Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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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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Think Healthy for the Holidays!

Looking to make something healthy and creative for your friends and family this holiday season? Watch this video  to learn about healthy choices plus see how easy it is to whip up this fun holiday treat.

7-Layer Lemon Hummus & Pesto Yogurt Dip

Ingredients
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 T tahini (sesame seed paste found in the ethnic food section, or use unsweetened almond butter)
1 lemon separated into 1 tsp grated zest, 3 T juice
3 T organic or reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup basil pesto
1 cup shredded (not grated) Parmesan cheese (or use crumbled feta for a stronger taste)
1 large tomato, seeded, diced 1/4 inch (1 cup)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded with a spoon, and diced (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced

For dipping
Serve grilled or toasted whole-grain pita chips or flatbread torn into pieces
Romaine hearts

Directions
1. To make the hummus: Purée chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, broth, salt, garlic powder, and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Drizzle in olive oil. Spread hummus evenly in the bottom of a 9- X 9-inch glass dish.

2. Stir together yogurt and pesto and spoon over hummus. Evenly sprinkle the cheese, followed by single layers of tomato, cucumber, scallions, and olives. Enjoy this dish on the same or the next day for optimal freshness.

*Note: For a more festive look, use a trifle-style glass bowl rather than a square baking dish. It makes for a great-looking potluck contribution.

Nutrient Analysis per 1/4-cup serving
Calories: 77; Total fat: 5 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 4 mg; Sodium: 243 mg; Total carbohydrate: 5 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Protein: 4 g

— Recipe reprinted with permission from Clean Eating for Busy Families: Get Meals on the Table in Minutes With Simple and Satisfying Whole-Foods Recipes You and Your Kids Will Love by Michelle Dudash, RDN (Fair Winds Press, December 2012) 


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Cholesterol Month – Part 2

Diet:

  • Limit saturated and trans fats.
    • Saturated and trans fats are found in fatty or fried meats such as: bacon, sausage, hotdogs, bologna, pepperoni, salami, poultry skin, fried chicken, fried pork tenderloin and fried fish.salmonheart
    • They are also found in whole milk products, high-fat cheese, ice cream, butter, cream, margarine and lard.
    • Foods made with hydrogenated oils (pizza and other packaged food items), candy bars, crackers, chips, pastries, doughnuts and muffins are additional ways these bad fats can be found in our diets.
    • Take Away Message: Try to avoid/limit red meat, fried foods, processed pastry/bakery items and dairy products made with whole milk.
  • Limit total amount of fat that you eat (good and bad) to 25%-35% of the total calories you eat.
    • Even if you’re not a calorie-counting whiz, the simplest way to accomplish this is to stick to heart-healthy fat sources such as: fish, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, avocados and olive oil and limit/avoid the sources of unhealthy fats.
    • A small popcorn from the movie theater contains 42 grams of fat, which would be 25% of total calories for a person following a 1500 calorie diet. Here’s an example of a healthier way to incorporate fat into the diet: Try adding ½ medium avocado (15 g) with breakfast, 1 Tbsp of peanut butter (8.5 g) with a snack and 4 oz of salmon (12 g) with dinner to create nutritious, well-balanced meals.
    • Become more familiar with reading food labels  and utilizing online resources for finding fat content of foods. A great website is www.calorieking.com for finding nutritional information on foods and menu items. This is very useful when dining out or ordering in! Pizza is a very common source of unhealthy fats in our diet. Two slices of pepperoni pizza plus garlic dipping sauce contains 37 grams of fat.
  • Increase Omega-3 fatty acid intake.
    • This recommendation goes right along with choosing healthier sources of fats in one’s diet. The benefits of omega-3 fats go well beyond heart health. They can also help with reducing inflammation and supporting eye and brain health.
    • Omega-3 fats, specifically Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are found in canola, soybean and flaxseed oil.
    • The most potent sources of omega-3 fats include salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and sardines (EPA and DHA sources).
    • Ground flaxseed and walnuts (ALA) are two wonderful ways to incorporate omega-3 fats into your diet, especially if you are not a fan of fish.
    • The American Heart Association recommends that people with heart disease get 1 gm of omega-3 fatty acids from a combination of EPA and DHA per day. Consult with your physician before adding a fish oil supplement into your regimen as this may have possible interactions with other medications.
  • Increase dietary fiber intake to at least 20-30 grams per day.
    • Fiber is Mother Nature’s cholesterol lowering medication. While total fiber is very important, try to include sources of soluble fiber into your daily intake.
    • Soluble fiber is found in oats, oat bran, kidney beans, broccoli, ground flaxseed, apples, bananas and potatoes with the skin. It is also added in fortified fiber products such as Fiber One and Fiber Plus cereals and snack bars.
    • Fiber is only found in plant-based foods; fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, beans/legumes and whole grains. When choosing a grain (pasta, bread, cereal), make sure it is made with 100% whole wheat or whole grain. Barley, quinoa and brown rice make great choices too. Focus on filling ½ your plate with fruits and/or vegetables. Add nuts/seeds to salads, cereals or simply enjoy them by themselves.

