Friday, February 26, 2010

Omega-3's and the Wow Factor

Omega-3 fatty acids might as well be wearing a cape with a big "S" shining on it. Omega-3's are polyunsaturated long-chained fatty acids that are doing some amazing things for our health. They play an important role in making the cells in our nerves and brain healthier. Omega-3's help to reduce triglyceride levels in the blood which lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease, help to reduce clotting, inflammation, and thickening of the arteries. More research is needed, but scientists are looking into finding evidence to support the observations that it prevents and/or treats some types of cancer growth, bipolar disorder, depression, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, asthma, and many other disorders and diseases. Wow, what a list of possibilities! It will be interesting to see what the research comes up with.

Omega-3's are essential fatty acids, which means our body can't make them, so we have to get them from the food we eat. Studies have shown that these are definitely better absorbed from food than supplements.

Eicosapentoenoic acid (EPA) and
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come from fish. These are the forms our body likes our
omega-3's to be served in! Find them in:
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel
  • Lake Trout
Plant sources provide alpha-linolenic acid (more Greek!) which is a type of omega-3
our body will convert to EPA and DHA, though it's not a very efficient process. Try:
  • Flaxseed, flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts, walnut oil
John, a new reader, wants to know what heat does to omega-3's. Very insightful question!
Polyunsaturated oils are very susceptible to heat damage, and omega-3's are especially at risk.
When heated, these oils will actually become oxidized (they would rust if they were a metal
wagon, turn brown if they were a cut apple.) When this happens, the flavor and smell go "off"
and the oil will become rancid. This produces free radicals (see previous blog on Antioxidants),
setting off a dangerous chain reaction. If we consume too many of these, our risk for developing cancer may increase and we'll have less protection against heart disease. Not good. Keep in mind that walnut oil and flaxseed oil should never be heated and always stored in the refrigerator in dark containers. Heat and light will damage these sensitive oils. Studies have shown that using moderate heat while cooking omega-3 fish is just fine, as less than 0.1% of
the fatty acid is actually damaged, so almost all of the nutritional value remains. Cooking at
350 degrees until done would be perfect. On the other hand, the extremely high heat of
barbecue grilling and deep fat frying has been shown to be bad news for omega-3's. This level
of intense heat damages the fatty acid structure,creates free radicals, and lessens nutritional
value...not good. Remember: fried = evil!

Recommended for great omega-3 levels:
  • Eat fatty fish at least twice a week (never fried!)
  • Add walnuts, ground flaxseed to your daily healthy eating plan.
Some people choose fish oil supplements, which can be useful in some situations. Just
remember that food sources of omega-3's are absorbed better, and taking too many of these
supplements can be dangerous. Check with your doctor first, especially if you are taking any
medications, as fish oil supplements can interact or interfere with some medications.

So, what did we learn? Omega-3 fatty acids really do deserve the Wow Factor!!

Say "YES" to the "3's!"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Parsley? Who knew?

When I was a little girl, we didn't eat dinner out very often--maybe once or twice a year. I do remember some special dinners being served with a tiny piece of greenery decorating the plate. I thought that was pretty cool. I mean, mom never served dinner like that. Bright green parsley was just the right touch of color. Sometimes I would it eat--it was kind of strange stuff--though most adults just left the parsley on their plate after finishing their meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy. I mean, what was the point of a dab of green?

Now we know that fresh parsley is loaded with vitamins C, K, beta-carotene, folate, iron, and has lots of flavenoid antioxidant power. Yes, even the herbs we season and decorate with can indeed make us healthier. Our challenge is, we need to learn to eat them, not just look at them.

Parsley can bring wonderful flavor and color to all sorts of dishes. We need to have a little courage and try to use it in a new way, and imagine that you are sprinkling bits of nutritious magic along the way.

To get started, the next time you are in the grocery store, I want you to pick out one bundle of fresh parsley--curly or flat leaf (it's less than $1 here) Flat leaf or Italian parsley is more fragrant and less bitter than its curly leaf cousin. Find a bunch that looks crisp, dark and fresh (no slimy areas.) Smell it. Enjoy the experience! Check out all the fresh herbs you see---cilantro, fresh thyme, sage. Smell them all. If one seems heavenly to you, bring that one home, too! I do this every week, then I make a game of trying to use up my fresh parsley, cilantro or herbs before they spoil. It's fun and encourages lots of variety in my cooking.

