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‘Tis the season for pumpkins! It’s hard not to notice the end caps at the grocery store that display pumpkin cookies, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin bread…the list goes on! Even coffee chains and fast food restaurants advertise pumpkin coffees and other items. Although these once-a-year items are a treat for those of us who look forward to them, many contain very little pumpkin and therefore contain very little nutrients that pumpkin provides. So what is the health punch in pumpkin?
The vibrant color orange in pumpkin comes from beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for vision as it helps the retina absorb and process light. Just 1 cup of pumpkin provides 200% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Beta-carotene has also been linked to healthy skin, as it helps protect the skin from harmful UV rays.
Healthy weight/digestive health
Pumpkin is a helpful aid in weight loss or weight maintenance. It is very concentrated in fiber, which keeps us fuller for longer which helps to prevent overconsumption at meals and excessive snacking. Fiber is also essential for a healthy digestive tract. I cup of canned pumpkin has about 7 grams of fiber, which is more fiber than 2 slices of some bread!
Consistent vitamin C intake has been linked to a stronger immune system and may help prevent colds or help us recover from colds more quickly. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin C and can be eaten as a natural immunity booster!
How can pumpkin be incorporated into recipes? Add canned pumpkin to smoothies! It will add to the smooth texture and will also provide an array of nutrients. Pumpkin bars can be made with minimal sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg for strong flavoring agents. Lastly, canned pumpkin can be used to make creamy soup topped with pumpkin seeds for a bowl filled with fiber that will keep you fuller for longer!
It’s easy to say “It’s too cold out” and retreat to the couch on winter evenings and weekends. It’s true that the winter months can be difficult to maintain our physical activity routines. If you live in the Midwest or other areas prone to snow, the weather can be an unpredictable hassle. It gets darker outside earlier, and this tends to make us more tired earlier than normal. We also tend to eat more “comfort food” during the cold months of the year. Our bodies can lose muscle mass within weeks of not utilizing them and we can also see changes in metabolism.
With all things considered, physical activity during winter is just as important as during any other season. Here are 5 ways to cure your cabin fever!
Outside is not off limits! Just remember to dress in layers to help insulate your body. Top layers of clothing should be wind and water-resistant, if possible. Outdoor activities include, but are not limited to, sledding, skiing, ice skating (which can also be indoors), snowball fights, shoveling snow, building a snowman or fort, and walking the dog. If none of these are appealing, bundle up and go for a nice walk around the neighborhood!
Use indoor locations as a place to walk. Churches with recreation centers, malls, and other department stores are great options if you don’t want to make a trip to the gym.
Make a “gym” or place to work out in the convenience of your own home! Weights can be purchased inexpensively. Boxes or a step stool can be used as tools for cardio workouts. Jumping jacks and jump ropes count, too!
Whether in your home or at work, use the stairs. We should really use the stairs vs. elevator any time of year, but using the steps during the winter will help increase physical activity that may be hard to fit in otherwise.
Dance! Put on your favorite playlist and have a 30 minute dance session! Dancing burns calories, reduces stress, and is just fun!
One of the first things that come to mind during winter is getting cozy with a nice, warm mug of (fill in the blank). Many people don’t realize how many of their daily calories come from beverages, and this is especially true during winter months. Every year, retailers come out with holiday drinks to get us in the holiday spirit. A 16 oz salted caramel hot chocolate made with whip cream from Starbucks has 480 calories, 17 g of fat, and 71 g carbohydrates. McDonald’s white chocolate mocha with whip cream has 320 calories, 11 g of fat, and 47 g of carbohydrates. These calorie amounts would be more ideal for a meal vs. a drink that we sip as we do holiday shopping!
Here are a few tips on enjoying these drinks in a healthier way:
Skip the whipped cream. As this does add a decorative touch, whipped cream is high in fat and calories. Almost 100 calories can be deducted with this change alone!
Forego any additional toppings such as chocolate shavings or sprinkles.
Many coffee shops have the option of adding “flavor shots.” Unless they are sugar-free and calorie-free, these shots will add just that! Always order the smallest size. Some of the larger drinks can be upwards of 600 calories!
