Ask a Nutritionist: Your Questions Answered
Q. What is the healthiest oil to use for cooking? (Stir-frys etc.)
A. The best choices are canola oil, olive oil or peanut oil (if your family is not allergic to peanuts). Don't use olive oil for high temperature frying, however, since it will burn.
Other good choices include soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, or corn oil.
Q. Are there any foods that you can suggest that would help with concentration? Or foods to stay away from?
A. This is a great question. What we know from breakfast studies is that a balanced breakfast does indeed improve children's concentration in school. Children who do not eat (or have a breakfast which is primarily sugar), lose the ability to concentrate by mid-morning.
The best meal to improve concentration has a mixture of protein, carbohydrate and fat. I always encourage children and parents to include either a serving of protein or dairy, a fruit or vegetable, and a whole grain at every breakfast. So, for example, a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and milk would meet this criteria as would a breakfast of scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast and orange slices.
Q. Every time I make home-made baked beans (using white "pea-beans") they always stay a little bit hard. I try boiling them, soaking them overnight, cooking in the slow cooker for 2 days, but they're still harder than the baked beans that you buy in a can. Why?
A. I'm glad to hear that you are using dried beans -- they are such a versatile and nutritious source of protein, fiber and many other nutrients.
Some tips for softer beans:
- Make sure you are using fresh beans. While dried beans don't spoil per se, they do lose their freshness and may never become tender if they are too old.
- Do you have hard water? That could also be a problem in softening up your beans. You might try using bottled water to see if it makes a difference.
- Don't ever add any acidic ingredients such as tomatoes until the beans are fully cooked. Acid in the water prevents the beans from becoming tender.
- I prefer the "quick soak" method when cooking beans. I bring the beans to a full boil, then cover and let sit for 1-2 hours. I then drain the liquid, add fresh water, and then cook until tender.
Q. Lately I have notices that some products are using stevia as a sweetener. Can you please tell me a bit about stevia? How does it compare to other sweeteners (i.e. white sugar or honey)? Can it be purchased to add to foods at home?
A. Stevia is an herb from a South American shrub. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and is thus used as a no-calorie sweetener.
The reason that you don't see it alongside other sweeteners (artificial or sugar) is because it is not approved for this use (by the U.S., Canada or European Union). In the U.S., it is sold as a dietary supplement (just like many herbs here).
The problem with Stevia is that there is very little research to prove that it is safe for widespread use as a sweetener. A good article that discusses this issue can be found at www.cspinet.org/nah/4_00/stevia.html