Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well

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vegetables_MP910221091We all know vegetables are part of a healthy diet. In fact, many of my patients admit that they need to eat more vegetables. But for some reason, the majority of Americans are still not meeting their recommended daily consumption of vegetables.

  • In the United States, it is recommended that adults should consume a minimum of 2-3 cups of vegetables each day.
  • Active adults should be consuming more than this.

I always tell my patients that non-starchy vegetables are like Mother Nature’s weight control pill. They’re low in carbs, low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s a win-win-win situation. The fiber in vegetables often requires more chewing.This can help slow down your eating pace so your brain can register earlier when you are actually full. Fiber itself can also lead to higher satiety levels meaning you generally will stay full longer after consuming a fiber-rich meal. Vegetables also have a high water content. This is one of the main reasons why they are so low in calories.

  • One cup of cooked zucchini slices is a mere 30 calories!
  • One cup of cooked spaghetti noodles is over 200 calories.

They also increase the flavor of a dish whether you’re adding some sweetness from red bell peppers or a savory touch from mushrooms and garlic. Filling, delicious and low in calories-what more could you ask for?!?!

Fresh vegetables fallingTomatoes, potatoes and sweet corn are the top three vegetables consumed in the US.1 Unfortunately, white potatoes and corn are known as the starchy vegetables; they contain a higher amount of carbohydrates and calories and both have a high glycemic index. This makes them less-healthy vegetable choices, especially if one is diabetic. Another interesting fact is the form of these vegetables that are most commonly consumed. Canned tomatoes make up the largest portion of tomato consumption while frozen potatoes and corn are the forms that Americans most commonly devour. My guess is this is related to a high consumption of tomato sauce, pizza and French fries.

A recent European study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that consuming 7 or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day reduces one’s risk of all-cause death (cancer, heart disease) at any point in time by 42%.2 Additionally, researchers found that fresh vegetables had the strongest positive effect with reducing overall risk of death. Fresh fruit also showed a positive effect; however it was much less than the risk reduction rate of fresh vegetables. Even though we really didn’t need a study to tell us that fruits and vegetables are healthy, this does support the concept that consuming more vegetables and fruits can help you live a longer, healthier life!

Make vegetables the priority of the meal-not the after-thought! Find out what counts as a serving size.

Also try to limit consumption of peas, corn and potatoes and focus more on dark green or bright red/orange vegetable varieties.





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I’m Coo-Coo for Coconut Oil!


imgresIsn’t it funny how you remember certain taglines for cereals, toys or even soap brands? The original line is the slogan for cocoa puffs cereal, “I’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs”. Just like Sonny the Cuckoo bird was obsessed with his sugar-sweetened cereal, I have found a new obsession…coconut oil.

For years, coconut oil has received a bad reputation in health, due to its high fat content, specifically its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are believed to be one of the contributing factors of heart disease; however, these studies typically are observing saturated fats from a multitude of different sources and typically as parts of unhealthy diet plans. One key difference here is that the saturated fat from a coconut is derived from a plant source. These fats are mostly composed of medium-chain fats known as MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) vs. other sources of saturated fats are derived from long-chain fatty acids.  MCTs are more easily digested and metabolized and also appear to be used more so for energy rather than fat storage.

Another important fact about coconut oil is that 50% of its fat is composed of lauric acid. Lauric acid has been studied for its benefits as an antiviral and antimicrobial agent. In the body, lauric acid works to help boost one’s immunity. Coconut oil is also documented as an antioxidant source.

Tips on Using Coconut Oil:

  •          It’s solid! Well, at room temperature, that is. Coconut oil will liquefy once heated to 76oF.
  •          Try to find an organic, unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oil when making your first purchase. Most grocery stores carry a few varieties to select.
  •          It’s great for high temperature cooking (high smoke point of 450oF). Use it for baking, roasting, sautéing!
  •          Remember saturated fat from coconut oil is far different from the saturated fat found in your Big Mac and fries.
  •          Be mindful of portion sizes. Even though coconut oil is raised up for all of its health benefits, one should still practice good portion control when consuming coconut oil and using it in recipes.
  •          While I have only been using coconut oil for cooking purposes, other sources suggest that it can be used for a multitude of uses such as a skin moisturizer, eye make-up remover or even as a dental health promoter.
  •          Try to avoid partially hydrogenated forms of coconut oil that can be commonly found in cereals, baked goods, biscuits and salty snack foods.
  •          Adding coconut oil into your diet will not magically make you 100% healthier. A healthy diet is based on whole, unprocessed foods and balanced in calories.

