The Coconut Controversy and a Peach Oatmeal Bake

If you’ve taken a look at my “About Me” page, you know that one of my favorite things in the world is the arrival of soft, fuzzy peaches at the farmers markets in the summer months. So, you can imagine I am squealing with excitement over here- it’s peach season! Snack time is a bit messier these days as peach juice rolls down my hands, but I simply don’t care!

Due to their delicate nature and the risk of smooshing, packing peaches in your lunch bag as a snack can be risky (but if you’re a true peach-head like me, keep it in a separate glass container to enjoy at lunch bruise-free), but I’ve been happily munching on them at home on their own, sliced atop salads, served over yogurt bowls, and now, baked into a crispy breakfast oatmeal bake that I’m excited to share with ya’ll.

While you should feel peachy keen making and enjoying this fiber filled, gluten-free breakfast I did want to acknolwedge one ingredient found in this recipe, as it has been a buzzworthy topic of late- coconut oil. Having become wildy popular over the past few years, many believe this oil has a health “halo” surrounding it and are using it in large amounts in everything from stews to baked goods.

But is coconut oil really all that good for you?

A few weeks ago, a review from the American Heart Association made headlines as it “revealed” findings from many studies deeming coconut oil as “all of a sudden” bad for you. As a dietitian, I get many questions from patients and acquaintances about coconut oil, so figured I’d help set the record straight and hopefully help you decide how to incorporate this source of dietary fat into your diet and into this recipe.

Fats 101

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, making it a saturated fat, sitting in the company of other fats such as butter, lard, dairy fat, and fat that comes from beef, red meat, and eggs. Saturated fats, in comparison to unsaturated fats (vegetable, canola, safflower, olive oil) have found to not be beneficial for health.

Remember that glorious Time Magazine cover that discredited scientists’ villainization of butter and you thought you could douse your buckets of popcorn with liquid gold once again? What that article failed to mention and convey to the public was that actually when saturated fats in your diet are replaced with refined carbohydrates cholesterol levels and risk for cardiovascular disease don’t change (and may actually worsen). BUT (and it’s a big but), when saturated fats are replaced with UNsaturated ones (especially polyunsaturated fats like olive oil) the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels have been shown to decrease, while actually boositng levels of the HDL, or “good” cholesterol. I hope you see where the true health benefits actually lie…

Intro to Coco

So, turning to coconut oil again. It comes from a plant, is “natural”, and while it does contain saturated fat, much of it is in the form of MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), which is a type of fat that is used more for energy rather than being stored by the body. If you’re a bulletproof coffee believer you are all too familiar with MCT oil. What the public may not realize is that only a very small percentage of the fat in coconut oil is MCTs (about 15%), and so the remaining fat profile is exactly those saturated fats that increase your LDL and risk for heart disease.

The bottom line

If you’re scratching your head still trying to decide if you should consume coconut oil, the bottom line is yes, sure, in moderation. The idea of villainizing one food and making it “off limits” is usually not a positive mentality when it comes to one’s diet. The bottom line is to use it sparingly in your cooking, say a tablespoon or two for the curried vegetable stew you’re making for an added coconut flavor boost. You will quickly reach the recommendation of 10% of daily calories from saturated fat if you tend to be heavy handed with your oils, so best to break out the measuring spoons if you do decide to indulge in coconut oil on occasion. As always, a diet is best balanced when you include plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, and unsaturated fats.

A cautionary tale

Aside from learning some valuable nutrition information to make informed choices in your daily diet, I hope this discussion has also shed some light on the persuasive power of alarming media headlines. In today’s age of nutrition confusion, print and online media, documentaries, and the like place important topics in terms of black and white, good and bad, when in reality food is not so simple and these guidelines may not be applicable for every person. To learn more about how certain foods and nutrients can have a place in your diet, I always recommend seeking advice from a registered dietitian who can help you form a nutrient-rich eating pattern that suits your nutrition needs, daily schedule, finances, and of course tastes!

