Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Start Making Healthy Changes Now

Woman Tying Measuring Tape Around Her WaistI am not an advocate for “quick fixes” like weight loss supplements, juice cleanses and the like. While quick fixes may result in fast weight loss, these results are only temporary and chances are, your depressed metabolism will cause you to rapidly gain the weight back…and then some. Seven-day or 21-day weight loss plans typically instruct you to drastically cut caloric intake and often severely limit the variation of food in your diet. Once these week-long or month-long fast diets are over with, most people resume their previous eating habits and unfortunately circle right back to square one with their weight loss efforts.

What’s unfortunate is these quick diet plans do not teach you how to eat for the long-run. You can’t drink a “body by Vi” shake forever; eventually you’re going to have to learn how to make real food for your meals. Research has shown that a multitude of different diets such as low-calorie/low-fat, high-fat/low-carb, Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diet, paleo dietetc., can all help individuals lose weight. Sometimes, losing weight is not the problem; it’s keeping the weight off. This fact stresses the importance of lifelong habits that one must take on, not quick diet fixes, in order to maintain their weight loss efforts. Here are some “quick” healthy changes that you can make today and turn into lifelong habits.

1. Start your day with protein. Breakfast is the most commonly missed meals reported by Americans of all ages. And when we think of breakfast, we typically think of a large bowl of sugary-sweetened cereal and a tall glass of orange juice. Breakfast meals high in these simple sugars can lead to a quick drop in energy come 9:00 a.m. Try to find ways to incorporate more protein with your breakfast meal. Add nuts into oatmeal, make a veggie omelet or pair fruit with high-protein Greek yogurt.

imgres2. Switch to water. Water is essential to one’s health and its benefits far surpass the simple purpose of hydration. Drinking more water is a habit I have been working on for quite some time now and it’s really sticking. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I previously was consuming about 4 diet sodas per day. To wean myself off of the diet soda, I would tell myself for every soda I consumed, I would have to drink a bottle of water. Now I keep a water bottle with me at all times so there are no excuses for not drinking enough water.

3. Stop serving multiple starches with meals. This is an easy fix that will help you naturally control your carbohydrate intake with your meals and make them more well-rounded. Our typical American western diet revolves around meat, potatoes, bread or some other starch like noodles and rice or corn and peas with most of our meals. Begin your meals by choosing a healthy lean protein, add one starch (preferably a healthy starchy vegetable like sweet potatoes or butternut squash) and fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and fruit, if preferred.

4. Bring your own snacks to work. It seems almost every week, someone brings in a new “Pinterest-inspired” sweet treat to share with everyone at work. Sure, these decadent treats look great, but consuming these items regularly as snack choices can lead one to a spike in blood sugar followed by a drop in energy. Plan ahead and make sure you always have healthy, nutrient-dense snacks packed with you for your workday. If you feel bad about turning down your co-worker’s cheesecake bites, you can politely decline by saying you had already packed an apple with almond butter for your snack today. Or a simple, “No thanks, but thanks for asking,” always does the trick too!

exercise_02F026015. Exercise. Daily physical activity is one of the most important keys for a healthy metabolism and weight management. It’s time to put the “excuse book” away and start moving today.


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Figge’s Favorite Groceries

grocery shoppingWith the success of  Figge’s Favorite Things blog post, I thought I would follow up with a list of some of my favorite foods that frequently occupy my shopping list. Years ago, my diet heavily consisted of processed luncheon meats, frozen dinners and snack bars. Today, fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are typically what fill up my grocery cart. This was no overnight process, but slowly, I began to step outside my comfort zone and taught myself how to prepare and cook with fresh ingredients. To stay healthy, I rely on clean, minimally processed foods. Combined with a healthy dose of physical activity each week, clean eating helps keep my cholesterol down, energy up and promotes a good night’s sleep.