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Trying New Things With Chicken

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a chicken recipe. We’ve been eating chicken all right, but I’ve had a handful of recipe fails lately that did not make the cut to be featured on the blog. For weeks, I have been craving a solid honey mustard chicken recipe. It took me fives tries before I came out with this one, but that didn’t stop me from continuously trying to make the perfect chicken recipe. Whether your challenge is training for a ½ marathon, making strength gains at the gym or, like me, cooking new recipes… remember, taking on any new challenge can have its own set of triumphs and letdowns. It’s important to not let those set-backs get in the way of you achieving your goal and boy, am I glad I didn’t quit. My husband has already asked me to make this recipe again since finally nailing it! It’s quick, simple and can be served by itself or prepared in a salad.

Maple Honey Mustard Chicken


  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • ½ cup Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup (not the generic syrup we’re most accustomed to)
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary or 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375oF. Lightly season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and lay in cooking dish.
  2. Meanwhile whisk together mustard, syrup and red wine vinegar. Pour mixture over chicken breasts and cook for 30-35 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle rosemary on top of cooked chicken and serve warm.

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Revisiting your New Year’s Goals

Previously, this year, I blogged about strategies to take your New Year’s resolutions and turn them into lifelong habits. Some of those strategies discussed included making SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound), grabbing a buddy to help you along the way, not giving up too soon on your goals and sharing your journey/achievements with others. Since I am a woman of keeping my word, I am revisiting and providing updates on my goals that I established for the year 2014.

Goal #1: Consume less diet soda.

This is incredibly embarrassing to admit, but I have had at least one diet soda every day for as long as I can remember (at least 10 years, eeek!). When I was in college, I could easily consume 4-5 diet sodas/day. Since then, I have cut back to one per day; but still was unhappy with my caffeine addiction and the fact that I was consuming chemicals and sugar substitutes as a beverage. It took a lot of courage and a lot of tries, but I finally did it! I went a whole day without having any caffeine or diet soda. I did have an 8-hour headache that tempted me all day long to go to the vending machine but my persistence and will-power overcame the temptation. The second day’s headache was much more bearable and after a few days, I was completely fine. Believe me, it has been hard but I feel so much cleaner and healthier knowing that I do not need to depend on caffeine every day and more importantly that I am no longer filling my body with chemicals from the diet soda. Giving up diet soda has been a goal I have made for several years. The fact that I knew I was going to be blogging about my journey additionally motivated me to stay on track!

Goal #2: Read more and watch less TV.

I started out really well with this goal, but like most people, after a month, I reverted back to my old nighttime TV-watching habits. I found myself saying “Oh I’ll read more this summer”, but then I realized I was only pushing back my goals with the thought “someday I’ll change.” It’s important to remember that someday is not a day during the week and to start making changes, you simply need to start them today.

Goal #3: Complete a muscle-up, body weight power clean and squat 185 lbs before the end of the year.

These are all part of my fitness goals at crossfit. In order to reach strength-related goals, it’s important to have proper programming and motivating coaches. This is one of the reasons why I love my crossfit box so much. For the month of January, I was very disciplined with eating clean, good sleeping habits and stretching both at the gym and at home. While I haven’t reached my goals with my power clean and squats, I am beyond ecstatic that I did get my first muscle-up at the end of January! Performing a muscle-up was something I really never thought I would achieve because it requires so much skill and upper body strength. Knowing now that anything is possible with hard work and dedication will help me continue to set high goals for myself.