Patients often ask me, “But Amanda, I don’t eat fried foods and I never eat red meat; why do I have high cholesterol?” In many cases, it’s not a matter of consuming too much of the bad stuff, it’s that you may not be consuming enough of the good stuff, specifically the omega-3 fatty acids and enough fiber.

Read part one of Cholesterol Month here!cholesterol colors


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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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Label Reading 101

Reading food labels can be very advantageous; you can find information on serving sizes, calories, amount of fat, calcium content and many other nutrients. However, if you’re like most people, reading food labels can become quite overwhelming.  I’ve had a family friend tell me that she doesn’t read food labels because there is too much information on there. I began reading labels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, the only thing I looked at was the amount of fat

The truth about food labels.

The truth about food labels.

and paid no attention to the rest of the information provided. Just like everyone else, I could have used a little help from a Label Reading 101 course.

Label Reading 101

Today’s Lesson:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Fat
  • “Reduced fat” and “fat-free”

Serving Size: The serving size of a product is located at the very top of the nutrition facts label. This is the foundation for all the nutrient information because all the numbers listed below are pertinent to that listed serving size.

I want to make a little side-note; serving size ≠ portion size. Serving size is the amount recommended on the food label; portion size is the amount you actually serve yourself. For example, not many people actually measure their cereal in the morning; rather we pour until we think we’ve got the “right amount” in our bowl. The serving size of most cereals is ¾ cup. As an experiment, pour the amount of cereal you normally have and then measure out your portion to see how closely your estimates are to the recommended serving size.

Calories: Calories is the first bolded item found on the label. The calorie amount shown is based on the listed serving size. Keep in mind some products may contain several servings per container. In this case, you may see two columns of information: one indicating the calories per serving, and one for the entire container. You will often see this format on candy, chip and beverage containers. “Calories from fat” is a little unnecessary. It’s more important (and, to be honest, much easier) to pay attention to total fat and its other components (saturated, trans and unsaturated fats) instead of monitoring “calories from fat.” Below is my explanation of this.

Fat: The total fat value is a sum of all the different types of fat in that product. Nutrients that are indented under a bolded item means that they are components of the total value. Saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all make up the total fat value. Saturated fats and trans fats are the types of fats to consume less of in the diet. Try to find products with no more than three grams of saturated fat per serving and no amounts of trans fat.

Sometimes, we get turned away from a food item because the fat content is much higher than other products. For example, peanut butter has a fat content of 16 grams per two tbsp serving size and a four ounce serving of salmon has around 12 grams of fat. However, these total fat values are mainly composed of the healthy fats that we strive to get in our diets; mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This is why looking at “calories from fat” can be misleading. The value listed doesn’t indicate if those are calories from good fats or the unhealthy fats. An example of an unhealthy fat is Chili’s nachos on their appetizer menu; just four chips with all the toppings contain almost 30 grams of fat and over half of that is saturated fat (aka the kind of fat that is not kind to our waist lines).

Labels that say “reduced fat” or “fat-free”: Many people purchase these types of items like fat-free salad dressing or reduced-fat peanut butter because the label makes it sound like they are healthier options. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’re not. One solid piece of advice to remember is fat-free does not mean “calorie-free.” Often, the fat-free or reduced-fat options of foods have almost the same amount of calories as the regular version. Sometimes health halos accompany food labels with the words “fat free” on it. This means that people tend to consume larger portions of the food because they believe that it is healthier than the regular version. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience on this one.

Another important piece to remember is that fat flavors our food. When fat is taken out of product, it is often replaced by extra sodium and extra sugars which doesn’t necessarily make a healthier food product. Reduced-fat peanut butter has twice the amount of sodium in it compared to regular peanut butter. Fat is important in our diet; we especially need it to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are often found in our non-starchy vegetables. This is why fat-free salad dressing is not the best choice to make. If you don’t have any fat in the meal, your body will have a hard time absorbing the vitamin K from your spinach or the vitamin A from the raw carrots in your salad. Stick to a vinaigrette; they spread easily and your portion sizes tend to be smaller.

Next week’s lesson:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • “Sugar-free”


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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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