Monthly Archives: June 2014

Summer Gazpacho

gazpacho no backgroundThis is a cool and refreshing soup full of summer vegetables: it is just perfect for those hot days. Gazpacho originated in Spain, where its name means “soaked bread” referring to the original recipe that included stale bread. While this version omits the bread in the soup, I recommended homemade croutons for a garnish (where the crunch and texture really add to the dish).

You can make this soup more hearty (and a light meal) by adding black beans (cooked, or canned and drained).  Many versions of gazpacho soup ask you to peel and seed the vegetables. I don’t think this is necessary – it takes time, removes important nutrients, and doesn’t really improve flavour or texture.

Gazpacho is good for you (backed by science!)

A recent study found that gazpacho consumption was associated with lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension in people at high risk for heart disease. Researchers speculate that these health benefits were “probably due to synergy among several bioactive compounds present in the vegetable ingredients used to make the recipe.”

Earlier research found that study volunteers who ate gazpacho twice a day for 7 days had decreased markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in their blood.


  • 2 large tomatoes*
  • 1 large cucumber, halved lengthwise*
  • 1 large fresh pepper (green, red, yellow or orange) seeded and halved*
  • 1 medium onion (sweet onion or red onion work best), peeled, halved*
  • 3 cups tomato juice*

* = divided use – you’ll puree about half of the above ingredients in a blender

  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. hot pepper sauce (e.g., Tabasco)
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper, or more to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced


  1. Coarsely chop half the cucumber, half the pepper, and half of the onion (big chunks, depending on the power of your blender to puree).
  2. In a blender, combine 1 tomato with the coarsely chopped veggies, and add 1 cup of the tomato juice. Puree at until well blended.
  3. Pour the puree into a large serving bowl and add the remaining 2 cups tomato juice, vinegar, oil, pepper sauce, pepper, and garlic.
  4. Chop the remaining cucumber, tomato,  peppers, and onion and add to the puree mixture.
  5. Refrigerate, covered, to allow the soup to chill and flavours to blend (if you store the tomato juice in the fridge you don’t need to refrigerate).

Best served chilled and great garnished with homemade croutons.   This looks wonderful accompanied by small bowls of garnishes to allow everyone to add their own. Here are some ideas: chopped onions, chopped peppers, chopped cucumbers, chopped chives, chopped tomatoes, or chopped fresh herbs.

Makes 6 generous 1-cup servings.

Sheila’s Speedy Garlic Croutons

These are a much better and tastier option than store-bought croutons, which are generally not a healthy option. If you have time and want a more elaborate crouton, try this recipe.

  • Toast your favourite whole grain bread slices and let cool
  • While bread is toasting, peel a garlic clove and cut in half
  • Rub cut half of garlic garlic clove on cooled toasted bread
  • Slice bread into small squares

Nutrition Notestomato_public domain_nci-vol-2642-72

  • Tomatoes and especially tomato juice are rich in lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.  They are recognized for their lycopene, a carotenoid that might help protect against some cancers and heart disease.
  • Garlic contains many protective compounds that are being studied for their disease-fighting effects.
  • Sweet peppers not only add colour, but plenty of nutrition. Red peppers are especially rich in Vitamin C, supplying twice as much Vitamin C as one medium orange.
  • red onionOnions contain sulfur compounds that are thought to help cells detoxify potential carcinogens, and are a good source of the dietary flavenoid quercetin, which is associated with reduced chronic inflammation.

Nutrition per Serving

(without croutons or extra garnishes):

  • 80 calories
  • 2 g protein
  • 11 g carbohydrates
  • 3 g fat
  • 2 g fiber

I adapted this recipe from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (WW Norton & Co, 1985).

You’ll find more healthy recipes here.

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about new research linking physical activity to academic performance, saturated fat confusion, why you might want to skip the deli meat counter,  and more.

studentsImproving Academic Performance with Physical Fitness

The benefits of physical activity for general health are well established, and a growing body of evidence is showing how being physically fit can play a key role in brain health and academic performance in youth. In a study published this week, Spanish researchers found that physical fitness (cardiorespiratory capacity and motor ability) in over 2000 students (aged 6-18 years) was correlated with how well the students did in math, English, and their overall GPA. This study adds to the evidence showing the importance of promoting physical activity during the school years.(Journal of Pediatrics, June 2014).

