Archive for The Missing Week

The Missing Week: Magnesium’s turn in the spotlight

There are several rockstar nutrients – calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C – who can’t seem to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast. But somewhere a few steps off the red carpet, there’s a lesser known but hard-working mineral that deserves some attention: magnesium.

This salad will make a lot more sense after a few paragraphs.

Magnesium keeps bones strong, helps nerves zzzzap like normal, and is needed for a few other minor tasks like, oh, keeping your heart beating. (Lots more info here) But apparently that isn’t glitzy enough for the average eater, because nearly half of people age 1 and older have inadequate intakes (pdf).

Why? Well, our love of refined grains may be one culprit – wheat’s germ and bran are rich in magnesium, but those get stripped out when processed into flours and such. Green Veggie Phobia is another contributor, because if you aren’t eating your greens, you’re not getting the magnesium-rich chlorophyll.

I think we all agree that we like non-brittle bones and still-beating hearts, so what should we eat to get more magnesium? In general, whole grains, vegetables (especially the green ones), legumes, seeds and nuts are the way to go.

And that brings us to the salad I tossed (har) together that boasts several magnesium-rich foods on the marquee: garam-masala-roasted cashews, curried black lentils, and spinach, along with sweet potato and a simple dressing. Not only does this salad have a sweet and spicy crunch, but it delivers approximately half the magnesium required daily by the average adult.

The salad recipe follows below, and here’s a few additional ways to add more of the magnificent mineral to your meals:

  • “Good morning blend” yogurt parfait from Rodale (here)
  • Poached egg with walnuts and spinach from Cooking Light (here)
  • No-bake molasses, dates, seed and nut bites from Oh My Veggies (here)
  • Jumbo prawns with balsamic-orange onions from Eating Well (here)
  • Grilled halibut with roasted tomatoes from Rodale (here)
  • Papaya avocado salad from Eating Well (here)

Spiced cashew, curried lentil and sweet potato salad

(4 servings, approx. 460 calories each)

Ingredients:
1 cup cashews (unsalted)
1 Tbs garam masala
3 Tbs orange juice, divided
½ cup dry black lentils
2 cups water
1 tsp curry powder
2 medium sweet potatoes
6-8 cups fresh spinach
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

Roast the cashews: Heat the oven to 250F. Mix the cashews, garam masala and 1 Tbs orange juice in a bowl. Spread the cashews on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time.

Cook the lentils: Combine the lentils, water and curry powder in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-22 minutes.

Cook the sweet potato: Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Microwave each for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and microwave another 2-3 minutes.

Mix up the dressing: Whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar and remaining 2 Tbs orange juice in a small bowl.

Put it all together: Divide the spinach among four bowls. To that add ¼ cup of the roasted cashews, one fourth of the cooked lentils, ½ of a sweet potato (sliced/cubed), and ¼ of the dressing (roughly 1.5 Tbs).

 

The Missing Week: Vegetables and the chocolate Trojan Horse

Have you heard me extol vegetables’ virtues previously – colon-friendly fiber, blood-pressure-loving potassium – but haven’t yet felt compelled to consistently eat your daily recommended servings? Maybe you’re suffering from Vegetable Nutrition News Fatigue (symptoms include rolling eyes and sighing after repeated exposure to vegetable-related health-benefit messages). If that’s the case, then I clearly need to resort to the heavy artillery: chocolate.

What’s that, you say? Chocolate.

Do I have your attention now? Good, because something else yanked my attention back to the topic of produce-heavy diets: a British study found not eating enough fruits and vegetables is the 2nd greatest modifiable risk for developing cancer in men, and the 5th greatest modifiable risk in women (approximately 40% of overall cancer risk is due to modifiable/lifestyle factors). This news isn’t entirely new, since research has previously linked a lack of dietary produce with risk of many cancers. But the fact that it is second only to tobacco among modifiable risk factors in men startled me, and I realized it was time to step up the vegetable evangelism.

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The Missing Week: Fiber

Fun fact: for a year during middle school, I was a cheerleader. Pleated skirt, herkie jumps, the whole nine yards. Back then, I was cheering for our basketball team (go, Bulldogs!); but since then, I’ve focused my boosterism on an entirely different area.

If you can’t make out that scribble in my anatomy & physiology class notes, it says, “Yay colon!” I’ve researched it for work, read about it in school, and even toured it (twice!) when the Colossal Colon exhibit visited Boston many years ago.

Inside the Colossal Colon (photo by David Lapidus)

Sadly, not everyone shares my love for the large intestine. Why else would roughly half of North Americans fall short of their daily recommended fiber intake? (For reference, women should target 25 grams daily if under 50 years old, 21 grams if 50+; men should get 38 grams if under 50 years old, 30 if 50+) So why do we care? Head past the jump…

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The Missing Week: Potassium

It’s a little busy around Chez ETW – I’ve got deadlines, Mr. ETW has been traveling for work, and ETW Jr has been promoted to Vice Chairman of the Problems Keeping Your Pants On, Seriously, Why Are They In the Sink? department. But I don’t want to let a lack of time keep us from discussing what is lacking in our diets: potassium.

Cut Potassium pieces from Dennis s.k collection (Wikipedia user Dnn87)

Tasty image, yes? There will be food porn shortly, I promise. Before that, let’s answer, “Why potassium?” In short, this mineral is one of the key electrolytes in the body. There’s a complex square dance routine going on in many of your cells, where potassium, calcium, and sodium (along with others) are do-si-do-ing, changing electrical charges along the way. This fancy footwork keeps nerve cells functioning, muscles contracting, and fluids regulated.

How much do we need? For healthy adults and teens, the daily adequate intake (AI) is 4,700 mg. But here’s where The Missing Week comes in, because on average, we’re not meeting the AI. Data from the United States and Canada suggests we’re only getting 45-70% of the daily recommended potassium from our diets.

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The Missing Week: fruits and veggies

My fellow Americans, the state of our union is strong, but the state of our dinner plates leaves something to be desired. Specifically, we’re not eating fruits and vegetables as often as recommended. For example, an analysis of NHANES survey data found that less than 10% of American meets the MyPyramid fruit & veggie recommendations. And because everyone was glued to the TV awaiting nutrition news updates this past fall (Right? It’s not just me, right?), you probably remember the CDC’s dismal report that Americans fall far short of the Healthy People 2010 targets for fruit and veggie consumption.

Broccolini, grapes and Italian sausage

This makes for a great topic to kick off a semi-regular series, The Missing Week, in which I’ll discuss deficiencies (the “missing” part) in the average American’s diet and feature recipes (the “week” of recipes part) that help fill the gap. But why should we care about this particular deficit in our collective average diet? Long story short: plant-derived foods are generally nutrient dense and calorie light, and people who eat proportionally more fruits and vegetables are at lower risk of many diseases.

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