Chat Leftovers: Heart-Healthy Lunch, Veggie Supper Sides

Food Help - out of ideas: I'm on a restricted diet because of high cholesterol and high blood pressure (I'm only 28). I'm at a loss of what to do for lunches during the day. Breakfast and dinners are fine and I don't want to bring leftovers. I've done wraps with chicken, lettuce, tomato and mustard but those get boring. What are some good heart-healthy lunches - it can't include mayo, or cold cuts, or cream based soups. Suggestions?

Based on the wording of your question, I’m assuming you want easily assembled items rather than cooking from scratch. This is why you may feel bored, so I urge you to think about a wee bit of cookin’ at home to expand your lunch-able options.

From the supermarket shelves, stock up on canned fish that you can season with Dijon mustard, red onions and celery, as a salad or tucked inside your favorite bread. Roasted peppers add flavor, as do olives, capers and those little fishies called anchovies. Due to mercury contamination in tuna, it’s best to limit canned consumption to once a week. ( 2004 FDA and EPA Advice About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish). According to Tim Fitzgerald, marine scientist at Environmental Defense, canned light tuna is a safer option than albacore, which is higher in mercury. There are no mercury warnings for canned salmon.

Instead of cheese, add a handful of toasted, unsalted walnuts to your sandwiches or salads. Walnuts are a good plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids, the heart-healthy fats that your doc has probably been telling you about. Here’s something to chomp on: The American Heart Association recommends 1-2 grams of Omega-3s a day; you can get your fill by eating 1/4 cup of walnuts, which contains 2.3 grams.

Get to know the avocado and cut it up in the office kitchen to avoid the browning that occurs when done in advance. Contrary to myth, the avocado is rich in fat, but of the monosaturated variety. Use that as part of your sandwich with a slice of tomato, Romaine lettuce and some hot sauce.

When was the last time you had an apple? It’s loaded with pectin, a soluble fiber that curtails the production of LDL (low-density lipids) cholesterol; the apple’s insoluble fiber also works like a broom, pushing cholesterol out of the body, much like bran or oats. (Backgrounder on apple nutrition).

Apples are great as part of a sandwich or as dessert, my dear. Keep a jar of peanut butter in your desk and you’ve got a high-protein combo on the fly!

Rockville, Md
.: My husband and I have been married for almost four years. After nailing down main dishes that we both enjoy, we'd like to add side dishes, especially ones with vegetables. Do you have any recommendations for books that are veggie-heavy for sides?

Rockville, check out “The Essential Best Foods Cookbook” by Dana Jacobi, who is scrupulous about testing her recipes. There are 23 veg-centric recipes in her “Vegetable and Side Dishes” chapter. I’d also consider “Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables” by John Peterson, a collection of veggie recipes organized by season. Diane Rossen Worthington’s “Simple Suppers” has a substantial side dish chapter, and then there’s Jack Bishop, who’s written several vegetable-focused titles. Oh, and don’t forget Martha Rose Shulman, who’s got a terrific “Mediterranean Light” (one of my first cookbooks) and a slew of other health-minded titles.

The last word: From reader Ted Ying, of Laurel, Md., in response to last week's vegetarian chat about feeding a toddler that is uninterested in meat:

For the kid who won't eat meat, there are lots of options to get protein to him. There are nuts, eggs, tofu and beans (to name just a few). Growing up in a Chinese household, we tried a lot of these types of things:

Take firm tofu, cut into long blocks, roll in cornstarch and pan fry in a small amount of oil. They make "tofu sticks" like mozzarella sticks that are great with many sauces (we used Hoisin sauce, but it can go with anything the kid likes). We used canola oil, but I've found that it works fine with any oil including olive oil.

Take two eggs, add seasoning to taste (Chinese use soy sauce and sometimes a dash of sesame oil) then scramble. Add an equivalent volume of broth (we use chicken broth, but vegetable broth will also work) or a touch more broth than eggs. Scramble again. Put the bowl in a steamer for at least 10 minutes. If you don't have a steamer, put a small cooling rack into a dutch oven with water just up to the top of the rack. Put the bowl on top. Steam until the egg is cooked through (you can move the top layer of egg with a spoon to see if it is cooked through. It should have the consistency of silken tofu or jello. Serve with rice or just eat with a spoon. I loved it as a kid and still sometimes make it as "comfort food" when I have a little leftover rice. If you’re worried about cholesterol, it works with just egg whites like "Egg Beaters" (I've tried it).

This week's What's Cooking transcript, in entirety.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 1, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Wellness
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I must take exception to your suggestion that “it’s best to limit canned [tuna] consumption to once a week.” The very link you provide your readers to the FDA/EPA seafood advisory states clearly that limits on seafood consumption are only for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and small children-- a very specific subpopulation. What’s more, even for that population when it comes to light tuna the advisory states that they can eat two servings per week. As far as albacore goes the advisory says pregnant women and others in that group can eat it once a week. However, your suggestion that readers use an environmental lobbying organization for nutrition advice leaves them exposed to rhetoric rather than nutrition-based science. In fact the link you provided takes them to a page that is rife with misinformation. It begins by extolling the virtues of a New York Times article that has been discredited by that paper’s own Public Editor. It even suggests that parents might be concerned about canned tuna after reading the Times report but the Times report was not about canned tuna at all but Bluefin tuna, a sushi tuna that is not canned. For independent science-based information on both health and sustainability issues related to seafood I suggest people look up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch Web site.
Gavin Gibbons
National Fisheries Institute

Posted by: Gavin | October 2, 2008 2:10 PM

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