When you get home, don't wash the parsley, just tuck it into a paper towel wrap and into a plastic bag. Then, pop it into the veggie drawer. Wash it just before you use it.
  • Tossed Green Salad. Take a couple of handfuls of parsley, and chop it coarsely. Toss it in with your favorite salad. It gives a wonderful new texture and flavor. Great with a splash of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dash of salt and fresh ground pepper. I love it!
  • Soups or Stews. Chop a handful of either type of parsley and add just before serving. Use dried parsley if you'd rather for these.
  • Cottage Cheese Dip. Take your favorite low fat cottage cheese and add a handful (1/3 cup) chopped curly leaf parley, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise. Blend well. Serve with fresh veggies or whole grain crackers.
  • Chicken Dishes. So many chicken dishes lend themselves well to parsley. Sprinkle on a a big handful of chopped fresh parsley just before serving.
  • Beef and Pork Roasts. Add a big handful of chopped parsley in the last few minutes of cooking.
This week, take the Parsley Challenge! See how many different ways you can utilize this super food, as you imagine sprinkling on all those wonderfully healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants!

Let us in on all the great ways you have to use parsley. And remember...

For Your Health, Go for the Green!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For Just 10 Minutes...

OK, I hear you. You'll never in your wildest dreams be an athlete at the Olympics, and you really hate to work out. After a long day, your favorite activity? Pushing the buttons on the TV remote control zapper while in the reclined position. Trust me, you are not alone! Since you are reading this, I am going to assume you are interested in becoming a healthier, stronger version of yourself, though, so let's keep talking.

For those of you in the "I hate to exercise" or the "I can't get started" modes, I want to introduce you to the 10 minute challenge. Pick any exercise or activity you can think of: walking, ab crunches, jogging, dancing, walking up and down the stairs---anything. You pick. Promise yourself that you are going to do it for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes. At the end of that time, if you'd like to stop, fine. If you'd like to keep going, go for it. There is something really cool about this little approach to exercise. You aren't telling yourself that there will be a long bout of pain, sweat and suffering. Nope, you are just going to get in motion for 10 minutes. Small stuff. Do-able. Manageable. Head is good and set in a positive mode, and it stays that way. It really works, as reader Jess just emailed to remind me. I gave her this little trick a long time ago, and it just popped into her head as she was debating going to the gym this past week. Its worked for her for years, as she enjoys her 80+ pound lighter, triathlon body!

Studies have shown that exercising in small increments several times a day still gives your body a good workout. If you can put together 3 sessions of 10 minute challenges during the day, guess what? You are
there! Your heart and lungs will thank you.

Reader krispy kreme has been an avid exerciser for quite awhile but still struggles to get started. It's just not what she
prefers to do. She'd rather be doing just about anything else--you may be able to relate? It seems like once you really get into it, exercise should become an easy piece of your life. Not necessarily, as krispy kreme points out. I really love the way she approaches it: she just tells herself she'll go for 20 minutes. Incredibly for her, 20 turns into 30 and sometimes 40 minutes or more. Her approach is the same: use a small time goal to start yourself out, and then see what happens.

I'm putting the 10 minute challenge out there to all of you this week! Pick any activity or exercise you want. Do it for just 10 minutes today. Stop after that, or keep's up to you. Simply 10 minutes each day this week. Deal?

Fire Up You Guys, You Can Do It!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let's Eat Like Olympians!

There's nothing quite like watching the Olympics. The speed, the skill, the precision, the talent---these athletes are amazing. We pause for a commercial break. We see kids with defeated looking faces still sporting their hockey gear. Their coach is giving them a big post game pep talk: yeah, they only scored one goal, but they played their hearts out, they played like Olympians. So, they are going to EAT like Olympians. They are going to go to McDonald's. Next, we see them chowing down chicken nuggets. PLEASE!!