  1. Eggs. Eggs have been hounded over the years for their fat and cholesterol content. However, with today’s research on eggs, we are learning that 1) the cholesterol found in eggs is not what is causing high cholesterol in individuals and 2) the benefits of the yolks include a Vitamin B12 source, eye-healthy lutein , zeaxanthin antioxidants, and choline, which is essential for cardiovascular and brain function.
  2. fresh-spinachSpinach. This green giant gets sautéed in with my eggs each morning and makes several appearances in other meals throughout the week.
  3. Peanut or almond butter. If I could eat almond butter every day, I would; but because the cost of it is often more than peanut butter, I tend to go back and forth between these heart-healthy fat and protein snack additions.
  4. Cauliflower. My kitchen often looks like a cauliflower war zone. For those of you that regularly cut up cauliflower, you know what I’m talking about! My preferred way of cooking it is steaming in a sauce pan and then mashing it in my food processor. Add a pinch of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, butter and garnish with chives and you have a great vegetable side dish (not to mention for the cost of $3 or less!)
  5. Spaghetti Squash. We have been having a lot of fun with spaghetti squash this winter. It is a great substitute for pasta in recipes. To me, it is not very tasty when served plain, but if you add mixed vegetables, seasonings, sauces or a homemade mayo to the mix, you’re set-to-go for a delicious meal.
  6. Chicken. This is the most popular protein consumed in our household. For that reason, I am constantly finding new ways to season and prepare it. We also consume beef, pork and fish but chicken definitely takes the podium for most consumed.
  7. Apples. This fruit is a good source of antioxidants and soluble fiber. I usually have at least one and sometimes two apples a day with my peanut or almond butter for heart-healthy, filling snacks.
  8. Whey protein powder. Since both my husband and I do Crossfit, we need a quick source of protein for our post-workout snacks. One scoop of protein powder poured in 8 oz. of almond milk allows my body to quickly refuel after a workout, promote lean tissue growth and speed up recovery time.
  9. Ground flaxseed. This antioxidant powerhouse can be easily mixed into recipes or sauces or can even be sprinkled on top of foods to add fiber, omega-3 and healthy lignans to any dish.
  10. Sweet potato. These Vitamin A giants interestingly are most often consumed with my breakfast meal. I’ll sauté a medium-large sweet potato in 1 Tbsp of coconut oil on Sunday nights and then portion out servings to grab and go for the week. NCI5_POTATO


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Holy Guacamole!

Avocado on whiteYes, one of my favorite fruits is the avocado. In fact, I eat half an avocado almost every day. If I don’t slice it on top of my eggs in the morning, it usually tops a salad later on in the day. Historically, avocados have had a bad reputation because of their high fat content. We now know the fat found in avocados and other plant-based foods like nuts, peanut butter and oils is actually very good for us!

Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fat, specifically omega-9 fat that can also be found in olive oil, canola oil and nuts/seeds. The reason it is important to include these healthy plant-based fats in our diet is because monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) can actually help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. Reducing the bad cholesterol level can help reduce one’s risk for heart disease. Research also indicates that this type of fat can also help insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is very important for those with diabetes. MUFAs also help our bodies absorb specific vitamins. These are just some of the reasons why fat is important in our diet.

Avocados also contain antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for their role in eye health. This green fruit is also a good source of fiber and potassium. An avocado is ripe for eating when the skin gives gently when pressed on. If you buy a hard avocado, it will usually soften within a few days. There are many varieties of avocados and they ripen at different times of the year. This is why avocados are in season all year long! Avocados are a mildly sweet fruit and can be combined in many traditional dishes. Here are few ideas to get the molé rolling:

  • Slice avocados and add to your favorite breakfast egg dish (omelet, scrambled, frittata, over easy)
  • Add slices of avocados on top of sandwiches or salads.
  • Mash ½ avocado on 1 slice of whole wheat toast and top with 1 egg and low-fat cheese for an on-the-go breakfast.
  • Top whole grain cracker with avocado slice and smoked salmon for a delicious appetizer.
  • Create delectable salsas by combining avocado slices, tomato chunks, onion, black beans or corn kernels with cilantro, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Remember “fat-free” and “low-fat” products are often more processed and contain higher amounts of sodium and added sugars. Consuming only fat free products may put your body at risk for becoming deficient in certain vitamins and essential fatty acids. However, consuming too much fat (even the good kind) can lead to excessive caloric intake. A healthy fat intake level is achieved when 20-35% of total calories consumed come from good fat sources. Monounsaturated fats are one of the foundations of the Mediterranean diet, which in most studies has been linked to lower rates of heart disease. Check out this Mediterranean semi-gourmet sandwich http://www.tastespotting.com/features/green-goddess-grilled-cheese-sandwich-recipe for a great Sunday brunch idea!

