The Oldways Table Blog

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nutritious food.

September 3, 2015 | Oldways Table

Make the Most of Garden-Fresh Eggplant!

We are in the midst of eggplant season (July through October), so you may have noticed a variety of them at the grocery store and at your local farmers’ market. Colors range from stark white Caspers to deep purple Black Beauties, with lavender and stripes in between. Some are oval, and others, such as Asian eggplants, are long and skinny.

Most of these varieties can be used in similar ways in the kitchen. However, there is some controversy surrounding their preparation. If you’ve ever made an eggplant dish, it’s likely at least one of these questions has crossed your mind: Should I peel it? Which variety should I use and when? Do I need to salt it? How do I avoid that bitter taste?

Oversized eggplants with thick skins generally should be peeled, but you can leave the skin on young, small ones, such as Asian, Casper, and Rosa Bianca varieties. The skin holds the flesh together when you’re grilling or baking eggplant and can always be removed later. Peeling really depends on whether you mind the texture of peel in your food.

Salting eggplant extracts water from the flesh and makes it less absorbent. This is critical for anyone who has ever sautéed eggplant in oil and watched it soak it all up in seconds. Salting may also reduce bitterness. There’s less of a need to salt eggplant fresh from the garden or from the farmers’ market, but we recommend salting the big ones from the grocery store because they’ve been kept in cold storage for a while, losing their natural sweet flavor as they age.

Eggplant is the traditional star of many Mediterranean dishes (Greek moussaka, French ratatouille, Italian eggplant parmigiana, Middle Eastern baba ghanoush or mutabal), and is an excellent substitute for meat in vegetarian dishes because of its sweet, earthy flavor and substantial texture. Before we get to our 12 ways to prepare them, here are a few fun facts about eggplant:

  • Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, peppers, chiles, and potatoes. Because some other nightshades (the family also includes morning glory seeds and tobacco) can cause joint pain, hallucinations, and nausea, many people were wary of these now-familiar foods when they first appeared from foreign lands. 
  • In British English, eggplants are called aubergines, from the French aubergine and Catalan albergínia. The name eggplant comes from early varieties that were small, white, and egg-shaped.
  • Eggplant is a tropical plant that originated in India. The first written record of it is found in an ancient Chinese agricultural treaty completed in 544 A.D.
  • Pea eggplants (they look the way they sound) are used whole in African and Asian cooking. They are especially popular in Thai curries.
  • Victorians admired the eggplant’s distinctive shape and vibrant color so much that they used it as an ornamental plant. They also used it for this purpose because they thought it was a poisonous nightshade.

So grab yourself a basketful of eggplant and try our easy and delicious 12 Great Ways to Use Eggplant.

~ Lara Bertoia, Mediterranean Foods Alliance


August 31, 2015 | Oldways Table

Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have encouraged all of us to "make at least half our grains whole." But are we listening? According to new data from the Oldways Whole Grains Council's 2015 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Survey, the answer is a resounding yes: nearly two-thirds of Americans say they're making half or more of their grains whole.

With the help of SSI (Survey Sampling International), we reached out to 1,510 U.S. adults from July 27 to August 3, 2015. Our goal was to answer some of the key questions journalists ask us day in and day out: "How has whole grain consumption changed since 2010?"… "What percentage of people have stopped eating gluten?"… "How do consumers actually use the Whole Grain Stamp?"… and more. The responses – highlighted below – were fascinating.

Whole Grain Consumption is Up

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) have increased whole grain consumption "some" or "a lot" in the last five years. Useful to know, since the most recent official USDA data are from 2010.
  • Almost one-third of respondents (31%) say they nearly always choose whole grains. Five years ago, only 4% would have said this.
  • Another third (32%) choose whole grains about half the time. Combined with the "nearly always" group, this makes 63% making half or more of their grains whole, in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • We eat about 37% of our whole grains at breakfast, 27% at dinner, 22% at lunch, and just 14% as snacks. One possible reason? It's often harder to find whole grains outside of the home, where most lunches and snacks are generally eaten.

Why We Choose Whole Grains ...

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) of those who consume whole grains do so for the health benefits. It's not surprising that most people realize whole grains are healthier.
  • Four in 10 (40%) choose whole grains because they enjoy the taste. Used to be, way back, that taste was at best a neutral factor. Now it's becoming a real motivator!

And Why We Don't

  • Cost was named as the leading barrier to eating more whole grains (39%). Unfortunately, many whole grains – especially breads – cost more than refined grains.
  • Some folks aren't yet accustomed to the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grains (37%). But we're glad to see those who prefer the taste of whole grains (40%) are beginning to pull ahead!
  • Availability can also be a barrier (28%), especially since many restaurants don't offer whole grain choices.

Gluten Confusion Continues

  • Few fully understand gluten. While more than 1 in 3 correctly identify gluten as a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and 1 in 5 know it makes dough rise, only 4% correctly selected both (and no other options). Although 96% didn't know the complete answer, only 25% picked "Don't know." Other wrong answers chosen? "It's a dangerous carbohydrate." (8%)... "It's an unnatural substance found in genetically modified (GMO) grains." (11%)... and "It's a substance that makes you gain weight." (11%)
  • 21% incorrectly think gluten is in all grains. In fact, gluten free doesn't mean grain free – even those following a gluten-free diet can enjoy grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, and wild rice.
  • 93% eat gluten some or all of the time. Of the 7% who completely avoid gluten, only 1 in 5 has a medically-diagnosed problem with gluten. The bottom line: only 1.5% have a medical reason to avoid gluten completely -- a number very much in line with experts' estimates of celiac disease in the general population.

