Southern New Year's: Collard Greens & Black Eyed Peas

New Year’s Day in the south isn’t complete without black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread. We have a tradition in our family to eat black eyed peas to bring luck in the new year and collard greens to bring money. I typically am not a fan of this cruciferous vegetable, but I eat it at least once a year.

We had a New Year’s Day celebration, combining the best of the northern and southern traditions, with a menu of kielbasa, sauerkraut, pork chops, collard greens, black eyed peas and corn bread.

Collard greens are pure “soul food” and have been a staple of Southern cooking for years. Collards are a cross between cabbage and kale and are loaded with valuable cancer-fighting phyotochemicals.

Just like spinach, collards are loaded with calcium. One cup of collards provides as much calcium as in 8 ounces of milk and a whopping 5 grams of fiber. This nutritional powerhouse is also loaded with magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, A and K. You can get all of these vitamins, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are key nutrients for eye health, for a measly 49 calories per cup. Talk about getting the most bang for your buck! Speaking of buck, collard greens are also very inexpensive, especially when purchased fresh. Just make sure you clean them thoroughly before cooking.

I wish I had a great recipe I could share for collard greens, but sadly we just make them the easy way: from the can. It provides just as many key nutrients, but without the fuss. I wish you a very Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you luck, love and all of your heart’s desires.

I can’t believe that I started the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth blog one year ago today. I’m looking forward to sharing more healthy foods, recipes and tips in 2011. I hope you stay with me in my journey to healthier eating in 2011. I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see on this blog in 2011? Anything you want me to start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Peek at the Power of Pecans

The holidays bring delicious food that we indulge in only once a year. For my family that includes sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping. The original recipe was my Grandma’s and I looked forward to eating it every year when I was a child. She passed along the recipe to me when I got married and over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit and lightened it up while still keeping the delicious flavors. Some people top their sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but we always use pecans, which I didn’t realize they are a super food until now. 

I’ve always thought of nuts as fattening, but I was misinformed. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it isn’t the total amount of fat that matters, it is the type of fat. And pecans are full of the heart healthy kind – monounsaturated.

Monounsaturated fats, also called MUFAs, have been found to contribute to a healthy heart and slim body.

The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine reported that a diet high in monounsaturated fats have many health benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk for breast cancer
  • Reduced cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk for heart disease and stroke
  • Weight loss
  • Less severe pain and stiffness for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduced belly fat

 Other foods high in MUFAs include: olive oil, avocadoes, almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts.

 There are two considerations when enjoying pecans, or any other nut:

  1. Keep them Cool – the same oil in the nuts that provides the health benefits also contributes to making the pecans go rancid pretty quickly. Keep your pecans in the freezer or refrigerator in an airtight container to keep fresh for up to one year.
  2. Control those portions – While the fat in nuts is good for your heart, too many calories still contribute to an expanded waistline. One portion equals twenty pecans halves. Use the snack size baggies to divide a bag of pecans into several one ounce portions.

My annual indulgence doesn’t seem so bad now, between the sweet potatoes and pecans it is practically a health food….well, maybe I shouldn’t go that far, but it could be much worse, right? 

Try out my lightened up version of my Grandma’s sweet potato casserole and let me know what you think. Do you have a favorite holiday food? Do you follow a diet high in MUFAs? 

Stacy’s Sweet Potato Casserole 

Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 cups of mashed sweet potatoes or 2 large cans yams
  • 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup Truvia or other sugar-free substitute
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie  

Topping

  • ¼ cup brown sugar splenda
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup melted butter 

Instructions

Mash the sweet potatoes or yams with a potato masher, then mix the next five ingredients together and pour in a casserole dish. Mix the topping ingredients together and spoon the mixture over the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Day 26: The Incredible Edible Egg

I start each day with the same breakfast: one egg with one egg white, over easy and a slice of double fiber toast with “I cannot believe it’s not butter!” spray. I used to only eat the egg whites, to save calories, but I found that I was hungry again within hours when I didn’t include a healthy fat in my morning meal. I decided I would have just one egg with one egg white, for added protein, and it has made a huge difference in my satiety. So, I was extremely happy to discover that Dr. Jonny Bowden agrees with me and thinks that the egg yolk is a nutritional powerhouse that should not be ignored. He even says “Do me a favor. Stop with the egg whites already. Listen carefully: The egg yolk is good for you! It’s part of the package.”

The egg yolks are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that help your eyes, brain and heart. The yolk is also loaded with choline, which is essential for cardiovascular, brain and cell membrane health. The yolk also an essential part of a phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine, which helps prevent the accumulation of fat and cholesterol in the liver.

Yes, you read that right, egg yolks can actually help prevent cholesterol build up, not create it. I know that this is contrary to popular belief that one should avoid egg yolks because they raise cholesterol. Studies by the Harvard Medical School have even shown that the cholesterol in eggs do not raise ones’ blood cholesterol levels.

Eggs are the perfect food, packed full of nutrients, protein and vitamins in a delicate shell. They are one of the best sources of protein on the planet, containing all nine essential amino acids. This is particularly important to me because I’m trying to build my lean muscle mass and maximize my strength training. Protein is a key component in building lean muscle. I know that a lot of people tout whey protein as a key protein source when trying to build muscle, and I love whey protein too, but on the Protein Efficiency Rating Scale, eggs consistently score highest in the quality of their protein, beating out milk, beef, whey and soy!

The phosphatidylcholine in eggs is also a key nutrient in promoting liver health. Phosphatidylcholine also protects the liver from a wide range of toxic influences. Eggs are truly a brain food, helping prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

You can also call eggs an “eye food” because they have lutein and zeaxanthin, which are two “superstar” nutrients, essential for eye health. Those two nutrients are the most effective supplements for eye health, according to Dr. Michael Geiger, a New York optometrist.

Another interesting fact that I’ve heard quite a bit in my research is that fat in foods really helps “carry” the nutrients through our body and makes them more “bioavailable,” which just means that are bodies can extract what it needs from the nutrients and put them to use. This is particularly relevant with eggs because the egg yolk has fat, which helps make the lutein more bioavailable than let’s say, spinach, which actually has more luetin, but is less bioavailable because of the lack of fat. Does that make sense? As a side note, this is why it is important to drizzle dressing with a bit of fat, and not completely fat-free dressing, on your salad. The fat in the dressing helps make the nutrients more bioavailable. So, cut yourself some slack with the “fat-free” dressing.

So, back to eggs….they can also help protect against breast cancer. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention found that women who ate six eggs a week vs. two eggs per week, lowered their risk of breast cancer by 44%. Wow.

Eggs also have more than fifteen vitamins and minerals; one egg has 18% of the Daily Value (DV) for riboflavin, 14%  DV for vitamin B12, 29% DV selenium.

All of these health benefits and still one more bonus; eggs promote healthy nails and make your hair grow faster. How can you lose with this super food?

So, Dr. Bowden thinks that eggs are better for you the less they are exposed to oxygen, therefore he prefers to eat them raw (Bleah!!) or poached. Personally, I like my eggs cooked over-easy, though I don’t mind a hard-boiled egg once in a while. How do you like your eggs? Do you eat the yolk?