Side orders: Bad foods end up good

Side orders: Bad foods end up good

September 19th, 2012 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

First we heard coffee is bad for us. Now we hear it may reduce our risk for skin cancer.

How many times has that happened -- a food considered unhealthy that eventually is praised for its benefits?

After hearing the news about coffee, I looked into some other foods that have been deemed harmful to our health.

Here's what local registered dietitian and nutrition therapist Pamela Kelle had to say.

• Coffee: Kelle quoted New York University professor and nutritionist Marion Nestle, who described coffee in her book "What To Eat" as so good that researchers try hard to find something wrong with it.

Nonetheless, "coffee has been claimed to increase cancer, infertility, fetal growth retardation, osteoporosis and ulcers, just to name a few," Kelle said. However, "coffee contains antioxidants that could be beneficial for moderate consumption," she added.

She suggests keeping your coffee intake to no more than three cups per day. And don't overload it with sugar and heavy cream.

• Alcohol: "Alcohol has a dark side and a long history in this country as being seen as a source of despair, lifelong struggles from liver disease. And there are more calories in alcohol than either carbohydrates or protein; thus, fat builds up in your liver," Kelle said. Think: beer belly.

On the other hand, wine contains antioxidant properties that have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease and certain cancers. "There also are some studies that report moderate alcohol users have an overall decreased risk for high blood pressure," Kelle said.

Women need no more than 5 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of other alcohols per day. Men should have no more than two drinks containing the same amount per day, she noted.

• Salt: Salt has been used for centuries as a flavor enhancer and food preservative, but its consumption can be tricky, Kelle said. Our bodies require salt, but with salt found in so many prepared foods we consume, it's easy to get too much.

"Overwhelmingly, the scientific community agrees excessive salt raises the risk of heart disease and stroke in some people some of the time," Kelle said. "But salt has a mineral that is crucial to fluid balance and does add flavor to food we might not otherwise consume."

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 miligrams a day, or 1,500 miligrams if you're age 51 or older. One teaspoon of salt has 2,325 miligrams of sodium.

• Eggs: "Nothing has switched from the good list to the bad list as often as eggs," Kelle said. "In the past, eggs were directly associated with cholesterol and heart disease. They also are a common source of salmonella, a food-borne illness. And they contain more cholesterol than any other food, and they can raise cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease."

But now researchers say that it is the total amount of cholesterol consumed, including saturated fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils and your diet in general. So the egg was reduced from main culprit to a possible cause of cholesterol.

"But an egg is perfect protein," Kelle said. "It is reasonably inexpensive and easily prepared by even the most novice cook."

The American Heart Association does not have exact criteria on the number of eggs one should consume, but recommends one's intake of cholesterol be 300 miligrams or less, she said. One egg contains 185 miligrams of cholesterol.

• Chocolate: Once thought of as a "lazy decadent food consumed by stay-at-home moms or late-night party bingers," chocolate was judged more on its calorie content than its nutritional qualities, and there are many.

Dark chocolate in particular has flavanols associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. In addition, oleic acid makes up one-third the fat in chocolate, and that's good for the heart. Interestingly, chocolate's benefits are at their strongest when consumed on an empty stomach and savored slowly. Dark chocolate paired with a glass of red wine may have synergistic advantages that result in more healthful benefits than when either is consumed alone. Watch your calories when consuming chocolate, though. No matter how good it is for you, you will gain weight if you eat too much.

So go ahead and enjoy these foods. Just remember: "Moderation is the dance between not enough and too much," Kelle said. "It requires mindful attention to both food choice and amount."

When was the last time you had leftover chicken and wished for something different to do with it? This is a simple recipe that's packed with flavor and makes a complete meal.

If you're in a hurry, use a rotisserie chicken that you can pick up at the store on your way home. I love just having to open a few cans, toss in some leftover chicken along with spices that are already in my spice cabinet and call it dinner.

I found the recipe at southernfood.about.com. It says the cheese topping is optional, but in my opinion, it's a must. It really added to the overall flavor. Leftovers were even better.

Sante Fe Chicken

2 cups cooked rice

11/2 cups diced cooked chicken

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained, rinsed

1 can (11 to 15 ounces) Mexican-style corn, drained

1 can (141/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, slightly drained

1 teaspoon dried cilantro or parsley or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, optional

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground red or chipotle pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 to 1 cup cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, optional

In a large bowl, combine rice, chicken, beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, chili powder and hot pepper. Stir to blend.

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat; stir in flour until well blended and bubbly. Gradually stir in milk, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Stir into the rice and chicken mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as needed.

Pour into a 2-quart casserole sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly. If desired, sprinkle with the cheese 5 to 8 minutes before done. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions and tomatoes, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.