This is a terrible message to give our kids:
  1. This is marketing directed right to the kids. Kids are getting the message that if they want to become an Olympian, then they need to eat McDonald's food. I can still remember my boys watching the winter Olympics over and over again on our first VCR. With blue and orange plastic motorcycle helmets donned, they were both tightly fitted into our wooded bar stools laid on the floor concentrating on their bobsled runs along with the TV. At their ages, if McDonald's had told them they could become an Olympic bobsled champion by eating at McD's, they would have believed it. This is taking an unfair advantage of our young population.
  2. It gives the impression that Olympians have a regular diet of McDonald's. Trust me, Olympians are not chomping down on lots of fast food. These athletes know what they eat will make a difference in how well they do in their sport. Sure, many will do a fast food run occasionally. Some of them who burn lots of calories during their training may stop by more often. But, to get to the level they are, they are eating nutrient dense, healthy foods---they listen to their nutritionists! Eat well=perform well!
  3. Olympians burn lots of calories. Kids watching TV, not so many. Kids don't realize a few chicken nuggets for them is a huge meal, and for the supreme athletes it's a much smaller portion of the day's caloric needs.
  4. Why show kids eating just chicken nuggets and fries? You can make healthier choices there. Have one of the kids eating a salad or fruit dippers with the same smile on. This could be one small step toward making a difference in the fight against childhood obesity that First Lady Michelle Obama just launched in her Move It program.
You know, TV commercials give adults enough trouble with all the food cues they deliver. It's the old, "see food, want to eat," food problem. But when these commercials are directed at our kids and play on their Olympic dreams--big mistake! I'll be the mother bear here--Back off, McDonald's and let our kids dream free. You need a change in your marketing!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

And What Did I Learn?

Ever have one of those days when you are just plain grumpy, and nothing goes quite right? Yeah, me, too. Yesterday was one of those days. I just couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. I mean, I finally had a headache free day after several days dealing with with one--you know those lovely sinuses. So, that was good. But, I hadn't slept well at all the night before--maybe the stars were out of alignment (whatever that means?) I wanted to go back to bed after the dog woke me up, so I made my husband take the dog out for his morning walk. Guess what? I couldn't believe it, but I couldn't go back to sleep! Sometimes, things just aren't fair, you know? So, I proceeded through the usual Saturday morning grocery shopping and errands, trying to pull myself together. Nothing seemed to work. Finally, it struck me. I hadn't exercised the day before. Nope. I took the day off to get rid of my headache and get some other things accomplished. THAT WAS IT!

I don't get a "high" when I exercise, like many athletes do. I don't work out at that level. But I really notice it when I miss working out for a couple of days...I think my brain starts missing the endorphins. Endorphins are those lovely feel-good-happy, opiate-like neurotransmitters that like to zip through your brain when you do different things --like exercise. Endorphins really make us feel good and work in much the same way as many SSRI anti-depressants do (this is not to say that exercise can take the place of your antidepressants--always follow the advice of your doc!)

I was talking to my husband about going to see a George Clooney movie to perk me up, but once I figured out my brain needed a zip of endorphins, I suggested we take the dog out to the park for a walk instead. I told him I needed a mental health walk. We took the path through the woods, trudged through the snow, pushed hard and had a great workout for our quads. In 45 minutes, I felt great. Of course, seeing George on the big screen would have been fun, too, but wouldn't have taken care of my brain. Many years ago, when I felt like I did yesterday, that would have led to lots of overeating. Now, I am glad I can figure out what is wrong, even though it sure did take me a while!

And when I got back, I had so much energy, that I started to do a little house cleaning (not my forte.) I did some major stretching as I climbed behind the sofa and dusted the shelf of the big bow window. As I stepped to reach a little further, I forgot about the air register, and really smacked my little toe on corner. YEOW!!! So, today? It's a lovely shade of purplish-black, I'm gingerly walking on it, and thinking that I'm not going to be able to do a good power walk again today. Instead, I will hit abs and arms tonight. Ah, well, I told you it wasn't my day.

What did I learn from yesterday? I certainly learned not to skip my regular exercise routine. I need it for my endorphin fix and for my mental health. And, I think I may have learned to avoid housework...either that, or to always do it with my sneakers on!