For even more ways to incorporate avocado into your diet, Check out these amazing recipes adapted from www.theamazingavocado.com

Avocado and Citrus Salad with Dijon Avocado Vinaigrette http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/avocado-and-citrus-salad-with-dijon-avocado-vinaigrette/

Portabella Burgers with Avocado Spread http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/portabella-burgers-with-avocado-spread/

New York Breakfast Pizza http://www.theamazingavocado.com/recipes/new-york-breakfast-pizza/

Have you ever heard of a BLT stuffed avocado? Neither have I until I came across this fantastic twist on an old classic: http://www.farmgirlgourmet.com/2013/01/blt-stuffed-avocado.html

**For healthy recipe substitutions, choose mayonnaise that has been made with olive oil and use whole wheat bread instead.


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School’s Out for Summer!

Well, maybe our kids have replaced the lyrics of Alice Cooper with the likes of One Direction and Taylor Swift, but the story remains the same. No more pencils, no more books, and a lot more freedom to eat, play and watch TV as children please.

appleIt’s important as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods at home. By improving access to healthy food options and limiting unhealthy selections, you can feel more confident knowing that your children are consuming well-balanced meals and snacks at home. As a 12-year-old, my days usually started with a big bowl of sugary, sweetened cereal, followed by mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs and an unhealthy dose of soap operas. While I was also very active with swimming, riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, my diet certainly had room for improvement. It’s never too early or too late to teach your kids about nutrition and well-balanced meals. The simplest way to illustrate a healthy meal is using the plate method. The plate method encourages you to fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein and one fourth with grains (preferably whole grains).myplate

Here is a list of examples to help your kids put together healthy, well-balanced meals.

Grains:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat or corn tortilla
  • Popcorn

Proteins:

  • Chicken
  • Fish,
  • Turkey
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans

Dairy:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese/string cheese
  • Smoothies

Fruits:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Pears

Vegetables:

  • Green salad
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Red, yellow, green bell peppers
  • Cucumbers

Sweetened cereals like Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms are not the best start for the day because they lack many important nutrients and contain excessive amounts of added sugars. Here’s a tip for weaning kids away from these sugar-packed cereal varieties: encourage kids to mix a healthier cereal such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Mini Wheats or other high-fiber variety into their favorite cereal. This will help reduce the portion size of the sugary cereal and help improve the nutrient intake of fiber. Apple chunks, blueberries, banana slices, chopped nuts or dried fruit can be easily added to oatmeal to make breakfast more well-rounded. Whole grain tortillas spread with peanut butter and banana slices or eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and beans make two great protein-packed breakfasts.celery

Lunch meals tend to be heavy on the starches. A turkey sandwich, chips, granola bar and dessert were the typical items packed in my lunch when going to summer camp.

The results of this lunch meal: Starch=5, Protein=1, and Fruits, Vegetables and Dairy=0.

To make this lunchbox healthier, we can swap the chips with low-fat yogurt, trade the granola bar for carrot and celery sticks with one tablespoon of low-fat ranch, and include a clementine for the dessert. Mac ‘n cheese is okay to eat still, but it should be featured as a side item rather than the entrée. Pre-cutting vegetables and fruits and measuring individual containers of peanut butter, hummus, yogurt or low-fat ranch for dips can make healthy selections much more accessible.

