The Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing.

I’ve known about green goddess dressing for a while now, but I have to admit that up until recently, its ingredients were somewhat of a mystery to me. Herbs, of course, and something creamy, for sure. But was that greek yogurt, or was it buttermilk? Avocado, or just green herbs? A hint of anchovy, or am I just making things up?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “green goddess” notions of healthy grain bowls, sunny weather and glowing skin come to mind. New Californian cooking. As far as I’m concerned, it sounds like quintessential health food branding. Right?

While many recipes proved my theory correct, featuring fresh, healthful ingredients like herbs, avocado, greek yogurt and lemon, I was surprised to learn that a wholesome green goddess recipe is something of a reformed party girl.

The green goddess got its start in 1920s New York, when a broadway show of the same name premiered and gained popularity. Following its rise, a chef at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco invented a green dressing in its honor.

A green goddess with cilantro, greek yogurt, avocado and lime.

And the original recipe had absolutely nothing to do with health. Think mayonnaise, sour cream, anchovies, tarragon and chives. Delicious? Definitely. Wholesome? Not so much.

That said, this recipe – now nearly a century old – is far from obsolete. Many contemporary green goddesses have decadent, old-school vibes, requesting a heavy hand with rich dairy and classic French herbs.

Personally, I prefer a green goddess with greek yogurt and lots of citrus. To me, these versions are cleaner and brighter.

But that’s what’s great about the green goddess. She’s a chameleon. You can really make this dressing your own. Craving something avocado-forward? Go for it. Need to finish that buttermilk before it goes bad? Use it. Want to make anchovies your star? Sounds great. Forgot them at the grocery store? It will still be delicious!

I suggest preparing a batch of green goddess on Sunday evening to get you through the start of your work week. It’s versatile, so making it doesn’t require committing to one specific dinner idea. You can dress your salads with it, marinate your proteins in it, use it to amp up your grain bowls, or even let it guest star on taco night.

Below, you’ll find a few renditions I know and like. If you’re going to marinate a protein, I suggest following this recipe by Melissa Clark. Otherwise, simply use the ideas below to spark your creativity. After all, that’s what the green goddess is all about.

Green Goddess I

Combine parsley, basil, greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Green Goddess II

Combine parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, sour cream, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Adapted ever so slightly from Mina Stone’s recipe in Cooking For Artists (p 33).

Green Goddess III

Combine tarragon, chives, greek yogurt, anchovies*, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

*I suggest using 1-2 anchovies. If using, be sure to season less aggressively; anchovies add a lot of salt!

Green Goddess IV

Combine cilantro, avocado, greek yogurt, garlic, lime juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrient and Caloric Density: Cracking the nutrition code for good

If I had the eyes and ears of the world and only 10 minutes to share the most important concepts in nutrition, I would attempt to explain nutrient and caloric density. Horrible, horrible names but very, very important ideas. The good news is that the devil is NOT in the details. A broad understanding is all you need to answer most nutrition-related questions.

Before we get into it, I bet these concepts are things you already get intuitively. Let’s see:

Question 1: Both the five Starbursts and medium banana below are about 100 calories. Of these two, which do you think is the healthier choice? Why?

What We Eat: Starbursts v BananaAnswer 1: If you guessed the banana (duh), you’d be right. Clearly, there is way more good stuff (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) per calorie in the fruit than in the fruit candy. This is what is termed “nutrient density.”

Question 2: You’re trying to watch your waistline. Would one-cup granola or one-cup oatmeal be the better breakfast choice? Why?

What We Eat: Oatmeal v Granola

Answer 2: Guess oatmeal? Ding, ding, ding! Considering the same volume of oatmeal has about a third of the calories of granola, you could fill your tummy equally without letting out your belt loop. This is what is termed “caloric density.”

So, Nutrient Density = the amount of good stuff  (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.) in a specific food per the amount of calories it provides.

  • High nutrient density = lots of good stuff per calorie (aka “superfoods”)
  • Low nutrient density = little good stuff per calorie (aka “empty calories”)

And, Caloric Density = the amount of calories in a specific volume/weight of food.

  • High caloric density = lots of calories for small amount of food (bummer)
  • Low caloric density = few calories for a large amount of food (great!)

For optimal nutrition, the goal is to eat as many foods packed with vitamins, minerals, etc. for the fewest amount of calories. That means eating more of the foods at the top of this table, and less of the foods at the bottom.

What We Eat: Nutrient Density Table

In light of out waistlines, the goal is to eat foods that provide the least amount of calories for the greatest amount of volume. In general, the more water and/or fiber a food contains, the lower the caloric density, and the more fat it provides, the higher the caloric density.