Spring is a perfect time to reflect on your own habits and see how well they are fitting into a healthy lifestyle. Maybe you started out on the right foot but then fell off track a bit. With Springfield Clinic’s Illinois Product’s Farmers Market starting back up and warmer weather, this is the perfect opportunity to revisit some of your old goals and make some new ones!


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Spring Forward With Good Healthy Sleep

It’s that time of year already??? Yes, it’s time for Daylight Savings Time! So spring forward those clocks and get ready  for the dreaded thought that we all “lose an hour of sleep.” While this time change may temporarily affect our sleeping routine, many of us suffer from poor sleeping habits all year round.  Spring-forward-small-new

We all know how important sleep is for optimal health but many of our daytime habits may be affecting the quality of our sleep at night. A good night’s sleep usually will make us feel refreshed, energized and ready to take on the day’s activities. I have a really bad habit of starting my day off in a rotten mood if I didn’t sleep well the night before. Adequate sleep restores us mentally, physically and emotionally. This is certainly true for my husband and me. If we get into a tift before bed (usually exaggerated by the fact we are both tired and cranky), we know its best to just sleep on it and discuss things in the morning. We have also learned that sufficient sleep has a great impact on weight management and decreasing the risk for metabolic disorders.sleep

Since its discovery in 1999, the hormone ghrelin has been investigated regarding its roles in appetite and hunger, and it appears that our sleep cycle plays a role in its regulation. An interesting study conducted at the Mayo Clinic showed that when healthy young adults’ sleep patterns were shortened by one third, they consumed more than 500 extra calories when compared to the control group.1 It was also noted that ghrelin levels slightly decreased in the group that consumed more calories. While this research is still in its infancy, it raises the importance of getting adequate amounts of sleep to control weight and possibly appetite.

This doesn’t just apply to adults either. According to Judith Owens, MD, director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., “Insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity, affects academic performance and has implications for safety. Chronic sleep restriction affects the immune system, the developing brain and the cardiovascular system.” Two important components that have been found to influence adolescents’ sleep quality are exercise and screen time. It is suggested that exercise earlier in the day can help promote better sleep patterns at night; however, if the only time you have available to work out is in the evening, then you should continue to do so. Remember, any exercise is better than no exercise. Too much screen time can also negatively influence the quality of sleep. Keep in mind that excessive screen time can also be linked with low physical activity levels. Previously, screen time only involved television, video gaming and computers. Today, screen time includes our tablets and smartphones. I know I am very guilty of spending way too much time on my smartphone! sleep_more_and_better_image_title_mostb

What types of food should I eat to sleep better? This is a question I hear quite often. Many people try drinking a warm glass of milk before bed. Others associate a big Thanksgiving dinner with turkey as the best way to catch some zzzs. But is there any truth in all this? Can food actually help you fall asleep or improve the quality of one’s sleep? Are there other factors that influence our sleep?

First of all, many foods contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in turkey and coined as a sleep aid. Carbohydrates can make tryptophan more available to the brain and if your family eats like mine on Thanksgiving, then you’re consuming A LOT of carbohydrates. Tryptophan can be found in animal proteins, dairy products, nuts/seeds, beans, bananas, mangos and even chocolate to name a few. It is suggested that bedtime snacks for better snoozing should include a protein (tryptophan source) and carbohydrate source such as an apple with peanut butter.

Be mindful of your caffeine intake. Lack of sleep and caffeine intake can become a vicious cycle. A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish all day leading to higher caffeine/stimulant intakes. Too much caffeine can also disrupt your deep sleep cycle. Since I’ve cut way back on my caffeine intake, I noticed that I sleep much longer and sounder than I have in years!

Another way to fight daytime fatigue with food is to focus on natural foods and limit consumption of processed items. Foods high in salt, unhealthy fats and sugar can leave your body and mind feeling sluggish and dull. Opt for items like berries, apples or nuts as pick-me-up snacks over granola bars, pretzels or sweets.

As you can see, there are several factors in our lives that influence our sleep habits. For more information on sleep problems visit Springfield Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.

1. Calvin AD, Carter RE, Levine JA, Somers VK. Insufficient sleep increases caloric intake but not energy expenditure. Poster presented at: The American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions; March 13-16, 2012; San Diego, CA.