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Valentine For You

Valentine's Day. What does it mean to you? Flowers? Funny cards? Dinner and a movie? Jewelry? Ahhh, that's what I thought. Candy. The universal "I LOVE YOU," or even "I KIND OF LIKE YOU," gift if you aren't sure what your relationship really is. I mean, who can argue with a box of chocolates or conversation hearts? And, you can always buy your own if you don't have a Valentine to give you one, right?

My question: What do YOU want out of Valentine's Day?

When I was a kid in elementary school, I wanted to get as many paper Valentine cards as possible in my pink and white decorated shoe box with the slit on top. I loved all the frosted cookies and cupcakes we got to decorate and eat, licking frosting all the way.

At one point in my life, I had the capacity to suck down a nice big bag of red and white colored peanut M&M's to celebrate the occasion. The trouble was, I'd have the M&M fix daily, and hide the evidence. Not too cool. What I got for Valentine's day back then was more body fat. The gift that keeps on giving...

Now, I want better health, more love, and fewer calories for Valentine's Day!

Let's plan for a healthy heart on heart day this year:
  • Eat regular, small healthy meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar level steady. Don't skip meals! This is so important when the festive treats abound and temptation reaches its peak. The hungrier you are, the less control you have.
  • If you have trouble controlling certain sweets, give your Valentine clear instructions to avoid giving you your trigger food and drop the hint of how much you'd love flowers or a movie. My husband is great at remembering roses now after I asked him many years ago to nix the big box of chocolates. Now, he'll occasionally give me one or two truffles--perfect to enjoy and not abuse!
  • Get some exercise this week to relieve some of your stress and keep your heart happy.
  • Stay in control at the restaurant. Think. You are there for the wonderful company, conversation, and fun--not to stuff your face silly and give your stomach and arteries major stress. Choose lean entrees, exercise portion control, eat slowly, and try to remember to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. If you have dessert, share it! It's much more romantic that way. You'll feel much better afterward, too.
  • If you are feeling sad or lonely this Valentine's day, please remember that no amount of candy will help. Instead, call a friend, watch a movie, read, or go on Facebook or other online chat site. Take care of the emotion that you need to attend to instead of masking it with chocolate. Your heart will thank you.
  • Think dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is much richer in those wonderful antioxidants that protect cells from damage that may cause heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
This Valentine's Day, give yourself the gift of loving yourself enough to take care of your heart!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lunches To Go

It is time to tackle the sack lunch. The problem? We have a tendency to take the same things over and over again. Ham and cheese sandwich, chips, and a couple of cookies. Five days a week. Repeat. Why? Because it's easy. But, the same old thing can get boring, very boring, and then we start craving really unhealthy fare. Eating in the cafeteria is not an option for some (health, cost, availability), and microwave meals can get old after a while. We need some healthy variety for take-along lunches. Can we take this on as a team?

Our requirements: a protein, whole grain, at least a fruit or veggie or two, and something with a little heart healthy fat would be perfect. You get extra credit for a dairy!

Think a variety of colors. I can remember perfectly one lunch we were served in elementary school. Visualize a metal tray with turkey gravy on mashed potatoes, corn, applesauce, and a half sandwich made out of one slice of white bread and one slice of brownish bread, with a big slab of margarine--not quite thawed out--in the middle. Do you see it? Yep, all tan. And all the same texture: mush. Not too appetizing. We really need to go for variety of texture, too.

