MSG: Hero or Villain?

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Once upon a time, a fair maiden Glutamate and a strapping lad Sodium got together and had a child: Monosodium glutamate, who later became known as Ms. G for short. Ms. G was born in 1908 and had an awesome childhood. She had a magical power that caused taste buds to experience the taste “umami.” Everybody in the United Plates of Food loved her and wanted her in all their dishes. She became quite popular. Not to mention, Ms. G had 1/3 the amount of sodium of her half brother NaCl, or Sir Tablesalt. Everyone in UPF understood the destructive hypertension Sir Tablesalt brought to the land so Ms. G was considered a hero to all who enjoyed the umami flavor and lower sodium alternative.

But as time passed, people started blaming her for symptoms they were having after eating a number of Asian dishes she starred in.  These symptoms included headaches, nausea, flushing, sweating, heart palpitations, and chest pain.  People called it “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”  To make matters worse, people pointed at her for the cause of migraine headaches, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and intolerances.  Soon, she became known as a villain.


Before we delve into the fate of Ms. G I think it’s best to take a brief story time intermission.  So no one confuses fairy tale and fact, I’m going to switch gears here and give it to you straight.  Since many thought MSG was the culprit of the afore mentioned health concerns, scientists carried out research involving MSG and its effects in both animals and humans.  Research has been going on for decades and still, scientists cannot find conclusive data stating MSG is harmful.  In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even classifies MSG as a food additive that is “generally recognized as safe.”  Sure, a few studies have proven MSG to be harmful.  BUT, these were done in mice given extreme amounts of the additive compared to their weight.

Still, scientists agree that some people may be sensitive to the effects of MSG. For this reason, the FDA requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate. Of course, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed yeast, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolates, and also in tomatoes and cheeses. Even foods with these naturally occurring MSGs cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their label. Moreover, it cannot be listed as “spices and flavoring.”

This is where people get heated. Many food companies don’t necessarily follow these requirements and try to cover up MSG in whatever way they can. It is up to the consumer to recognize MSG’s other common names (these among others) if he really wants to know for sure.

So, does everyone live happily ever after? Keep reading to find out!


To this day, scientific evidence shows Ms. G is safe, yet some may need to restrict her in the food they eat to avoid adverse reactions. Thankfully, this is such a small number of individuals and studies of Ms. G and her link to health concerns are inconclusive.

Hero? Villain? Neither? Maybe one day the United Plates of Food will unveil her true identity.


Spring Pasta

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Spring Pasta

Spring has sprung!! Technically it sprung March 20th, but I believe at that time we were experiencing the last vestiges of a polar vortex. It’s time to forget those cold, dark days because grey has been replaced with green, there are flowers to behold, and my face is beginning to lose its “ruddy” look. With the warmer days and thawed ground comes one of my favorite things about spring: asparagus.

asparagus, a spring favorite

Seasonal eating is tricky when supermarkets carry most types of produce year-round, regardless of growing season. My grocery cart, regardless of the season, typically has broccoli, spinach, grapes, and apples to name a few. But there are those special fruits and vegetables that, for both taste and price, I only buy when in season. Asparagus is definitely on this short list. Not only do I refuse to pay upwards of $5.99 a pound for asparagus, but have you tasted it when it’s not in season? I find it woody and lacking in flavor. It’s absolutely wonderful, though, in the spring.

spring pasta ingredients

Asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup has a mere 40 calories but 4 g of fiber, which is 14% of your daily needs. That’s a lot of fiber for a small amount of energy! It’s loaded with folate and vitamin K, at 67% and 100% of your daily needs, respectively. Folate is especially important for any ladies out there of reproductive age as a deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in embryos. It’s a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins. This veggie can really help you spring into a healthy lifestyle (see what I did there?!). A random fun fact I learned is that the white spears you occasionally see at the store or farmers market are the same variety as the green but lack chlorophyll. The shoots are covered with soil while growing to prevent photosynthesis, resulting in the white color. This version has a tad less fiber and tastes a bit sweeter.


Asparagus can be eaten any number of ways and makes an excellent side dish. In this recipe, however, I wanted to incorporate it into a simple vegetarian main dish that can be prepared on the busiest of weeknights. What’s great about this recipe is its simplicity. You can buy the artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes far in advance without risk of them spoiling like fresh vegetables. Most of us have some form of pasta hiding in the cupboards, and I don’t know about you, but my cheese drawer is usually well-stocked. A simple sauté of the asparagus with a squirt of lemon juice is really all it takes to get this dish on the table, ready for a delicious meal showcasing a spring-time classic.