Another valuable lesson to learn early on in life is that snacks do not equal desserts. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun. Try to create snacks that include at least two food groups. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
  • Celery logs topped with peanut butter and raisins
  • Small oranges with low-fat string cheese
  • Slice apples to make a mini peanut butter, granola sandwiches
  • Top a whole grain cracker with low-fat cream cheese and grape halves
  • Mix yogurt with fresh fruit chunks

grapesSometimes, rules need to be enforced on how much screen time is allowed each day. It is recommended that kids spend no more than two hours per day watching TV, playing video games, on the computer, etc. If you find  your kids do spend excessive amounts of time in front of the TV, try setting limits like “TV may only be watched from 1:00-2:30.” Physical activity should always be encouraged in a positive light and never used as a form of punishment. Encourage safe, outdoor activities; it’s summer time after all!


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Convenience Foods: How to Make the Right Choices

flatbreadWork, dentist appointment, grocery shopping, baseball game, laundry, dinner for four, help with homework…and it’s only Monday. For most people, this is a snapshot of everyday life. Living a fast-paced lifestyle finds many individuals relying on quick, convenient food items throughout the day. Unfortunately, we are drawn to drive-thrus, vending machines and whatever is available at the gas station. Quick, easy menu items do not always have to be unhealthy. Here is a list of foods to keep handy at the office, in your car and stocked up at home.

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal packets: No kitchen should be without this hearty, fiberful breakfast staple. Look for the low-sugar or high-fiber varieties for the best picks. For $3.00 a box with 10 packets per box, this is a better choice than purchasing a oatmealMcDonald’s oatmeal meal that will cost $2.00 for a single serving.
  • Hard boiled eggs and cheese sticks: One nutrient that is usually lacking at breakfast is protein. Taking 15 minutes on the weekend to boil eggs can give you a quick, grab-and-go protein-powered breakfast addition or a quick snack. Cheese sticks are also convenient because they don’t take up a lot of space in the fridge or a lunch bag.
  • Greek yogurt: This yogurt packs in twice the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt. Extra protein can help you feel fuller longer. One setback to Greek yogurt is that it typically contains half the amount of calcium compared to the regular varieties.
  • Breakfast sandwiches: Special K flatbread sandwiches, which can be found in the freezer section, are excellent choices for people in a morning rush. At 180-240 calories, these protein-filled choices are much better than a Hardee’s Bacon Egg and Cheese Biscuit, which contains 450 calories.

Lunch/Dinner:

  • Frozen entrée meals: Frozen entrée meals, formerly known as TV dinners, have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1954. Thanks to Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones, you can now find lower calorie options with reduced sodium. Look for meals with less 600 mg of sodium.
  • Frozen Green Giant vegetable boxes: One common thing I see in patients is that they are not consuming enough vegetables. Vegetables are Mother Nature’s weight loss pills. Vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients, a win-win food choice. Each box contains at least two servings of vegetables. I’ve tried all the varieties and have been very pleased. Stock up on them when they go on sale, which is usually every third week at the grocery store.
  • Grilled fast food sandwich: If you absolutely have to go through a drive-thru, your best choice is to order a grilled fish or grilled chicken sandwich with one minor change: forgo the buns and add a side salad. By doing this, you will save yourself 200-300 calories worth of refined carbohydrates.
  • Pre-made salads: Most grocery store chains now offer pre-made salads in their produce section. You may find varieties like chef, Greek, Californian and strawberry spinach. Missing out on protein? Head to the deli section for some pre-cooked grilled chicken strips.

Snacks:

  • Pre-cut vegetables and fruits: If you don’t have enough time to cut up vegetables and fruits to take for the day, purchasing pre-cut varieties is a great option. I’ve seen mixed fruit, carrots and celery, broccoli and cauliflower, mixed bell pepper strips and more in the produce section at the grocery store. The only drawback is that these options are slightly more expensive because you are paying for someone else to cut the food for you.
  • Nuts: Nuts are great to always have on hand. They do not need to be refrigerated, which makes them perfect to keep at the office, in your purse, car, gym bag, etc. Watch out for pre-made trail mixes since they tend to be higher in added sugars from their dried fruit and chocolate candies.
  • Tuna packets and whole grain crackers: Due to its higher sodium content, this snack you would want to have less often. However, it is still better than most other vending machine items. The protein in the tuna will help keep you full. Try serving it on Special K multigrain crackers or a few whole grain Triscuits.green giant

Convenience foods don’t always have to be unhealthy. With a little training, we all can become much savvier shoppers.