OK. I think we're ready for Lunches To Go:
  1. Wrap It Up--PBB. Start with a whole wheat tortilla and let your imagination go. Try spreading it with peanut butter (or any nut butter,) lay on a whole, peeled banana, and sprinkle with a few dried cherries or raisins, and add a tablespoon of strawberry Simply Fruit strawberry jam, if you wish. Roll it up. Kids of all ages love 'em!
  2. Mexican Wrap. Fat-free refried beans, low fat shredded cheese, a few black olives, lots of shredded lettuce and salsa.
  3. Deli Wrap. 2 tbsp. light garden vegetable, or chive onion cream cheese, lay on 1-2 oz. of your favorite lean deli meat, add shredded carrots, lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber....or anything! Roll it up. This one's my favorite!
  4. Pizza. A slice or two from last night's take out or make one out of whole grain English muffin, pita bread or pizza crust. Add tomato sauce, low fat cheese, all the veggies you like, and a bit of ham, turkey pepperoni...use your imagination. Cold pizza is really quite good (ask any college student,) or you could zap this one in the microwave.
  5. Pita pockets. Anything that can go in a sandwich or wrap can go in a pita. Be creative! Try 3 Tbsp. hummus, bean sprouts, sliced tomatoes, and shredded light cheese. Or pop in a bit of last night's salad and add a pouch of tuna or a 1/3 cup of drained and rinsed canned black beans. Drizzle on your favorite light dressing and you're there!
  6. Planned Overs. When you have extra left over from dinner last night, it doesn't have to be "left over", you can plan to have enough left for lunch! Easy way to make a great lunch.
  7. Trail Mix. 1 cup whole grain cereal (Cheerios are good for this,) or 1/2 cup cereal and 1/2 cup whole grain little crackers, 1 ounce of your favorite nuts, 1/4 cup dried cherries, or your favorite dried fruit, 1 Tbsp. chocolate chips. This one's another kid-pleaser, but a useful on-the-go one for those of us of any age!
  8. Whole grain crackers and light cheese. Low fat mozzarella string cheese sticks or low fat cheddar 1 ounce squares are great for quick lunches. Add a little sandwich bag of whole grain crackers, a 100% juice box or vegetable juice, grab an apple, and lunch is done.
With all lunches, do a quick check.
  • Food safety is critical. If you have no refrigeration, tuck in a little freezer ice pack or freeze your juice box the night before. Some lunches, like the PBB and the trail mix, will be fine without refrigeration.
  • Add a bottle of water, skim or low fat milk, 100% fruit juice or low sodium tomato or V-8 juice to make your lunch really work for you.
  • Double check for fruit or veggies. Little bags of carrots, celery, cucumber sticks, grapes, boxes of raisins always need to be there!
  • Treat? If you choose to have one, make it a small, portion controlled one. This should not be the major part of your lunch. One of those big cookies at the cafeteria can cost over 400 calories--not nutrient dense! Try 2 or 3 Hershey kisses (if you can control them)... dark chocolate adds some antioxidants for health!
I hope this helps those of you stuck in the lunch box rut...

And now I need to know, what do YOU bring for lunch?

Monday, February 8, 2010

What's So Great About Fiber?

What's so great about fiber and why is it getting top billing on package labels these days? Have you noticed
manufacturers are adding extra fiber to foods and even sweeteners now? A little inulin (fruit fiber) here and a little fiber there, and--ta-da!--it can be labeled "High in Fiber!"

So, what is it with fiber? It is truly a little magic for health?

Fiber is actually a carbohydrate that's found only in plants. It's the part of the fruit, veggie or bean that our human body can't digest, so we can't absorb calories or nutrients from fiber. It kind of just passes out of our system, shall we say.

There are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel like substance. It's been shown to help reduce cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose. You can find soluble fiber in oats, peas, beans, carrots, barley, the inside of most fruits (apples, grapes, etc.) and psyllium. I'm sure you've noticed the big red hearts on the outside of the oat cereal packages and the message that it may lower cholesterol that follows!

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, but tends to create bulk and push things through the digestive system faster (a good thing.) Think bran, vegetables, whole wheat, nuts and seeds.

Both types of fiber help prevent constipation, as long as plenty of water is being consumed with the higher fiber.

A diet higher in fiber has been found to help reduce the incidence of heart disease. It actually decreases blood cholesterol and brings down low density lipoproteins (LDL.) Nice!

There is much evidence that eating foods higher in fiber stabilize blood glucose, which is so very important to managing diabetes.

Higher fiber foods tend to give people a greater feeling of fullness and keep you full longer, which gives you a higher satiety (there's a fun word for you!) level. This can really help with weight management.

The average American is slinking by on just 15 grams of fiber a day. Not too cool at all. Recommendations are that women consume at least 25 grams and men 35 grams each day. Most of us have some plant eating to do!