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Perfect Savory & Sweet Dish

photo 1Sweet potatoes are a perfect combination of filling and healthy carbs that add a touch of natural sweetness to any dish. Typically, I enjoy my sweet potatoes sautéed in some coconut oil with a pinch of salt and pepper or roasted in the oven with garlic and onions. I usually avoid recipes for sweet potatoes that call for additional sweet ingredients like brown sugar and cinnamon because I feel they are then too sweet. But, boy oh boy am I glad I tried this recipe–out it’s became another instant favorite in our household. This dish is a little bit higher on the carb side so make sure you serve it with a lean protein and non-starchy vegetables (green beans, salads, broccoli, etc).

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Balsamic Raisins, Rosemary and Goat Cheese

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Balsamic Raisins, Rosemary and Goat Cheese

  • 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1-2 tbsp of melted coconut oil
  • ¼ c. balsamic vinegar
  • ½ c. raisins
  • 3-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled or cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425oF. Place cubed sweet potatoes in pan and toss with melted coconut oil, salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes or until slightly crispy.

2. Meanwhile place raisins and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes so vinegar reduces and raisins plump up. Be sure not to overcook the vinegar as this can scorch your pan.

3. Once sweet potatoes are done, place in serving dish and toss in raisins, remaining vinegar, goat cheese and rosemary. Serve warm. (But it was also quite tasty cold the next day!)

For more delicious and healthy recipes head to our Pinterest Board.

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Keep an Open Mind


photoOne thing I have been trying to work on is being more open to recipe ingredients I am less familiar with. When I first looked at this recipe, my immediate reaction was “fennel seeds?…next please.” It’s a good thing I am overcoming my fears, because this chicken dish was a burst of citrus, fresh air for these cold snowy winter days.

I used the leftover lemon for my haricot verts (basically fresh green beans) and this became one of my new favorite side dishes. Haricot verts are a low-cost, low-carb side dish that goes well with any entrée!

Chicken and Haricot Verts with a Lemony Twist 

For the Chicken:

  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 chicken breasts

For the Haricot Verts:

  • 1 lb of fresh green beans/haricot verts (I use a 1 lb bag of haricot verts from Sam’s Club)
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ sweet onion
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat oven to 375oF. Mix first 5 ingredients for chicken recipe together in a small bowl. Pour ingredients over chicken and coat evenly.

2. Place chicken in oven and cook 30-35 minutes.

3. While chicken is cooking, place steamable bag of haricot verts into microwave and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add shallots, garlic and onion. Sautee for a few minutes until onions and shallots become tender, but do not brown.

5. Add steamed haricot verts to skillet and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir into mixture for a couple minutes and serve warm. Optional–you can garnish this dish with chopped almonds or tomatoes.

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Salt Substitution Solutions for the Kitchen

One of the best things we can do for heart-healthy living is reduce the amount of sodium we consume. Decreasing dietary sodium intake, in combination with exercise and consuming an abundance of fruits, vegetables, fiber and healthy fats are all the ingredients one needs to start living more heart-healthy. Unfortunately, the majority of one’s sodium intake comes from the intake of processed food items. Just remember that the fresher a product is, the more likely it is to be better for you and your heart. However, we can often take fresh ingredients and make them less healthy if we’re adding too much salt, sugar or butter to the items. Here are some healthier substitutes for increasing flavor in your dishes.

All-Purpose Spice Blend

• 5 teaspoons onion powder

• 2½ teaspoons garlic powder

• 2½ teaspoons paprika

• 2½ teaspoon dry mustard

• 1½ teaspoon crushed thyme leaves

• ½ teaspoon white pepper

• ¼ teaspoon celery seed

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Love Your Workout Playlist

girl working out and listening to musicIt seems as if hearts and love fill the air this time of year. After all, National Heart Month and Valentine’s Day both fall in the month of February, but that certainly does not mean that one must rush out and find a valentine. This year try focusing a little more “love” on yourself. It may sound silly, but say something positive about yourself while looking in the mirror. Give yourself a little post-it note of words of encouragement or congratulations. For example, did you make it the gym five times this week? Write down how good it made you feel.