We Know What We Like -- and Like What We Know

  • Old favorites -- whole wheat, oats, and brown rice -- are most popular with Americans. 9 out of 10 have heard of these three whole grains, and most have eaten them.
  • Despite all the attention paid to "exotic" grains, fewer than 1 in 5 has heard of (let alone tasted!) spelt, farro, amaranth, Kamut®, or teff. We always remind folks that, just as eating a variety of vegetables is healthier, eating a variety of grains is good too -- since each one has its own health benefits!
  • When asked to name their one favorite whole grain food, the top choice was whole wheat bread (31%), followed by oatmeal (27%) and then a tie between popcorn and whole grain cold cereal (15% each). Whole grain pasta was the favorite of 8%.
  • In fact, whole grain bread and whole grain cereal (hot and cold) are the two foods most likely to be eaten in whole grain form by Americans.

The Whole Grain Stamp is Known and Trusted

  • 49% of people are aware of the Whole Grain Stamp.
  • Eight out of ten (82%) trust the Whole Grain Stamp to accurately state a products' whole grain content.
  • 79% say the Whole Grain Stamp would make them more likely to buy a product; about half of these would also consider sugar, sodium, and other product factors.
  • About half (51%) say they would question a product's claims about whole grains if they did not see the Whole Grain Stamp.
What are your favorite whole grains and whole grain foods? How often do you choose whole grains? We'd love to hear how you would have responded to this survey! -- Cynthia
August 27, 2015 | Oldways Table

Researchers at Food for Health Ireland are the latest group seeking to debunk the myth that cheese is bad for your health. Along with other researchers in Europe, they are poking into the outdated science that claims all saturated and trans fatty acids in cheese lead to coronary diseases. In fact, researchers working at the University College Dublin are seeking interested participants to join a study on the impact of cheese in healthy diets.

A body of science-based research is starting to present a more nuanced understanding of different foods, including cheese. In a 2008 study conducted by Dr. Barbara Walther and others at Agroscope, the Swiss Federal agriculture, food, and environmental research organization published its findings on the nutritional and health aspects of including cheese in moderate amounts in our diets.

When it comes to the question of trans fats, the study explains, “Trans fatty acids, especially those of industrial origin, have been accused of enhancing the risk of coronary heart disease. Studies that investigate a possible similar effect of ruminant [naturally-occurring] trans fatty acids did not support this hypothesis: in contrast, a neutral and even slightly negative correlation was observed both in men and women.” In plain English: the small amounts of natural trans-fats in dairy seem to have very different effects on health than man-made industrial trans-fats.

Furthermore, when addressing the issue of saturated fats, the researchers found that not all saturated fatty acids are created equal and “individual saturated fatty acids influence blood cholesterol level differently. In addition, some play an important role in cell regulation by protein modification (acetylation), in gene expression as well as in the modulation of genetic regulation…” 

What this tells us is that cheese remains a good, healthy food. The same research from Switzerland points out that, “The high concentration of essential amino acids in cheese contributes to growth and development of the human body.” Plus, cheese is rich in calcium and proteins that give us healthy bones and energy.

This is why, here at Oldways, we include cheese as part of our traditional Mediterranean Diet and enjoy talking about all its benefits. As always, moderation is important. Small portions and variety will ensure that you take advantage of all the benefits associated with artisan cheese.

If you want to find out more about the health benefits of cheese, or other academic research on the topic, make sure to visit the Oldways Cheese Coalition website and join as a member to get news and information.

~ Carlos Yescas, Oldways Cheese Coalition

August 25, 2015 | Oldways Table

As summer comes to a close and we begin to think about the fall, sweet potatoes are on my mind. Well, actually, they’re always on my mind (and on my plate) because they are one of my favorite foods. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Pureed, mashed, roasted or baked, there are as many ways to enjoy their nutritious goodness and sweet, deep flavor as there are months in a year.  It’s no wonder that sweet potatoes have been part of American culture, and a part of cuisines around the world, for centuries.
  • Did you know there are hundreds of types of sweet potatoes, ranging from mild white to deep super-sweet red? Not only is there a nuanced difference in taste, there is variety in texture, too. So if you are looking for a potato that is creamy and fluffy, a white tater is best; for a dense, caramelized flavor, try deep orange or red.
  • In addition to great flavor and texture, sweet potatoes deliver on nutrition, too, providing vitamins A and C, fiber and antioxidants, while being low in calories. For those who are diagnosed with diabetes, sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index and may play a role in lowering blood sugar.

Is that a Yam or a Sweet Potato?

Choosing a proper sweet potato is fairly easy (look for potatoes that are firm to the touch and show no indication of decay). But what about those signs in the grocery stores calling them yams? Although a bit confusing, what we generally see in the grocery store are sweet potatoes that have been labeled as yams. This fun and informative quiz explains why.

Whether you are a sweet potato aficionado or a spud novice you are sure to find something new in our Sweet Potatoes Toolkit sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. You will find tips on prepping and cooking along with lots of recipes and ideas for every month of the year!

~ Deborah Plunkett, Program Manager,
   Oldways Nutrition Exchange


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