me healthy, and Yes, I’m doing something good for myself that will make me feel good about me!

The study showed that it’s not useful to tell someone that “you’ll get fat if you eat that cookie”.  It’s far more effective to focus on the positive – “Here’s the good news!  Eating more vegetables will make you healthier!”

The study showed that public health campaigns that focus on fear – bad  consequences like getting fat from eating candy or drinking chocolate milk – aren’t effective.  Staying positive, pointing out benefits and affirming healthy behaviors is far more valuable than negative messages.

As reported, it’s better to focus on Do rather than focusing on Don’t.

good food bad food

Collating the data from 43 published international studies showed that for nutrition professionals like registered dietitians and doctors, negative messaging reaffirmed their knowledge and toughed their beliefs.  But for the average consumer, learning why it is a good idea to eat that apple – what were the health benefits – was better than hearing why eating that cookie was a bad idea.

So the take-away is for healthy weight management campaigns should focus on the positive – that’s what people respond to.  As Brian Wansink, PhD director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and author of Slim by Design said, “If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers.”
For people who are thinking about losing weight, first set a goal – a realistic one.  How do you lose weight?  One pound at a time.  Each day that you make healthy choices, and get some deliberate activity  – walking fast, taking the stairs, dancing, swimming, hiking – is a day that builds on itself.  The more consistent you are at saying “yes” to healthy, whole foods the more your body will respond to your choices.
These findings compliment a recent 2015 publication in Nutrition Reviews, and it will be presented at the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior’s Annual Conference 2015 in Pittsburgh by Brian Wansink, PhD and Lizzy Pope, Ph.D. University of Vermont (previously with the Cornell Food and Brand Lab).

The Food and Brand Lab was founded at the University of Illinois in 1997 by Professor Brian Wansink and moved to Cornell University in 2005. The Lab is an interdisciplinary group of graduate and undergraduate students from psychology, food science, marketing, agricultural economics, human nutrition, education, history, library science, and journalism along with a number of affiliated faculty.

Their research is independently funded by grants and consumer groups. It focuses on better understanding consumers and how they relate to foods and packaged foods. Their research has driven the creation of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN)—two programs devoted to the funding, conduction, and dissemination of research concerning children’s health. Research from the lab has been reported in dozens of magazines along with coverage on CNN, 20/20, ABC News, NBC News, and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Nutrition Myths: Focus on Fat

How much do you know about nutrition? It’s often hard toquestion separate the truths from the myths when it comes to nutrition, but my mission is to research the latest credible findings and recommendations from educated and credentialed experts. So, let’s see how much you know about nutrition myths and truths. Take this week’s quiz – no peeking! The answers are below – I’m looking forward to your comments – Tell me what you know – and if you have a favorite myth, please post it below – along with the truth.

Questions: Myths & Truths

  1. Fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity.
  2. Polyunsaturated fat has fewer calories than other fats.fat free myth
  3. If the label says “fat free” you can be assured it’s lower in calories.
  4. Eating eggs leads to high cholesterol.

 Answers: Myths & Truths

  1. Fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity.

Truth. Yes, the advent of fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity. High in take of refined carbohydrates – juices, white flour – are not only linked to obesity, but also inflammation and may increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Since fat contains more than twice the calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates ( 9 vs. 4), it’s important to choose your fats wisely, but not eliminate them. Foods such as nuts, avocado, seeds and fatty fish contain immune-promoting monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids – and are linked to better health.

  1. Polyunsaturated fats have fewer calories than other fats.

Myth. All fat has 9 calories per gram – and although some fats are healthy, because fat is highly concentrated in calories, be prudent – especially with added fats like deep friend foods and mayonnaise and butter.

  1. If the label says “fat-free” you can be assured it’s lower in calories.

NutMyth_FatFreeCookieMyth. Experts link the “fat-free” craze to the increase in obesity. One of my favorite examples are cookies – “fat-free” can have the same calories per serving compared to the original. When manufacturers eliminate fat, they’ll often add more sugar to make up for the texture and taste changes. Yes, for sure – some reduced and fat-free dairy and dressings are lower in calories compared to the original, but read the label to compare ingredients and calories per serving – and choose wisely.


  1. Eating eggs leads to high cholesterol.

reading labelsMyth. The Dietary Guidelines For Americans are about to reflect new research that confirms that the data does not prove that eating more eggs leads to high blood cholesterol. Your overall diet, including the amount of refined carbohydrates and trans fat, is very important, however. Eggs are low in saturated fat and rich in important nutrients including protein, B vitamins and vitamins A, D and E.