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A couple weeks ago, during an interview with NPR, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey surprised a lot of people by using the ‘f’ word (in this case, fascism) to describe some parallels between the government and the new health care law. The comment caused a bit of a stir, Mackey quickly clarified his position, and for the most part, the story ends there.

But since this is a column about food and wellness, the portion of the interview that caught my attention was Mackey’s comments on his own diet. Namely how restricted and limited his diet is considering he is the creator of a thriving food empire. Turns out he’s not just a vegetarian, he’s a vegan. And if that’s not staunch enough, he’s also a no oil, low salt, no refined foods kind of vegan.

Vegetables galore

True, we all have our hang ups, but I know one of the mistakes I’ve made is swearing off certain food items forever. Aside from those suffering from food allergies, I just don’t know if that’s a healthy strategy that works for anyone. More importantly, once we have a healthy relationship with food (and, yes, a lot of us are still working on that), is it ever truly necessary? Or are we just becoming food martyrs, taking a little too much pride in all the things we can not have?

While we can certainly all do better eating less total calories and easing up on certain elements of our diet from time to time, it does seem a little … unsavory perhaps to completely cast out any particular food, element, or item. And if we do so with such zeal, isn’t that just as ideologically corrupt as the person who swears never to eat brussel sprouts, or spinach, or steel cut oatmeal?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s certainly something to think about: Our relationship with food and how and why we’ve arrived at our particular patterns or strategies at any given moment.

In the end, food is not just about nutrition and fuel, but also about culture, community – and yes – even entertainment and fun from time to time.

Anyway, remind me never to ask Mr. Mackey to lunch.

Vegan or not, we have more pressing things to discuss: The Super Bowl

You can’t host or attend a Super Bowl party without Super Bowl food.

Trouble is, most party food is pretty awful when it comes to caloric load (very high) and nutritional value (very low). But it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. With a few tweaks, you can make some pretty amazing grub that’s hearty, healthy, and downright tasty.

So let’s tackle one of the stars of any SuperBowl party: seven layer dip.

Seven. Layers. Of. Delicious.
Seven. Layers. Of. Delicious.

The secret here is to keep in all the original elements, textures and flavors, while decreasing calories and increasing nutrient density. Most of this can be accomplished by reading food labels, being a bit creative and adding in a few choice substitutes.

We’ll start from the ground up, assembling this masterpiece layer by layer. When all is said and done, you’ll have a high protein, nutrient packed dish that will win over any seasoned tailgater.

For this recipe, I used a 6? x 8? (6 cup) glass dish, which was large enough to accommodate all the ingredients listed, and feed four hungry folks in the process. You can scale the recipe up or down as needed.

The base

Creamy, less solid ingredients need to be evenly spread at the bottom. This prevents them from trickling down, and creates a solid base for the rest of the toppings.

Start with a can of organic, fat free refried beans. You’re buying beans, so that should pretty much be the only thing on the ingredients label. I used black beans here (and only about 3/4 of the can) but you can use whatever type you like.

Fage 2 percent Greek yogurt

The next layer is usually sour cream, but that comes in at about 60 calories an ounce, with almost 90% of those calories coming from fat. To lighten things up, I used about 5 ounces of Fage 2% Greek yogurt (about 20 calories per ounce by contrast), and stirred in some fresh lime juice, salt and pepper. For an extra kick, I sauteed some freshly mined garlic and added that to the mixture, which added tons of flavor with only a handful of extra calories.

The final soft layer is reserved for quacamole, and here I suggest you keep it simple. Mash up a large, ripe avocado with some salt, pepper, lime juice and a sprinkle of cayenne, and you’re done. While avocados are a positive fat, they are still a fat, and as a result are calorically dense; coming in at about 300 to 400 calories per fruit. Stick with one if at all possible.

The toppings

From here, things can get a little blurry, as different recipes call for different toppings. One thing they all seem to have in common though are meat (of some sort), cheese, and tomatoes. So, I followed that course and added a modification or two of my own.

Chicken breast, Public Domain image from the CDC

For the meat I used a large, grilled chicken breast (about 7 ounces), cut up into small pieces. If you choose to use beef here, go for the lean, grass fed variety – which may come in a few calories ahead of the chicken – but has a much better fat profile than traditional ground beef and an unmistakable flavor.

I topped the chicken with caramelized onions, which I’ve had great success making without any excess oil or butter. Simply cut up a large onion into half or quarter rings, add some fresh lime juice, cover and let cook until brown. One medium/large sweet onion should be plenty for this recipe.

Next was two organic tomatoes, diced and sprinkled with just a bit of coarse sea salt. At just 35 calories per fruit, they pack in everything from vitamin A, C, E and K, to potassium and manganese.

Shredded cheddar cheese is usually the traditional topper, but since we’re trying to keep things lean, I used Frigo low fat string cheese which packs only seven grams of protein and 50 calories per stick. Four of these sliced lengthwise and then diced into half moons was enough to add just the right amount of cheesy flavor and texture without going overboard.

As a bonus, and to add a little more color and spice, I finished the dish with some sauteed jalapeno peppers which were placed on top in place of the traditional black olives. Because, after all, this is San Antonio, not Kennebunkport.

So there you have it: an entire seven layer dip worthy of any Super Bowl party that packs tremendous flavor, and comes in at just 1500 total calories and 138 grams of protein. Divvy that up and you get 375 calories and about 35 grams of protein per serving, so you still have room for a cerveza or two.

But wait, there’s more

We managed to make a lean, healthy, gourmet seven layer dip, but we forgot one critical component…

The chips!

You can’t really have dip without chips, can you?

The problem here is consuming our awesome creation with traditional tortilla chips throws the curve completely and pretty much kills all the caloric savings. One ounce of corn chips packs in 140 calories, almost half of which is fat, and not the good kind. Plus nobody eats just one ounce – that’s just 13 chips.

Super Bowl Super Dip.
Super Bowl Super Dip.

Baked chips save you a few calories and a few grams of fat (120 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving comparatively), but if you eat three ounces, you’re taking in more than 350 extra calories, with little or no nutrient value.

The solution here is to be a bit creative and use a quartered bell pepper, or sliced romaine lettuce as chips.

Yes, it may seem a little strange, but both options are tasty, crunchy, colorful, low in calories, and especially in the case of bell pepper, packed with vitamins to boot. You can also scoop the seven layer dip (or anything else you like) directly into whole romaine leaves and use them as makeshift taco shells and save yourself a ton of calories and grief in the process.

Tom Trevino is a writer, artist and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” addresses health and fitness issues and dispense practical advice for San Antonians attempting to wade through the often-confusing diet and fitness world. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas, with training and certification from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.

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