Spring Pasta


Ingredients (4 servings)

  • 1 16 oz bag whole wheat pasta (here I used penne, but use any noodle you like)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 6.5 oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 7 oz jar sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • Fresh lemon juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add asparagus and red onion and sauté until asparagus turns bright green, ~2-3 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Cook for 1 minute, then add the artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, and garlic. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until everything is heated through.

Combine the pasta and asparagus mixture. Add grated parmesan, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.

Nutrition Facts

  • 576 calories
  • 26 g protein
  • 101 g carbohydrate
  • 17 g fiber
  • 12 g fat
  • 521 mg sodium
Hugo loves Spring
Hugo loves Spring

Drink this, not that: Craft Beer

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The world of beer has changed. The growing aisles of microbrews at Jewel. The taps full of craft beers at the local dive. The awkward point at a party when you have to decide if flip-cup can be played with Two-Brothers Prairie Path. I’m not complaining. I love the variety present in Chicago’s beer scene and enjoy taking the time to try new brews. However, learning isn’t easy and people with mustaches are intimidating.


Beer snobbery aside, the variation in taste, calories and nutrients in these microbrews are quite extreme. And you can’t judge calories by things like ‘heavy’ or ‘dark’ or other words that typically indicate ‘too much’. For instance Guinness, often described as a meal in a bottle, clocks in at only 120 calories. So, with this post, I’ll offer a quick guide to the nutritional value of beer and some of my favorite picks. In the words of a beer company that won’t get mentioned in this post, Here We Go!


: a light and simple style of pale lager, these brews are relatively new in the beer world and are most commonly found under labels like Miller and Coors.  However, many breweries are experimenting with fun and interesting styles of pilsners that feature floral and fruity flavors.  They rarely offer nutritional value beyond their alcohol content, but are a great choice if you’re drinking multiple beers in a night.

My favorite: Firestone Pivo Pilsner, 5.3% ABV, 159 calories



Wheat Ales: a mixture of barley and wheat grains that uses yeast to develop flavor.  They have a light and cloudy appearance and can be quite delicious. However, the carbohydrate content of these beers is high, causing a disproportional alcohol to calorie ratio.  Don’t drink too many!

My favorite:  Not really worth it, but: Allagash White, 5% ABV, 175 calories


domainPale Ales:
gently roasted barley and pale malt combine to make the earthy flavors found in these ales.  With phenol and anti-oxidant levels similar to a glass of red wine, these beers can offer health benefits beyond their calories. A good choice for regular drinking.

My favorite: Two Brothers Domaine Dupage, 5.9% ABV, 187 calories


these brews have added hops that are balanced with malt to level the flavor. They are typically very strong, have high alcohol content, and can be quite caloric.  Similar to pale ales, their nutrition content can be high, but should be drank in moderation.

My favorite: Double Dog Double Pale Ale, 11.5% ABV, 292 calories


dragStouts: very little hops, slow roasted barley, these brews are quite interesting nutritionally.  In many varieties, the thick creamy texture is derived from specific yeast and occasionally added nitrogen.  They often have coffee, liquorice, or chocolate flavors and high alcohol content. However, their calorie value ranges.

My favorite: New Holland Dragon’s Milk, 10% ABV, 325 calories


If you’re simply counting calories, you can use this nifty formula based on the alcohol content.

APV x 3 x oz = calories per bottle

So a 12oz bottle with 4% alcohol content would look like this:

4 x 3 x 12= 144 calories

It wont be 100% accurate, but it’s a good general guide



Orange is The New Black: The Savory Version

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jalapeno corn cakes with black bean and orange salsa

I had to delete everything I wrote for this post and start over. Curious? I had been feeling a little meh about writing it and only had 2 short, sad paragraphs. For inspiration (and to see some gross teeth) I decided to google-image “scurvy,” a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, when I came across a gem. Something so awesome I had to revamp everything. There is a website,, dedicated to eradicating scurvy. On top of that, May 2 has been designated International Scurvy Awareness Day. That’s THIS FRIDAY!! On top of that, there are funny pictures of cats wearing oranges and limes on their heads. Maybe it’s the dietitian in me, but this really tickled my funny bone.