So in honor of  February–the month full of heart/love, here is one of my love-themed playlists. Whether you’re head over heels or totally over the whole love scene, these songs will definitely get your heart pumping and put a little extra kick in your next workout.

Love Your Workout Playlist:

1. “What is Love” –Haddaway

2. “Love and Memories” –O.A.R.

3. “Bad Romance” –Lady Gaga

4. “Power of Love” –Huey Lewis and the News

5. “Heartbreaker” –Mariah Carey ft. Jay-Z (definitely not ashamed this is still on my iPod)

6. “Your Love” –The Outfield

7. “Kickstart my Heart” –Motley Crue

8. “Teenage Dream” –Katy Perry

9. “Shot Through the Heart” –Bon Jovi

10. “Do You Love Me” –The Contours

11. “Why Can’t This Be Love” –Van Halen

12. “Good Vibrations” –Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (because who doesn’t love Mark Wahlberg??)

13. “DJ Got us Falling in Love Again” –Usher

14. “Love” –Roger Creager (give this one a chance and you’ll fall for it too!)

15. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” –Dierks Bentley with the Punch Brothers and Del McCoury


Weather Influenced Meals

download (1)While standing in line at the grocery store, I overheard two individuals talking. Normally, I tune most outside conversations out, but these women happened to be talking about food, so of course my ears perked up. They were conversing about the meals they were going to make because it was so cold outside. One woman stated that she was going to make some homemade chicken and noodles and the other one replied that she was planning on making a tator-tot casserole to “warm her belly up”. These women illustrated a simple principle that occurs winter after winter, year after year; when the weather’s cold outside, we tend to crave entrees that are warm, cheesy, starchy …our comfort foods.

Having the occasional indulgent dish from time to time is perfectly fine, but when we consume these meals on a frequent basis, a caloric imbalance takes place and weight gain can occur (especially if you’re not exercising-another common downfall of the cold weather!) We also tend to wear more layers of clothes and if you’re not weighing yourself or closely monitoring how your clothes are fitting, a few pounds of weight gain can occur almost unnoticeably. When this pattern is repeated year after year, one may begin to notice that their summer clothes just don’t fit as good as they use to.

Some of the most common culprits to these high-calorie or high-starch meals are: cheese, potatoes, rice and pasta. Try to go for these healthy swapportunities that will help keep both your belly and waistline happy this winter.

Use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of pasta. When replacing a starch with a vegetable, you gain the benefits of 1) lowering the caloric content of the meal 2) lowering the carbohydrate amount for the meal and 3) improving the number of servings of fruits and vegetables one consumes each day.

Try switching rice for chopped cauliflower. All you need to do is finely chop up a head of cauliflower or put the florets into a food processor to make it “rice-like” size and then microwave it for a few minutes so it softens in texture. It is really that simple! Liquids can sometimes waterlog the rice-cauliflower, so it may not retain the same consistency if used in a casserole. Try to use it as a side dish or mixed with veggies and protein in a stir-fry or Mexican side dish.


Have you heard of nutritional yeast? I know the name sounds unappealing, but this is a nice substitute in recipes when one is used to sprinkling cheese on top of their meals. Start by using it like you would use parmesan cheese and then explore its uses in your everyday recipes.

Pick sweet potatoes over regular potatoes. A sweet potato  has roughly the same amount of calories as a regular white potato, but it certainly wins when it comes to having more fiber, more antioxidants and a lower glycemic index when compared to regular potatoes. It’s still a good idea to be mindful with portion control when consuming these nutritionally-dense spud alternatives.

 Winter Vegetables Bakevegetable bake

  • 1 large sweet potato, cubed
  • ½ butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 medium red onion, thickly sliced
  • 6-8 gloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 375oF. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in baking dish and toss evenly.

2. Place mixture in oven and bake 40-45 minutes. (I did add a couple strips of cooked cut-up bacon for a fun little twist but this is optional.)

3. Serve with your favorite protein and green side dish.


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