Fiber is found in cereals, breads, vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Keys to finding best sources:
  • Eat the whole fruits, not the fruit juices
  • Choose whole grain breads and cereals. Look for the word "whole" as the first ingredient: whole wheat, whole rolled oats, etc.
Add fiber slowly, one new source each week. Adding too much too fast will make you very uncomfortable (one way or the other!) And, be sure to drink plenty of water as you eat more fiber. If you don't, all that fiber could make you a bit blocked up. Ugh.

And what do I think of all these manufacturers adding all the fiber to yogurt, ice cream, and now even artificial sweetners? I don't think it will hurt us, but I am really concerned we are getting the wrong message about these foods. A sweetener with added fiber is NOT a health food. Eating a banana with your yogurt would give you so much more nutrition than relying on yogurt spiked with fiber. We need to reach for the whole food--that's were we'll get all the naturally present fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, macronutrients...the whole sheebang.

That's the right way to continue our quest toward become that healthy, svelte, buff, lean wonderful YOU!

Tomorrow's breakfast? 1 cup oatmeal, 1 sliced banana, 1 Tbsp. walnuts, 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.....yum!!!!!

Fiber: A Fabulous Thing, Naturally!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Little Warmth from Chicken Fiesta Soup

How are the preparations going for your Healthier Super Bowl Party? As promised, here's a wonderful soup recipe that can be made either on top of the stove or in a slow cooker. This one would be a great addition to your Super Bowl Sunday party!

It's fun to let friends "decorate" their own bowls. Try serving with small bowls of chopped cilantro or parsley, light sour cream, light shredded cheddar cheese, finely sliced green onions, and a bottle of Frank's Hot Sauce for those guests fond of more "fire-y" fare!

Chicken Fiesta Soup

In large pot, saute on medium high until onions are translucent:
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
Add and cook 5-7 minutes:
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
Place into slow cooker, if desired, at this point. Into crock or pot, add:
  • 1 quart chicken broth (low sodium, preferred)
  • 1-15 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, only if desired
  • 1-15 1/2 oz. can black beans, drained*
  • 1-15 1/2 oz. can white cannellini beans, drained*
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • For more fire power: add 1 small can green chilies
Cook on low in slow cooker for 8 hours, or on top of the stove on low for at least 1 hour. It's really OK to eat before that, but the flavors get richer the longer it simmers, and the beans will thicken up the soup the longer it cooks. It will thicken up better on top of the stove than in the slow cooker.

*Any combination of beans would be decide! I love the combination of 2 beans in this dish: 2 colors and 2 slightly different textures.

Serving a soup like this provides a heartier menu option, smells great, and really is a super (souper?) filler-upper for those of us who would like to stay a bit in control of our food!

A few things to remember for our partying crew:
  • Know your game plan before the game!
  • Have a snack before you go, never go to a food-fest on an empty tummy!
  • Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies first, if they are offered! This minimizes space for less healthy food.
  • Bring something to the party that is healthier---check yesterday's post or make some of Chicken Fiesta Soup!
  • Hold one low-cal beverage in your hand at all times to minimize the possibility of the "munchy" attack. If the score is tied and the game is getting really tense and you find yourself edging toward the chip bowl, grab a second beverage. It's really hard to dive into the chips holding 2 drinks. I am talking about a bottle of water and maybe a lite beer or diet soda here. Not 2 beers!
  • Sit away from the food bowls, if possible.
  • Try to have a non-alcoholic calorie free drink after each alcoholic drink. This will save you lots of calories and help keep your head more focused on the game.
It looks like there are more Saints fans in my family than Colts. I would love to see the Saints win simply because they have never won before...but truth be told, I haven't been following the season much at all. Even so...

We'll kick off with some Chicken Fiesta Soup!

By the way...for those of you who have been having trouble posting a comment, I'm so sorry about that. I adjusted a couple of settings, so please try again!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Super Healthy

Super Bowl Sunday! Whether you are a football fan or not, the Super Bowl brings on a great reason to get together and do some serious munching. Typical Super Bowl party fare around the TV includes incredibly high fat and high calorie foods: chips & sour cream dips, sliders, nachos, fiesta dips, and lots of beer. One high-fat, stuff yourself until you hurt party won't trash your long term goal toward a healthier you, but it certainly doesn't help, either. Let's see if we can come up with some healthier YOU party food options...