jalapeno corn cakes with black bean and orange salsa

Scurvy used to be seen in sailors on long voyages that lacked access to fresh fruits and vegetables. While it’s a rare disease in the 21st century, there are still reported cases. Groups at higher risk include smokers, alcoholics, infants that are fed cow’s milk, and those without access to fresh fruits and vegetables. A classic symptom is bleeding gums and loose teeth, as well as wounds that won’t heal. The reason is that vitamin C plays an important role in collagen synthesis, a protein that helps hold the body together. Without vitamin C helping form collagen, body tissues start to break down. Don’t want your teeth to fall out? Eat some fruits and veggies every day!

black bean and orange salsa

I know, scurvy is generally a disease of yore, but I had to talk about it since there’s a day dedicated to it. Besides wound healing and keeping your teeth attached, vitamin C does some other cool things. Most of you probably know it’s an antioxidant, which means it helps neutralize free radicals that can cause damage over time and are associated with aging and various diseases. With regard to cancer prevention, a diet rich in fruits/vegetables is recommended, however vitamin C supplementation alone has not shown definitive proof that it reduces cancer incidence. The common cold has a similar story. Research has not shown that vitamin C reduces your risk of catching a cold.

corn cakes

Enough of the science lesson, let’s talk food. Sure, oranges are great for breakfast alongside a hardboiled egg and toast, or, for you fancy folks out there, these delicious crepes, but how can we incorporate them into something savory? It’s easy to get into a food rut, where you find yourself eating the same things in the same ways, and I hope this recipe can help shake up your routine and broaden your dinner horizons. This is a great weeknight meal and easy to whip up. These corn cakes work for anyone out there who is gluten-free, or, if you’re like me, want to try something new. I topped them with this black bean and orange salsa, but you could also add the salsa to some fish or chicken, or just eat it out of the bowl like my mom did.

Now run to the grocery store, pick up these ingredients, and make this recipe Friday to celebrate International Scurvy Awareness Day!!

jalapeno corn cakes with black bean and orange salsa
jalapeno corn cakes with black bean and orange salsa


  • Jalapeno Corn Cakes (makes 4 large or 6 medium cakes)
    • 2 Tbsp canola oil
    • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup corn meal
    • 5 Tbsp non-fat milk
    • 2 Tbsp honey
    • ½ jalapeno, diced
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Black Bean and Orange Salsa
    • 2 Tbsp olive oil
    • 2 garlic cloves, diced
    • Juice from 1 lime
    • ½ tsp cumin
    • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 14 oz can black beans, rinsed
    • 1 large orange, peeled, chopped
    • 1 red bell pepper, diced
    • 2 green onion, chopped
    • ½ jalapeno, diced
    • 1 avocado, cut into chunks
    • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped


Corn Cakes:  Mix the corn, eggs, corn meal, milk, honey, jalapeno, salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet. Add batter, you should be able to fit 2-3 cakes depending on the size. Cook 2-4 minutes or until set. Flip and cook other side.

Black Bean and Orange Salsa:  Mix first 6 ingredients (dressing) in small dish. Taste and adjust seasonings and/or lime juice based on your preferences. Combine beans, orange, bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Toss bean and vegetable mixture with dressing. Top corn cakes with the salsa.

Nutrition Facts

Corn Cakes (based on yield of 4)

  • 308 calories
  • 8 g protein
  • 49 g carbohydrate
  • 4 g fiber
  • 11 g fat
  • 90 mg sodium

Salsa (divided into 4 servings)

  • 279 calories
  • 10 g protein
  • 35 g carbohydrate
  • 10 g fiber
  • 12 g fat
  • 318 mg sodium
Yes, I put an orange peel helmet on Hugo. So?

*Notice my vastly improved photos? It’s all thanks to my dad. I have terrible lighting in my apartment and no fancy camera equipment, so when I was home around Easter I enlisted my photographer father to help me. Using his tripod and lights really helped! Now I have to devise a way to “borrow” them long-term…



Eggsalad Easter

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The hunt is over. You pat yourself on the back because you just found 25 spectacularly colored hard-boiled eggs! What a champ! So you neatly display them like a trophy in your fridge so that every time you open the door you see beautiful colors splattered across an eggshell canvas. Who would want to eat such beautiful works of art? But finally, if you’re like me, a couple days pass and you begin to get hungry and brainstorm ways to use all these eggs. My search led to a few tasty and creative ideas; but first, let’s spend a little time talking about the nutrition that makes these eggs so golden.

