Pump up Nutrition with Whole Fats

Plant-based oils, each about 120 calories per tablespoon, contain varying levels of beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some contain hard-to-find Vitamin E, but no other nutrients. But what about the sources of these oils, the whole fats?

Just as whole grain brown rice retains fiber and nutrients that are stripped to make it white, whole fats have much more to offer than their oily offspring.

The favorite, olive oil, is high in monounsaturated fat, the kind that elevates good HDL cholesterol without raising bad LDL. For the same 120 calories, the green olives it is made from provide twice the Vitamin E and are a good source of copper. Black olives also contribute almost one quarter of daily iron requirements.

Sunflower seeds have eight times the nutrition of their oil, with two thirds more Vitamin E, and like many nuts and seeds, a bonus of 14 additional vitamins and minerals.

Since most people already consume adequate fat, when adding whole fats to the diet it’s important to reduce fat elsewhere. Sauté with non-fat cooking spray instead of oil. Sprinkle nutty sunflower seeds on your salad and use a fat-free dressing. Top baked tilapia with chopped caper and black olive tapenade. Eliminate the mayonnaise on sandwiches, but top your yogurt with satisfying almonds for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up

Here’s a table of some whole fats and their key benefits.

Whole Fat

Serving Size(120 Calories)

Biggest Benefits,% RDA


16 nuts

37% Vitamin E, 26% Copper,
30% Manganese

Brazil Nuts

4 nuts

942% Selenium, 34% Copper

Cashew Nuts

13 nuts

46% Copper

Olives, Green

12 jumbo

21% Vitamin E, 26% Copper

Olives, Black

14 jumbo

24 medium

29 small

23% Vitamin E, 31% Copper,
21% Iron


12 halves

43% Manganese, 23% Copper


9 halves

32% Copper, 35% Manganese

Sunflower Seeds

2 ½ tablespoons

69% Vitamin E, 42% Copper,
34% Phosphorous, 30% Selenium, 29% Pantothenic Acid


Preparing Fresh Water Chestnuts

Traveling presents a unique opportunity to investigate cultural neighborhoods. On my recent trip to San Francisco, I made my way waterchestnutsweb.jpgdown the hill to Chinatown. The morning sidewalk markets, with their colorful produce and odd-looking fish, buzzed with activity.
I watched a wrinkled woman sort through the fresh water chestnuts, accepting or rejecting each one, using a level of expertise that I did not share. I grabbed a couple of handfuls, hoping for the best. (I later learned to press each one, discarding any with soft spots.)
Once home, I discovered how easy fresh chestnuts are to prepare. Time-consuming yes, but easy.
Slice off each end, then cut off the skin all around the little cylinder. Slice the pure white meat thinly. Once peeled, they brown quickly. Keep in cold water until ready to use. Add them to a stir-fry near the end of cooking, they just need to be heated.
I added my find to some leftover Chinese take-out, reheating in the microwave. Oh my gosh. Crisply crunchy, each chew releasing an increasing sweetness that is totally absent when canned. Fresh water chestnuts are definitely worth the effort.

Climb Every Mountain

I had the good fortune of attending a writer’s conference in San Francisco last weekend. I decided again to take public transit. Caltrain’s baby bullet train is faster than a car, and costs much less than just one night’s parking.

The conference was at the historic Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill. Now hills in San Francisco are steeper than some mountains, so I carefully planned my excursion to avoid climbing any of them. My plan was to take a bus to a train to a bus, get off and walk to a cable car that would deposit me right outside the hotel. I figured business clothes didn’t warrant any more exercise than that. But my heart sank with the bus as it descended into the tunnel, realizing I had not pulled the chain early enough, missing my intended stop. Lesson number one, of course, is to always have a map, even when taking public transportation.

However, I was familiar with this intersection, downhill from my hotel and at the edge of the famous Chinatown. I hoisted my suitcase, and squared my shoulders towards the sidewalk like an offensive guard awaiting the snap. My torso almost parallel to the slanted slope, I trudged the two long blocks, where I saw the light at the top of the hill. The climb was not as strenuous as it was last year, when I was barely 12 months out from cancer treatment. Apparently the fitness efforts I made since then paid off. I felt empowered entering into the potentially life-changing conference, knowing that taking the easy road wouldn’t have led me to this destination.

Really Good Cheese Helps Cut the Fat

I love cheese. Whether oozing lava-like on pizza, crumbled in salad, or forming the structural basis of quiche, it’s one of my favorite indulgences. This love affair makes keeping my fat intake to 25-30% of calories a challenge.

Of course I could avoid it all together, but a better option is to eat less. And eating less is easier when I pick better cheeses. Many imported and even some of the American Artisanal varieties offer many times the flavor of the bulk processed slabs, so it takes less to wonderfully enhance your culinary creations.