What We Eat: Caloric Density Table
Based on University of Wisconsin handout – https://www.uwgb.edu/pearsond/NUT_SCI_300site/Handouts-300/EnergyDensity.gif

There is a lot of crossover between nutrient and caloric density. Most important to note: vegetables and fruits are at the top of both lists explaining why they should account for half of everything we eat and refined grains/sweets are at the bottom of both lists explaining why they should be all but eliminated. When we do decide to include foods low in nutrient density or high in caloric density, they should be consumed sparingly as special treats or to enhance healthier foods. Here are some examples:

  • Adding a crumble of feta cheese over a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion (pairing a low nutrient density/high caloric density food, cheese, with high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables)
  • Swapping half of your pasta with sautéed vegetables (swapping a low nutrient density/medium caloric density food, pasta, for high nutrient density/low caloric density food, vegetables, allowing you to keep the volume but greatly increase the nutrients and decrease the calories)
  • Pairing a quarter cup of nuts along with your apple (pairing a medium nutrient density/high caloric density food with a high nutrient density/low caloric density food)

What you shouldn’t do is pair low nutrient density/high caloric density foods together. That’s why, say, having cheese and crackers before dinner on a nightly basis is not the best habit to get in. They both have little nutritional value and a TON of calories for so little volume. Instead, why not snack on cut up veggies with a judicious amount of hummus?

Want to see how this should play out on your plate day-to-day?

Healthy Eating Plate
Those geniuses from Harvard think of everything.

So now, tell me and be honest, do you get it? Let me know because I am practicing for when I have those 10 minutes of the whole world’s attention.

Breaking Down Breakfast: My 4 go-to’s

What We Eat: Breakfast 6

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Oh sorry, I just fell asleep for a second. You? But in all seriousness, while I know that starting a blog post with a boring sentence like that breaks rule #1 of captivating an audience, hear me out:

I freakin’ love breakfast. Although it typically provides just 17% of our day’s total calories, it accounts for a much higher proportion of important vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The bulk of the research shows that eating breakfast daily is important for weight maintenance too, not to mention mood and mental stamina. So what does this dietitian eat to keep herself fueled and satisfied until lunchtime? Here are my personal go-to’s – quick, balanced and good.

What We Eat: Breakfast 4

  • #1. ¾ cup cooked whole grain + ¾ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt + fruit (unlimited) + 2 tablespoons toasted nuts (typically an almond/pecan mix) + sprinkling of cinnamon.

Truth be told, I eat this about 90% of the time and never get tired of it. In fact, right now I’m feeling sad that I’ll have to wait a whopping 16 hours until my next breakfast. Luckily research shows that limiting variety (within limits of course) can be a waist-friendly way to control portions. I prepare the grains and toast the nuts in bulk once or twice a week (Sundays or weekday nights after dinner) so I can make quick work of morning prep. To keep things interesting I switch up the grains – oatmeal, yes, but also farro, barley, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Seriously, try this ASAP.

(Note: I use cinnamon in breakfasts 1-3 because it adds the illusion of sweetness without actually adding any sugar.)

  • #2. 1-2 slices whole grain bread (the grainier the better) + 2 tablespoons peanut butter + ½ cup plain low fat Greek yogurt + sliced banana and/or strawberries + sprinkling of cinnamon

I pretend this is breakfast banana shortcake – bread toasted, everything else heaped on top, consumed with a fork and knife. Okay, so maybe I use a wee bit more than 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (not a safe item for me to keep in house), which is why I typically have this when visiting my parents or parents-in-law (or anyone else’s home that I can sniff out peanut butter…trust me, I’ll find it).

  • #3. 1-1 ½ cups cereal + 1 cup low fat milk + 2 tablespoons toasted nuts + fruit (unlimited) + cinnamon

All breakfast cereal is not created equal. I chose varieties with more than 5 grams of fiber and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving (equivalent to 1 tsp). I also mix high- and low-calorie options so I get the belly-filling benefits of the former and the bulk of the latter. Some of my favorites:

– Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes (3/4 cup serving contains 120 calories, 5 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar)

– Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal, Original (1/2 cup serving contains 190 calories, 6 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar)

– Cheerios (1 cup serving contains 100 calories, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar) Note: I only add this for bulk. Cheerios alone would never keep me satisfied until lunch.

What We Eat: Breakfast 5

  • #4. 1-2 slices whole grain toast (the grainier the better) + 1-2 eggs prepared anyway + ½ sliced avocado + sliced tomatoes + judicious drizzle of olive oil + fruit on the side

Of all the options listed, this is probably the one I have for breakfast the least, but not because I don’t LOVE it. Instead, it’s because eggs are a go-to protein source for me at lunch or dinner and I don’t want to overdo it. If you lean towards the savory, an egg breakfast is an incredibly healthy choice, and I find more filling than many of the other options. And don’t skip the yolk – it provides nearly half the protein and the majority of the rest of good vitamins and minerals found in eggs. Yes, it also houses most of the cholesterol, but research shows that dietary cholesterol is not nearly as big of a contributing factor to your body’s cholesterol as saturated fat.

What’s in your breakfast rotation? As long as it’s got belly filling fiber from fruits/vegetables and/or whole grains and a little protein from dairy/eggs/nuts/legumes/animal protein/etc. to make the fullness last, you’re nailing it!