Salsa is a Super food! Rich in antioxidants, high in nutrient density, low in calories, and high in taste...and it counts as a vegetable! Serve lots of different types: hot, mild, medium, chunky, smooth, black bean, mango, verde, etc.

Tortilla chips. Tortilla chips are usually made from ground whole corn, which is a good thing. Choose a brand with less salt added. South-of-the-Border chips are great, they're my husband's favorite. Baked are really quite good, but if you think your fans will need regular chips, too, provide both. You could even mix a bag of both in every bowl you serve which creates a fun variety in each bowl.

Make your own chips, guests love them!
  • Heat oven to 375.
  • Cut fat-free corn tortillas into chip size wedges.
  • Spray chips with olive oil cooking spray, or lightly brush with canola or olive oil.
  • Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Flip over.
  • Bake another 3-5 minutes.
  • Sprinkle lightly with salt, if desired, or try adding a shake or two of cumin and chili powder.
Fiesta Layer Dip (close is good enough for this recipe!)
  • Spread in layers on large plate or platter:
  • 2 cans fat-free refried beans (try the black bean, yum!)
  • Blend 8 oz. container of light sour cream together, 8 oz of Greek yogurt, and 1/2 pkg. taco seasoning mix (use more if you'd like, but it's higher in sodium.) Spread on top of beans.
  • 3 cups shredded lettuce (darker leaves = healthier)
  • 1-2 cans green chilies, drained
  • 1 cup shredded light cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 avocado, diced and tossed with 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 small can sliced black olives, drained
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
Fruit Kabobs
  • Cube chunks of pineapple, strawberries, grapes, kiwi, or other firm fruit, and skewer on toothpicks. Fun and very popular!
Veggies and Dip
  • Cherry and grape tomatoes
  • Celery sticks
  • Baby carrots
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radishes
  • Olives
Black Bean Dip

Straight from the jar is often great!

Make your own:
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 can fat-free refried beans
  • sprinkle with light shredded cheddar cheese
  • heat until hot
Creamy Dips

Make your favorite standby dip recipe, but use half light sour cream and half Greek style low fat plain yogurt to replace the full-fat sour cream. Result? No one will know the difference, and every body will thank you!

Creamy Salsa Dip:
  • 1 cup Salsa
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Greek style low fat plain yogurt

Remember to offer plenty of light beer, calorie-free sodas, and bottled waters for lighter drink options for your guests!

Tomorrow, a recipe for your slow cooker on Sunday: Chicken Fiesta Soup.

Let us in on what you're serving for lighter Super Bowl fare!

-- What do YOU like to make for creamy dips? Do you have a special twist to share?

--What other dips and specialties can you think of that would serve up some health along with fun?

Remember: It's all about our choices... Make them healthy ones today!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Restaurants and Salt Abuse

Why do restaurants use so much salt in their foods? Lbbls wants to know what's up with the over use of salt in restaurants. Great question! I wonder just how much salt an average restaurant goes through in a week?

In order to answer "why," we first have to understand what the purpose of the salt is in the first place. Salt is used in preservation of foods and as a flavor enhancer, improving the taste of foods that would otherwise not be as tasty to many people. Simply put, many of us like foods that have salt added better than if left plain. Since most restaurants are not preserving foods, we can be sure they are trying to enhance flavor and make the food taste better.

OK. Let's also acknowledge that the restaurants are in the business of serving food to make money. Can't blame them for that! How do they make money? They have to serve food that people like, so that you and I will come back again and again to buy more of their food. Bland food doesn't offer that draw to most of us. Salt sells, or at least up to a point. If it gets too salty, all bets are off.

Restaurants are also known to kick up the salt on foods that are lighter fare. Fat is a great flavor carrier, so if fat is reduced or removed, lots of flavor can go away, too. The easiest, least expensive way to counteract that is to bump up the salt. Flavor can also be zipped up with herbs, spices, vinegars and fruits, but salt is cheap, requires little creativity and it has no calories. On the lighter fare menu, most restaurants just list the total calories and grams of fat. If the salt has to go up to make the food palatable, the restaurants figure that's the way it has to be.