What is ironic with this body of research, is that some schools faced with increasing pressure to focus on test scores and academic achievement have reduced resources and time allocated to physical activity.  Children and youth spend more time in schools than almost any other setting (with the exception of their homes) and if the child’s home environment does not encourage physical activity, the school may be the only chance for a child to be active. I agree with experts who indicate that targeting the school environment to increase physical activity in youth should be a key strategy in health promotion.

For more reading on physical activity and academic success, here’s a good article by Richard Bailey.

“Eat Butter”? The Skinny On Saturated Fat

Time Magazine’s provocative cover “Eat Butter” may leave some of you confused about what to eat (or reaching for the nearest shortbread cookie . . . ).   The article questions the saturated fat-disease link and blames carbohydrates for health conditions that have been associated with saturated fat.  The American Institute for Cancer Research provides an excellent review of the article and some sound dietary advice:

“. . . it’s the whole diet that matters. Suggesting that carbohydrates (and/or sugar) are the single reason Americans are obese and unhealthy is mislecolorful vegetablesading – just as misleading as blaming our current health ills on fat. After all, carbohydrate-rich foods include fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Many are low in calories and filling; all are packed with nutrients and other compounds studied for their cancer-protective properties; they should comprise most of the food on our plates. “

David Katz offers another good review, arguing that we shouldn’t be demonizing one food, nutrient, or ingredient, but considering our overall dietary pattern.

Skip the Deli Counter: Processed Meats May Hurt Your Heart

More research points to the harms of processed meats – this time with heart health (previous research has linked processed meat intake to several cancers and Type 2 diabetes). In this long-term study, researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that men who ate the most processed meat had a 28% higher risk of having heart failure, and were twice as likely to die of heart failure than those who ate less. (Circulation, June 2014).  What exactly are processed meats? Bacon, ham, salami, pastrami, sausages, and hot dogs.

Recipe Corner

Potato Salad3 (640x427)It’s BBQ season, and if you’re like me, the side dishes are as important as what’s coming off the grill.  Popular sides can pack tons of calories and unhealthy fats (some traditional deli potato salads have almost 500 calories and more than 20 g fat per cup). Here are a two healthy and delicious side dishes.

Other links of interest this week:

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Minted Orzo Salad with Artichokes and Chickpeas

Though I’m not usually fond of pasta salads, this one is an exception. Flavored with fresh herbs, lemon, and garlic, this is a healthy light meal or side dish for summer.


  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1.5 cups uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta – you can use another small pasta shape)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (one 19-oz can chickpeas, drained)
  • 1 15-oz can artichoke hearts (in water), drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled light feta cheese (or more, to taste)
  • 3/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley or dill, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp.  fresh lemon juice
  • 1.5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed


  1. Cook orzo in broth and water until tender. Drain and set aside to let cool.
  2. Combine chickpeas, artichokes, feta, green onion, and fresh herbs in a large bowl.
  3. In a small jar or measuring cup, combine vinaigrette ingredients and whisk until combined.
  4. Add orzo and dressing to chickpea-artichoke mixture and toss gently to coat.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6 Servings.

Nutrition Notes

  • chickpeasArtichokes are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber (1/2 cup contains 6 g fiber and only 25 calories). They also contain the flavonoid silymarin, an antioxidant being studied for cancer prevention potential.
  • Chickpeas are a great source of fiber and protein and B-vitamins.  They are also rich in important minerals, including iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, and zinc.
  • garlic no backgroundGarlic contains many protective compounds that are being studied for their disease-fighting effects.
  • Fresh parsley is a good source of vitamin C, and also provides beta-carotene and lutein (another carotenoid)and natural plant compounds (flavonoids and limonene) that may have disease-fighting properties.

Nutrition per Serving

  • 345 calories
  • 14 g protein
  • 58 g carbohydrates
  • 6 g fat (.4 g sat)
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 8 g fiber
  • 550 mg sodium
  • 370 mg potassium
  • Calcium: 6% DV
  • Magnesium: 14% DV
  • Iron: 20% DV

You’ll find more healthy recipes here.

