Healthy Pies, Spinach Nutrition, and Brussels Sprouts

Healthy Pies, Spinach Nutrition, and Brussels Sprouts

Q: Are some types of pie healthier than others?
Q: How do fresh and frozen spinach differ nutritionally?
Q: Can you offer any serving suggestions for Brussels sprouts?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Are some types of pie healthier than others?
A: How a pie is made has a larger influence on its fat, calorie and nutrient content than what kind of pie it is. Pecan pie is one exception to the rule, however, as it nearly always adds an additional 100 to 200 calories beyond traditional fruit pies. Apple pie, for example, may contain from 300 to 400-plus calories per slice, depending on the fat and sugar added during preparation. A slice of pumpkin pie usually contains about 300 calories and roughly 15 grams of fat. The good news: recipe adaptations can help cut fat and calories while providing additional nutrients. To try your hand at healthier baking, use evaporated skim milk in pumpkin pie and, when making pie crusts, substitute canola oil for some of the butter and opt for up to half whole-wheat flour. If the pie filling is what you love, you can skip the crust altogether and save up to 150 calories per slice. Portion sizes can also be adjusted. If pecan pie is truly your favorite, simply opt for a smaller slice; you'll likely be more satisfied with a sliver of what you like best than a plate full of something you don't really enjoy.

Q: How do fresh and frozen spinach differ nutritionally?
A: Freshly-picked spinach is at the peak of its nutritional quality. The vitamin and mineral content is highest when these greens go directly from field to plate – or field to freezer, for that matter (flash-frozen produce is usually considered nutritionally equal to fresh). However, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that folate, a B vitamin involved in the creation and repair of DNA (and also linked to the prevention of cancer and heart disease), drops significantly when fresh spinach is subject to lengthy transportation or storage times. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids in spinach also decrease during extended storage and handling of fresh spinach – a practice increasingly common today as much of the produce at your local grocery store travels cross-country, even cross-continent. In the end, if “fresh” spinach has been subject to lengthy storage times, frozen is likely nutritionally superior.

Q: Can you offer any serving suggestions for Brussels sprouts?
A: It's a smart move to serve Brussels sprouts! These cruciferous vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse. They belong to the family which also includes broccoli, cauliflower and Bok choy. Studies link greater consumption of cruciferous vegetables with decreased incidence of several types of cancer. These vegetables are a source of isothiocyanates, a class of phytochemicals that help our bodies detoxify undesirable compounds and may help to stop cancer before it starts. Brussels sprouts, which resemble mini cabbages, are usually served as a side dish, but they also make a nice addition to stir-fries, vegetable soups and salads. Although easy to prepare, if Brussels sprouts are overcooked they tend to develop a strong smell and mushy texture. To prepare them, begin by trimming off all remaining portions of the stem as well as the discolored outer leaves. Wash them well under running water or soak them in a bowl of fresh water to clean. Before cooking, cut an “X” in the bottom of each sprout to ensure that the heat spreads evenly. Microwaving is a perfect cooking option as it preserves the sprouts' texture and color. Steaming is another preferred option. Cook until the Brussels sprouts are bright green and just tender with a little crunch, usually 4 to 8 minutes in a microwave or 8 to 10 minutes steamed, depending on size. If you're not serving immediately, chefs often recommend plunging cooked Brussels sprouts into cold water to stop residual cooking.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research