I always encourage a healthy discussion of the latest food and nutrition news, but now on to the recipe!

Peach Oatmeal Bake- Serves 6 or many breakfasts for 1

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Sprinkle of sea salt
  • 1 cup almond, hemp, or soy milk (or cow’s if you’re cool with that)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
  • 3 peaches, washed and sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter or spray with canola oil a 9×7 inch baking dish.
  2. In a bowl, combine the oats, nuts, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk the milk, maple syrup, egg, and coconut oil.
  3. Slice the peaches and arrange in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Top with half of the oat mixture. Cover the oats with the remaining peaches and sprinkle the rest of the oats on top to form the top later. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the oats, gently shaking the baking dish to allow the mixture to move through the oats, coating everything completely.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top becomes golden and the oats thickened. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve.

Suggestions for serving include topping with plain or flavored Siggis yogurt, or a dollop of creme fraiche or ricotta. Enjoy!

 

 

Rainbow Collard Green Wrap

Of his own choosing my husband requested a recipe with collard greens and portobello mushrooms this week- seriously! If you knew Mr. CN five years ago your eyes would be popping out of your head right now. This is the guy whose vegetable intake was basically limited to guacamole and a tomato pasta sauce when I met him. Now, after years of gentle nudging and a few fancy dinners to expand his culinary horizons, my husband pages through Eating Well magazine in a manner similar to which I delve into newly published nutrition studies. Oh how my dietitian heart sings!

The point of this post is not the fact that we enjoyed delicious Collards and Portobello Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, but rather that I have collard greens for days and created a delicious and refreshing lunch for myself this week.

Collard green wraps are a great low-carb lunch option and a cool answer your cooking woes during this oppressive NYC heat. The best part is their versatility. I chose to prepare mine in more of a Mediterranean style (still reeling about my recent travels to Spain I suppose), but you could roll up a Mexican or Asian variety by changing the fillings (corn/black bean/bell peppers or tofu/kimchi/scallions, respectively) and perhaps serving it with a spicy or soy-based sauce.

Now, if you’re looking at that thick stem running through the leafy green thinking, “this is WAY too much crunch and will taste like I’m eating a twig”, trust me when I say it’s delicious! I was rolling my wrap with a little trepidation, but within my first few bites I was glad I didn’t break down the integrity of the collard by cutting it out- keep those leaves intact!

Collards are a Southern staple that are ripe with good nutrition- some of the standout nutrients are vitamins A & K, folate, and calcium. Plus, you get so much bang for your buck- my massive bunch, which will easily feed me/us for 3-4 meals, only cost $1.50. When you get big nutrition for a low cost it’s a win-win!

Rainbow Collard Green Wrap- serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 collard green leaf, washed and pat dry
  • 4 Tbsp hummus- I have found this Brooklyn-based company that I LOVE! Find it at Fairway.
  • 2 Honey and Ginger Love Beets, sliced
  • 3/4 bell pepper, sliced
  • sliced red onion
  • crumbled feta cheese

Directions

Layer

Roll- via a twitter video ’cause i’m new to this whole video thing :)

 

A Summertime Menu

Living in New York City means that opportunities for grilling and dining al fresco in the comfort of your own home are rare if not non-existent. So, when traveling home to the Northern Kentucky area over a gloriously sunny weekend in June, I took full advantage and enjoyed a meal that included all of the above, local produce, and great company of family.

I can’t take credit for the recipes that constructed this meal, but the combination of entree, side dish, and salad were perfection and I felt it was a summertime menu worth sharing. Sometimes the hardest part is picking out two or three recipes that go together for a meal, so I hope I’ve helped do some of the meal planning for you, allowing you to enjoy a warm summer night.