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Let’s Get the Flax Facts!

When hearing the word omega-3 fatty acids, most people think of salmon, or maybe walnuts. Today, I wanted to introduce you to another heart-healthy food that contains omega-3 fatty acids—flaxseed. I know what you’re thinking: what is flaxseed, and how do I eat it?

Flaxseed is one of many nutritional powerhouse foods, meaning it is full of healthy nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3 fatty acids (specifically alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). ALA is a polyunsaturated fat that is needed in our diets. Replacing bad fats (saturated and trans-fats) with the good fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats) can help lower the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol. Flax is a source of lignans which are antioxidants that may reduce the activity of cell-damaging free radicals. One tablespoon of milled flax contains about 3 grams of fiber (both soluble and insoluble). Fiber from flax can help one feel fuller longer, help reduce cholesterol and improve colon and digestive health. Flax is also a great source of nutrients for vegetarians and a great way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids for people with fish allergies.

You can find flaxseed at your local grocery store. I have found it in the cereal aisle, next to the oatmeal or in the gluten-free section. Remember to refrigerate the flaxseed once opened.  Aim for an intake of 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day. The best way to buy it is “milled”. We cannot absorb all the healthy nutrients flax has to offer unless it’s in the ground/milled form. You can grind whole flax seeds on your own using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender.

Here are some ideas for adding flax into your diet. Consuming it with other foods adds a light nutty flavor to your dishes:

  • Mix flax in with your yogurt
  • Add it to breakfast cereal or oatmeal
  • Mix in with fruit smoothies
  • Sprinkle into soups/stews/sauces

Try these other flax-friendly recipes!

For kids:

  • Add to applesauce
  • Sprinkle a thin layer between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Add to beans/chili after cooking
  • Mix in with mashed potatoes (or mashed cauliflower) after cooking

How do you add flax into your diet?

For more ideas, recipes and information about flax please visit: www.healthyflax.com.

Eat right, move more and live life to the flax!


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Go Nutty

What is your favorite healthy food—the one you could eat every single day? Mine happens to be pistachios! Yes, those tiny green nuts in the humorous “Get Crackin’” commercials featuring celebrities like Brobee (from “Yo Gabba Gabba”), PSY, Charlie Brown and Lucy, and even the famous honey badger. I can usually find a 16 oz bag of pistachios on sale for $5.99 (regularly priced at $7.99), but, most of the time, I buy them in bulk since everyone in my household loves them.

Pistachios are known to be good for lowering the risk of heart disease. New research finds they can also increase antioxidant levels in the blood of adults with high cholesterol. (Credit: iStockphoto) - See more at: http://www.futurity.org/health-medicine/eating-pistachios-ups-antioxidant-levels/#sthash.W2L2w4Bk.dpuf

Pistachios are known to be good for lowering the risk of heart disease.  (Credit: iStockphoto)

Pistachios and other nuts make great snacks by themselves, or they can be added to yogurts and salads, crunched on top of proteins and cereal. Nuts are sources of fiber, magnesium, protein and healthy fats. Protein and fiber help increase satiety, keeping you feeling fuller longer. Walnuts are a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid source, giving people with fish allergies a great way to consume omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health and can help reduce inflammation. Research consistently shows that regular consumption of nuts (1 oz/day) can help reduce one’s risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and help control weight. Even the American Heart Association has certified almonds to display the “Heart-Check” mark for heart-healthy foods. One ounce of nuts (about ¼ cup) consists of 49 pistachios, 23 almonds, 14 walnuts or about 10 to 12 macadamia nuts.

Keep nuts handy in your gym bag, purse or car. They are an easy, convenient snack to have on-the-go, and the only preparation necessary is throwing a handful into a Ziploc bag. Need to snack on something crunchy? Grab a handful of nuts. Going on a long car ride to visit family? Pack a handful of nuts. In addition to a nutritionally dense diet and daily physical activity, consuming nuts can be part of a wholesome meal plan and healthy lifestyle.

Eat right, live well and go a little nutty!

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