Many Americans love their salty taste buds stimulated. People complain if the fries don't have enough salt, and some immediately salt them again before they even taste them. In a way, restaurants are serving what they see patrons wanting: salted foods. This gets to be a vicious cycle for those of us striving for truly healthy options. We want the fresh, healthy foods, lower in evil fats, sodium, and all that jazz, but it seems that not enough people do want that to make it cost effective for the restaurant to carry those menu choices.

So, what can we do? Stay in communication with the restaurant you like. Let them know that you really want these healthy options and tell them that you need low sodium foods. If you mention any medical needs, good servers will normally go out of their way to help you on this. Remember their help in your tip. Ask for off the menu choices, fresh is best, prepared without added salt or soy sauce.

Until restaurants get the message from us that we want healthy lower sodium foods that taste good, change will probably be slow coming, unfortunately. It may help if New York City and some other cities decide to mandate labeling sodium content on restaurant menus. Now, that would be an eye opening experience that just may encourage some change!

Remember, when you eat out, ask for no salt added.

Fire up! You can do this and your heart will thank you...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Shake the Salt

So, you love salt. Is it really a health problem? Do you really need to watch how much salt you consume? The simple answer is, yes.
(We're going to use the term sodium, which is actually the part of salt giving us the grief. Table salt is sodium chloride, or NaCl, just in case you were wondering.)

For people who have high blood pressure (HBP) consuming more sodium increases blood pressure. When this happens, the risk for developing coronary heart disease and stroke goes up. Not good if you are planning to live a long, fun-filled life. If you don't have high blood pressure right now, you could still have a tendency toward developing HBP later on, or you may be what some experts call sodium sensitive. If you are, too much sodium may also zip your BP higher. If you don't have HBP, aren't sodium sensitive or don't have a tendency of developing HBP, consuming more sodium won't give you HBP. Yikes---this gets confusing! The real trouble is, you may not know if you are one of those with a tendency toward HBP. To top that off, almost one-third of all Americans currently have HBP. Are you next? Clearly, there's only one answer here: we all need to limit our sodium intake.

The average American is chomping down from 3300-4200 mg of sodium each day. Recommended levels are under 2300 mg which is as much as what's in a teaspoon of salt. If you already have HBP, the American Heart Association is advising 1500 mg.

Most of the sodium we are getting is coming from salt added to the foods we are eating for flavor, processing, or preserving foods. 20% is in the food naturally, so we can't take out all sodium, nor do we want to. We need some!

To Reduce Sodium
  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned foods without added salt.
  • Beware of our biggest sodium sources: condiments, tomato sauce, soups, canned food and prepared mixes. Choose lower sodium selections if possible, otherwise, do with less.
  • Buy nuts and seeds, dried beans and lentils without added salt.
  • Cut down on salty snacks: chips, pretzels, etc.
  • Add less salt to foods: salt shaker off, pepper grinder on!
  • Choose low sodium soups, broth, bouillon: the regular ones are loaded with sodium.
  • Start using herbs, both fresh and dried to season dishes; lemon on fish is great.
  • Be careful in restaurants. Specifically ask for no added salt to your foods.
One little note: eating salt/sodium will not make you gain body fat. It may make you retain excess water, so you could see the scales go up if you are a daily scale hopper and you enjoyed bunch of salty food the day before. In this case, the scales may truthfully be up due to fluid retention---it's temporary.

Bring on the Potassium

Foods rich in potassium bring an amazing ability of offset some of the evils of excess sodium. Potassium helps regulate fluid balance and has been shown to decrease blood pressure--cool! (And reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss, in case you wanted to know.) Reach for the potassium rich foods, not the supplements for the magic here.
  • Cantaloupe, watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Almonds
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach, kale, greens
  • Milk
  • Apricots, raisins
  • Sweet potato, squash
The moral of the story: A healthy diet is not one with a daily dose of salt overload. We all need to watch just how much we shake that salt shaker!

And while we're at it, have an orange.
To your health!