One example fetacrop.jpgis Bulgarian Sheep’s Milk Feta. A ½-ounce serving is a cube measuring about 1 and 1/8-inches on each side, or 1 ½ tablespoons crumbled, with 37 calories and 3 grams fat. Compared to the big vat supermarket feta, its bite is multidimensional, building slowly to a powerful finish.

A fresh Greek salad showcases this exceptional feta. The recipe uses a relatively low fat dressing, with lots of rich red wine vinegar. It serves two as a side dish, or one as a meal. It’s a good source of Vitamins A and C, as well as folate, iron and manganese.

Certainly, it’s important to remember to pair high fat foods like cheese and olive oil with otherwise very low fat and low calorie main dishes. Skinless chicken breasts, lean fish like tuna or cod, along with orange and green vegetables, all cooked and served without added oils or butter help meet these lower fat goals.

Lean Chef’s Lower Fat Greek Salad greeksaladbetter.jpg

2 cups mixed greens
2 cups baby spinach leaves
2 thin slices red onion
4 small black olives, sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ounce Bulgarian Sheep’s Milk Feta
1 teaspoon virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the greens and spinach. Top with onion, olives, tomatoes and feta. Mix together olive oil and red wine vinegar, and drizzle over the salad. Add a grind or two of pepper.

Serves 2, each with 103 calories, 5 g protein, 9 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 6 g fat, (3 g saturated).

Photos of Ingredients for Unique Thai Flavors

Last week in a restaurant review, I wrote about Tom Ka, Thai hot and sour soup. A couple of key Thai ingredients float freely in a well-prepared Tom Ka, so you can taste their unique savory contributions. I thought I’d post photos and descriptions of them here.

The first is the Kaffir Lime Leaf. kaffiropt.jpgIt is shiny, and appears as two leaves joined end-to-end. Although it may be ground or thinly sliced in curries, it’s rather inedible when left whole. Bite one and you will release oily aromatics reminiscent of lemon but more robust and slightly bitter. Both thekaffirlimeopt.jpg juice and peel of the bumpy, tangerine-sized kaffir fruit are also used in cooking.

The second interesting ingredient is galangal. It is a rhizome photogalangalopt.jpgrelated to ginger, with smooth skin and a peppery, then eucalyptic flavor. It is thinly sliced and tender when used fresh, while its dry form is woody, it is equally pungent. In this photo you can also see the small Thai chili peppers, that while very hot, have unique flavor that cannot be duplicated with similarly shaped serranos.

24 Minutes of Exercise in 8 Minutes

To help healthy adults reduce the risk of chronic disease, the FDA recommends 30 minutes of moderately intense activity on most days of the week. According to Dr. Paul Higgins, a daily half-hour walk can result in an annual fat melt of 12.2 kg (that’s almost 27 pounds). If you’d rather ride a bike, cycling expends twice as many calories per minute.

The 30-minute goal may not be enough for your personal situation, but it can be a place to start. If you’re already achieving this exercise level– congratulations!!! For many of us however, a million things come between us and our desire to increase physical activity. “Where will I find 30 minutes in my already hectic day?” is a common complaint. The following two points may help you in this quest.

First, the 30 minutes can be broken down into three sessions for almost the same benefit. Stealing 10 minutes here and there may be easier to envision. The second point is the concept of getting 24 minutes of exercise in 8 minutes. That sounds even better, doesn’t it?

As a food writer, I’m often in the middle of some recipe and need an additional ingredient. In a hurry, I jump in the car and drive to the market. One day I timed the short walk there, about 4 minutes. I then timed the drive, (wait for traffic, find a parking spot, walk to the doors), which took 6 minutes. Counting the return trip, I got 8 minutes of exercise and saved 4 minutes. Testing this “more for less” theory, I briskly walked downtown in 12 minutes. The drive took 8 minutes, so it cost me 4 minutes to get 12 minutes of exercise. Counting the trip home, I invested just 8 incremental minutes and achieved 24 minutes of exercise.

I realize it’s different living close to town compared to a rural area. But wherever you live, where can you safely walk to that you normally drive? Your friend’s house? The mailbox, market, bus stop, train station? Out to lunch? Try it just one time this week. You should feel a great sense of accomplishment so pat yourself on the back. If this isn’t enough of a reward, put 45 cents in a jar for every mile you didn’t drive to cover the car expenses you didn’t have. The important thing is that you pick even one thing new to do, or one thing to do differently, to fit fitness in. Now write it down and post it somewhere to remind you.

p.s. If you haven’t exercised in awhile, are over 40, weigh more than you want to, experience exercise discomfort, illness or chronic disease, you should consult with your medical professional before embarking on a new activity regimen.