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how we overestimate exercise intensity, 70 year olds getting fit playing soccer, the accuracy of activity trackers, red meat and breast cancer risk, and more.

soccerIt’s Never Too Late to Get Fit or Play Games

Though some may think that the intensity, speed, turns, agility, and skills needed for soccer are the realm of the young (or retired football players), a series of new studies showed how this great game can benefit older people. Researchers at the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health showed that playing football (soccer) twice a week markedly improved fitness and health in untrained elderly men. After only 4 months, the men improved their VO2 max, muscle function, and bone mineral density.   Researchers compared the football training group to a strength training group and an inactive control group.  Though the strength training group showed some benefits, football was superior to strength training for improvements in aerobic fitness, muscle function, and bone density. (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports).

womanwalkingOverestimating How Hard We Exercise 

People aren’t very good judges exercise intensity, according to a  new study,  with most people underestimating moderate and vigorous activity (i.e., they don’t exercise hard enough).  Exercising at higher intensities (that make you breathe hard and break a sweat) has greater health benefits, and this is reflected in federal guidelines for physical activity (about 150 minutes moderate-vigorous activity/week – see US guidelines here and Canadian guidelines here).

When asked to walk at a moderate-intensity pace (after reviewing the guidelines), York University researchers showed that only 25% of study volunteers reached a moderate intensity level. These results are concerning, since only 15 to 20% of Americans and Canadians report meeting the physical activity guidelines (and this new study suggests that this percentage is likely much lower). (PLOS One, May 2014).

  • What is moderate or vigorous activity? Your heart rate should be about 64-76% of your maximum for moderate activity (you can talk but not sing; walking like you’re trying to catch a bus or getting indoors out of the rain), and between 77-90% for vigorous activity (you’re breathing so hard you can say a few words, but not sentences).
  • Is vigorous activity safe for everyone? Seems the benefits outweigh the risks, likely even for older people and cardiac patients , as Alex Hutchinson explains.

Of course, it’s important to remember that ANY exercise you do, even below moderate levels, is good for your health!

FitbitFlex (178x178)How Accurate Are Fitness Band Activity Trackers?

Fitness bands/activity monitors are small gadgets that monitor your activity.  Though previously only used by researchers, these trackers are becoming popular and motivating tools for anyone to track how much they move (or don’t move!).  (I tested a fitbit for a research study I was involved with, and was impressed with the ease of use and feedback . . . desk jobs make us sit a lot!).  Researchers from Iowa State University tested  the accuracy of 8 popular models: they found that most of the trackers provided reasonably accurate estimates (within 10 to 15 percent) of calories burned, with the BodyMedia FIT and Fitbit leading the rankings.  (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise).

  • One benefit of trackers is that they are easy to wear (they fit in a pocket or around your wrist), so you can wear them all day and get a good snapshot of your daily activity (including intensity level) and sedentary behavior.  If you want immediate feedback during an exercise session, however, a heart-rate monitor might be a better choice.
  • If you’re curious about activity monitors, this expert provides a pretty good review of the fitbit flex.  And for Apple fans, it looks like an Iwatch health tracker is coming out soon.
Red Meat May Raise Breast Cancer Risk 

A new study by Harvard University researchers links red meat intake to breast cancer risk.  Compared to women who ate one serving of red meat a week, those who ate 1.5 servings/day had a 22% higher risk of breast cancer (and each additional daily serving increased risk by  another 13%).  The study used data from the Women’s Health Study, following 89,000 women for over 20 years. These results add weight to current guidelines to limit red and processed meat to reduce cancer risk. Researchers also found that replacing a red meat with other dietary sources of protein (fish, legumes, nuts and poultry) lowered breast cancer risk by 14 %.  (British Medical Journal, June 2014).

Fritatta (640x337)RECIPE – Mediterranean Frittata.  Looking for more protein for breakfast? Try this frittata. It’s delicious hot or cold, and leftovers make a great snack, lunch, or supper. This is a very nutritious dish that is low in calories, and rich in vegetables and good quality protein.

Other links of interest this week:

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