A healthier alternative would be loose leaf tea. Depending on the ingredients, most loose leaf teas are virtually free of calories. These can be flavored with lemon or a drizzle of honey once brewed. If needing an afternoon pick-me-up, choose black coffee. Plain coffee is low in calories and high in antioxidants. Lower calorie, lower sugar lattes can be made using soy or almond milk, with Stevia or Truvia for an added touch of sweetness! You can also download our “Rethink Your Drink” tip sheet for more ideas.
The holidays are just around the corner! Most of us are busy shopping, finalizing travel plans, and anticipating time with friends and family. As we look forward to Grandma Charlotte’s famous turkey and Uncle George’s delicious pumpkin pie, it’s important to remember food safety! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that roughly 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick, are hospitalized, or die of foodborne disease each year. Preparing a large, holiday meal can be a daunting task in addition to taking appropriate food safety measures. Here are a few quick tips for preparing a delicious, safe meal this season!
Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20-30 seconds before and after handling the turkey.
Do not defrost on the counter! Defrosting in the refrigerator is the safest method and will result in the best turkey. Leave turkey in original packaging. Place in a shallow pan and allow refrigerator thawing time at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per 24 hours. To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in original packaging and place in a clean sink or pan. Submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw completely.
Turkey should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F. Insert the meat thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Total cooking time should be determined based on pounds and whether turkey is stuffed or unstuffed.
Unstuffed Turkey-Thermal/Conventional oven uncovered at 325 F
8 to 12 pounds 12 to 14 pounds 14 to 18 pounds 18 to 20 pounds 20 to 24 pounds
2-3/4 to 3 hours 3 to 3-3/4 hours 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours 4-1/2 to 5 hours
Stuffed Turkey-Thermal/Conventional oven uncovered at 325 F
8 to 12 pounds 12 to 14 pounds 14 to 18 pounds 18 to 20 pounds 20 to 24 pounds
3 to 3-1/2 hours 3-1/2 to 4 hours 4 to 4-1/4 hours 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 hours 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 hours
Leftovers should be eaten, frozen, or thrown away within 3 to 4 days.
It’s best to divide leftovers into small portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator. This allows food to quickly come to the proper temperature to discourage bacteria growth.
When microwaving, make sure that there are no cold spots in food. Make sure to cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. This will ensure that food reaches proper temperature.
It is recommend reheating leftovers to an internal temperature of at least 165 F.
Trick or Treat! When we think of Halloween, yummy and sugary treats such as candy bars and caramel apples usually come to mind. Rightfully so, this is definitely a day to indulge! However, the amount of sugar in these delicious snacks can be astronomical!
Just a few examples of the amount of sugar in some of our favorite treats:
Snicker’s Fun Size: 17 g, Blow Pop: 13 g, Skittles: 42 g, Dots: 21 g, Reese’s (2 cups): 21 g.
For comparison, this is how many sugar cubes are in 2 Reese’ cups:
Whether you are hosting a Halloween party or handing out treats at the door, there are a variety of healthy options that are fun and festive!
Cheese is a good source of protein and does not contain any sugar. Cheese sticks will be ok unrefrigerated for 2-3 hours, so kiddos may eat these later if needed.
If you have clementine’s (“Cuties”) and celery, you have a pumpkin! Peel each clementine and leave in its whole, round form. Cut celery into 1 inch pieces and place in the middle of the clementine as a stem. Clementine’s are a good source of vitamin C and can easily fit in a Ziploc baggy.
If hosting a party, make a tray of witch’s fingers! Simply take baby carrots or carrot sticks and place ½ of an olive (black or green) on the tip as a nail. This can be served with dip or by itself. Carrots are high in vitamin A and a great, crunchy snack.
To help keep kiddos (and parents of trick-or-treaters) hydrated, buy mini or full-sized bottles of water. Create labels out of construction paper or use Halloween-themed paper to cover original water bottle label. Many drinks such as juice and punch are high in sugar. These spooky bottles will help quench their thirst!