Eggs are kind of a big deal. They are cheap, delicious, and packed with essential vitamins and minerals. This goodness is found in both the yolk and the whites, so eat it all up, people! Research shows that eating whole eggs actually increases HDL cholesterol (the good guy who prevents cardiovascular disease) and a growing number of studies show that dietary cholesterol does not impact blood level of cholesterol.

The yolk contains one of the richest dietary sources of choline, which helps with inflammation and neurological function. Lutein and zeaxanthin fight for your vision while sulfur aids in Vitamin B absorption, liver function, and the growth of hair, nails, and skin. Let’s not leave the whites out, though. The whites are a great protein source and top-notch quality as the essential amino acids are easy to digest.

And there you have it: nutrition in an eggshell!

Enough with the nutrition lesson, let’s get cookin’! Here are some eggcellent ways to use up hard-boiled eggs:

  1. Scotch Eggs
  1. On top of Wedge Salad
  1. Garam Masala Deviled Eggs
  1. In a Breakfast Burrito
  1. Smoked Salmon and Egg Canapes
  1. Campanelle Salad
  1. English Muffin Egg Pizzas
  1. Pan Bagnat
  2. Salad Niçoise Lettuce Cups
  3. Eggs Mimosa


Food safety tip: hard-boiled eggs kept in the fridge should be eaten within one week and keep the shell on until you are ready to use them.


Orange is the New Black: The Sweet Version

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Fun with citrus!

This week I’m shining the spotlight on oranges. Who doesn’t love a good orange? Sweet, juicy, and really fun to peel, oranges are one of the most consumed fruits in the US. Their biggest nutritional claim to fame is the vitamin C content. One medium orange has about 70 mg of vitamin C, and the recommended intake for men and women is 90 and 75 mg, respectively. Don’t want to remember numbers? Yea, me either. Just remember that eating an orange plus almost any other fruit/vegetable will provide you most of the vitamin C you need in a day.


What about juice or those vitamin C lozenges you might buy when you start to feel sick? When it comes to juice, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The issue, however, is that most juices have added sugar, and even those that don’t are lacking fiber that’s found in the whole fruit. This means you’re drinking calories but not feeling full because your body doesn’t have to take any time to break down food. As for vitamin C lozenges or powders, I still say eat the fruit instead. Your body can only absorb so much of the vitamin, so whatever your body doesn’t need is excreted in your urine. The whole fruit will always be your best choice because it has all kinds of goodness within its peel.


I love oranges because they’re so low-maintenance. Just throw it in your bag on your way to work or school and you’ve got a snack ready to go. Oranges helped me through many lectures during grad school. I really enjoy peeling all the white stuff (pith) off the fruit, so when I started to feel sleepy in class, I’d pull out an orange and start peeling.


Although the orange can stand alone, that doesn’t make for an interesting recipe post:

Ingredients: orange

Directions: Peel. Eat

I turned this low-maintenance fruit into an arguably high-maintenance meal. Crepes may seem like something reserved for Sunday brunch at a restaurant, but I assure you that it’s possible in your own kitchen. The most time-consuming part of this recipe was cutting the pith from the peel since we will be eating the peels! How fun is that?! I used some wonderful in-season Cara Cara oranges, and while researching I came across this cool chart from Sunkist that shows the growing season for various citrus fruits. The crepe recipe comes from Whole Foods and the orange compote was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I reduced the simply syrup because I felt it was too sweet and used a honey tangerine instead of a grapefruit, although any citrus would work.


Whole Wheat Crepes with Vanilla-Infused Citrus Compote
Whole Wheat Crepes with Vanilla-Infused Citrus Compote


  • Crepes (makes 6 crepes)
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 egg whites
    • 2/3 cup non-fat milk
    • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
    • Pinch of salt
    • 1 tsp canola oil or unsalted butter (for cooking the crepes)
  • Vanilla-Infused Citrus Compote (makes ~2 cups, enough for 4 crepes)
    • 1 orange
    • 1 honey tangerine (or any in-season citrus fruit you like)
    • 2 Tbsp water
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
    • Pinch of salt


Crepes:   Combine and mix the eggs, egg whites, milk, and butter. Add the flour and salt, mixing until the batter is smooth. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer, but a hand-mixer would also work. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 1 hour.