A Summertime Menu

Entree: Spice Salmon Kebabs from Bon Appetit. While we didn’t find the double skewer trick very helpful, these kebabs were packed with bright, yet spicy flavors. A grill is a non-negotiable for nailing the smoky salmon notes. Plus, the nutrition can’t be beat- lean, filling protein, and healthy, skin-glowing fats, dressed up with natural seasonings.

Side: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes from Smitten Kitchen. My mother was blessed with a bounty of tomatoes from a friend’s garden, so these bright red beauties needed to be shown off! I had made these tomatoes once before for myself thinking Mr. CN would not be into them, but I was happy that this simplistic side was now enjoyed by my him and even my tomato-averse father. This makes for a grain-centric side dish that is also very veggie-forward.

Salad: Mama Nutritious’ Special Salad from her own genius brain. My mom is always asked to bring her salads to family get togethers. They must be elevated and complex, right? No! She simply grabs  various greens (arugula, mesclun, and pea shoots shown here) and a mixture of toppings (cranberries, feta, and maracona almonds in this one), tossing it all together in a bowl with a dressing of EVOO, lemon juice, usually dijon, garlic, and s&p that she shakes up in a mason jar. Voila! Getting in your veggies is all about preparing them in ways that please your own taste buds- if you don’t enjoy the selections or flavors you’ll be hard pressed to include them in your daily diet.

What are your favorite summer meals?

Egg White Oats

If you can’t already tell from my Insta feed, let me make it known that I’m a pretty big fan of breakfast. To be a cliche, it really is the most important meal of the day for me and I just don’t feel right without it. It’s even become the meal I enjoy planning for most because it’s all for me- husband’s taste buds be damned! I can prepare an egg fritatta with swiss chard, a cauliflower (!) smoothie , avo toast, or any variety of oats I want, and enjoy it with my morning coffee before Mr. CN even gets out of bed.


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Recap of the Ladies First Half Marathon and My Post-Race Eats

While I had always hoped to run long distances likes my superstar mother and inspiring friends, I was never 100% confident that I could actually do it. I struggled with side stitches, knee pain, and, to be honest a little runners boredom, and I never got over the 5 mile hump. But this year, I made a pact with myself, grew some mental toughness, didn’t let up on training, and successfully raced my first half marathon!

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Caramelized Fennel Pasta

Do you have a back pocket pasta recipe? You know, one that’s easy to pull off for a weeknight dinner when your meal planning efforts fail, but pleases everyone in your house? With the arrival of spring and carbo-loading for the half marathon in full effect, I may have just discovered my new favorite back pocket pasta recipe featuring caramelized fennel, tender spinach, bright lemon zest, and creamy goat cheese.

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Energy Bars and Bites

One of the most common food woes I hear from patients, friends, and family is about finding healthy snacks. You’re likely looking for something quick and easy that will give you energy to avoid an afternoon slump. For many people, that’s some form of snack bar- it’s individually packaged, can be healthy-ish, and doesn’t totally break the bank. Now, there are quite a few bars out there that I do love, but so many of of them are full of processed sugars, contain gut-busting indigestible fibers, and often end up being more of a meal bar than a snack.

I love KIND bars. Healthy, transparent and RD approved!

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A Savory “Pie” for Pi Day

Today is March 14th, so math nerds, rejoice- it’s 3.14 or Pi Day! I’m celebrating today, not because I am a math nerd (I actually HATED math as kid), but because it’s also a snow day here in NYC and I’m spending the day in the kitchen whipping up some yummy recipes.

While I may not be very fond of math, I am very, very fond of pie. Of the sweet variety, I would have to say some of my favorites are strawberry rhubarb, peach, or blueberry, but I will certainly not turn down a chocolate mousse or peanut butter pie! However, seeing as it’s just me and my husband, and we don’t feel like scarffing down a whole sweet pie by ourselves (sadly, I don’t think it’s in the half marathon training meal plan either), I made a savory “pie” today in the form of a Swiss Chard and Leek Frittata.

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