Place eggs in a large pot with cold water, covering eggs by 1 inch. Bring to a full boil; boil 1 minute. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 15 to 17 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the eggs. Crack eggs and let sit in cold water 10 minutes or until cool. Drain, then peel eggs.
Cut eggs in half lengthwise, then carefully remove the yolks, leaving the whites intact. Place yolks in a bowl; mash with 1/3 cup mayonnaise, avocado, mustard, shallot, lemon juice, and salt until blended. Using 2 teaspoons or a small ice-cream scoop, scoop yolk mixture into small balls and position in hollows of whites to resemble eyeballs.
Press an olive slice into center of each yolk eyeball. Stir together 3 tablespoons remaining mayonnaise and a few drops of red food coloring in a small bowl for the "blood."
Transfer colored mayonnaise mixture into a small sealable bag and snip the corner to form a pastry bag. Decorate eyeballs with bloodshot veins. Cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours before serving.
Make Ahead: Egg yolk mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Fill egg whites, decorate and refrigerate up to 6 hours before serving.
It’s the time of year that many of us dread…flu season. You try to take every precaution you can by washing your hands, sanitizing grocery carts and not touching your face—but sometimes even that isn’t enough to prevent the nasty flu bug! In the past, I would get sick at least once every fall/winter and would always have 1-2 sinus infections on top of that. That was until I changed my diet up a few years ago, and I have enjoyed the last few years sick-free!
Remember, no one single food will make you healthier and improve your immunity. But I do suggest that it may be more beneficial to get your vitamins from your fruits and veggies rather than a packet of Emergen-C.
Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Veggies
Ideally, your goal is to consume a wide variety of colors when choosing your fruits and veggies. Each color introduces a powerful antioxidant or plant nutrient into your system. For example, red-orange colored produce such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots are great sources of Vitamin A and beta-carotene while blue, purple and dark red fruits like blueberries, raspberries and cherries deliver phytochemicals such as flavonoids that help reduce inflammation. Vitamin C can be found in red bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries.
Eggs, Nuts and Seeds
These quick bites are good sources of zinc, which helps your T-cells and other immune cells function properly. Swap your afternoon wheat thins or granola bar for a handful of mixed nuts and seeds or even a hardboiled egg or two. In addition to the improved nutrient intake, you’ll also satisfy your hunger better and have more controlled blood sugars by choosing these good protein sources.
Proteins. Eggs, fish, chicken, lean or organic beef
Some studies suggest that inadequate protein intake can weaken the immune system by showing a decrease in the number of T-cells and antibodies being produced. A good goal to work towards is having protein with all your meals and with most of your snack choices.
Fatty fish and avocados
There are two great examples of healthy fats in the diet (omega-3 and omega-9s). Essential fats (fats that the body cannot produce) help decrease inflammation in the body as well as improve the integrity of our cell walls. I’ll explain in the next paragraph why this integrity is so important to immunity!
Immunity begins in the gut.
You gastrointestinal tract is your internal layer of skin. It can protect you from harmful agents invading your circulatory system; however, if its cell wall is compromised, you may be at a greater risk of getting sick this flu season. (This could be related to “leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability” however, not all practitioners believe in this concept). I know what you’re thinking—so what are the foods that damage my gut’s lining? Some of the main culprits could be foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as candy, juice, soda, cereal, chips, crackers, pretzels, pasta and white bread. Three years ago, I pretty much cut out all of these foods from my diet. Could it be coincidental that I didn’t get sick the same time I cut out processed sugars and starches? Yes. However, I will remind you that I work in health care and am exposed to a lot of sick people on a daily basis during the flu season. In addition to not getting sick the past couple winters, I also noticed that I was less bloated, slept better and had more energy after changing my diet. While my results may differ from others following the same meal plan, it is certainly something to consider if you find yourself chronically getting sick all fall and winter long.
Remember—your immune system is exactly that—a system, not one single entity. To function well, it requires overall balance and harmony between all your health habits: diet, exercise, stress management and sleep.