If you have a crepe pan, awesome! I’ll venture to say many of us (including                                                               myself) do not, so a flat skillet will DSC_6388also work. Heat your pan over medium-high and add a teaspoon of oil or butter to coat the pan. When ready, pour ¼ cup of the batter into your pan and swirl it around to form a thin circle. Cook until you see the edges start to brown and the top has set, then flip and cook until golden brown. Crepes cook very quickly, so keep your eyes on it. I stacked my crepes on a plate and put a piece of parchment paper in between each one. You can store any leftover crepes for 1-2 days in the refrigerator.

Compote:  Begin by removing the peel from your fruits. I use a technique where you “supreme” the orange:  cut the peel and pith, then remove the segments from the membrane. Confused? Here’s a Youtube video to demonstrate. Place the fruit segments in a bowl and squeeze the juice from the membrane into the bowl. Next remove the pith from the peel and cut the peel into thin slices.

Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Add the peel slices and cook for 1 minute then drain. Heat the 2 Tbsp water, 2 Tbsp sugar, and vanilla seeds and pod in the saucepan over medium-high until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and add the juice, peels, and salt, cooking for 2 minutes. Cool completely, discard the vanilla pod, and toss with the fruit.

Add ¼ of the citrus compote to a crepe and top with some flaked coconut.

Nutrition Facts

  • 145 calories
  • 18 g carbohydrate
  • 5 g protein
  • 6 g fat
  • 117 mg sodium

Carb Hating

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As Cassie recently analyzed our love/desire/obsession with protein, I figured it’d be a good time to address a major food discrimination I’ve seen creeping on our plates. I call it Carb Hating and it’s very real. Like most hatred, it comes from a misguided and often uninformed place. A place where bagels are evil and whole grains taste like cardboard.

Now, I’m not saying that Carb Haters are wrong. Or prejudice. Or, um, narrow-minded. They have evidence to support their hate. After all, research has shown that carbohydrates are major culprits in diabetes, heart disease, and organized crime. But maybe if you got to know the carbs you’d see that they can actually be quite diverse, nutritious and really fun to drink on a Friday night.

Carbohydrates are foods that break down into sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose). On average, they account for 65% of our daily caloric intake and are our bodies go to nutrient for energy. They are necessary to keep energy levels high and muscles intact. They are also crucial for brain health, as the main nutrient our central nervous system uses for fuel.

Carbohydrates often come paired with some really fun nutrients such as fiber, b-vitamins, and minerals. They can (contrary to popular wisdom) help us lose weight by increasing satiety and digestive health.

However, popular diet trends do not always agree. And lately, many have started to view carbohydrates as an unnecessary food group that we’re just too weak to resist, rather than an essential nutrient necessary for survival. This became apparent to me during a recent conversation with a health conscious friend:


Well-informed male fried: “Oh you’re a nutritionist, that’s cool”

Me: “Yeah, definitely. Thanks”

Well-informed male friend: “My main goal right now is to eliminate carbohydrates from my diet entirely”

Me: “Don’t do that. You’ll die.”


Lucky for those trying to kill themselves through carbohydrate deficiency, it’s nearly impossible to do. They are in everything. Milk, grains, fruit, sweets, yogurt, nuts, beans, legumes, beer, Klondike bars. Total elimination would take a combination self discipline and insanity only seen in someone like this (had to steal it Cass):


Most Americans have experienced Carb Hating simply by trying a low carb diet. Going low carb can result in dramatic initial weight loss. However, the mechanism behind the effect is not magic. These diets work by either initiating ketogenesis – which can be harmful if sustained. Or by the reduction in calories that naturally occurs when you take out a food group that accounted for 65% of your intake. They can be a good fit for some people. But as anyone who has come off the Atkins diet knows, they’re difficult to sustain.

My recommendation? Don’t eliminate carbs. Just watch the type and amount you eat. Fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes are rich in dietary fiber and digested slowly, reducing glucose spikes that can lead to type II diabetes. Eat them in combination with other foods to help slow digestion and absorption. Eat a cookie every once and a while because, what is life without cookies? Love the food you eat and take everything in moderation 🙂

Now ask yourself: Are you a Carb Hater?