Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slow-Cooked Italian Chicken & Sausages

Tonight's dinner was really, really wonderful!  I forgot to take a photo, but I know you'll want the recipe. Since I knew I had my walk/running group at 6, I decided to get the slow-cooker going. This is what I created out of what I had on hand---enjoy!

Slow-Cooked Italian Chicken and Sausages

Put into slow-cooker:
     4 chicken sausages, 2 oz. each (I used spinach & garlic flavored)
     2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
     2- 15 oz cans petite diced tomatoes (reduced sodium is best)
     1 tsp. dried basil
     1 tsp. dried oregano
     1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Saute in small skillet:
     1 Tbsp. olive oil
     1 red or green bell pepper, cut into strips
     1 medium onion, sliced
     1 clove garlic, minced
Pour onion mix on top of chicken and tomato mixture in the slow-cooker.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Serve with whole grain linguini.

Makes 4 servings.
     324 calories, 11g. fat, 22 g. carbohydrate, 6 g. fiber, 36 g. protein.
     Exchanges:  4 protein, 1 fat, 2 1/2 non-starchy vegetables

Whole grain pasta:
     Serving size: 1/2 cup
     87 calories, 0 g. fat, 18.5 g. carbohydrate, 3 g. fiber, 4 g. protein
     Exchange: 1 starch/grain
...and then you come home to a warm, tasty meal!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't Trust Your First Look

My husband did the grocery shopping yesterday, which was a relief to me since I was focused on getting all the tax papers together.  Unlike with many spouses I've heard about over the years, I trust that the list I send will be completed, and plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains will arrive home. Occasionally, a Edy's light ice cream or a bag of Lay's Baked Cheddar chips will sneak in, but, for the most part, he's a great, healthy shopper.

After the groceries were unloaded, he sat down to put his snack crackers into individually portioned bags.  He takes these to work to keep in his snack basket, along with apples, nuts and granola bars. To make this easy, he uses a food scale for a quick, easy measure of 1 ounce for each serving.

This week he found a different brand of whole grain cracker that was on sale.  (He's learned  to look for the word "whole" as the first word on the ingredient list!) As he was bagging up the Special K Multi Grain crackers, he noticed something interesting on the box.  On the front label, a broad red patch declares that there are 90 calories in 17 crackers.  OK.  That's definitely fewer calories than most other crackers out there.  But, on closer inspection of the side panel, it states that a serving size is actually 24 crackers, approximately 1 ounce. This 1 ounce serving contains 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 3 grams of fiber.  Right next to that column is the listing for just 17 crackers:  90 calories, 2 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Why the discrepancy?  They explain: "Why 2 servings? We suggest a 90 calorie serving for a satisfying snack to help you stay on track."  Cute trick, especially since most every other cracker out there uses the standard one ounce serving size.  Hey, why not a 60 calorie snack?  Just eat 12 crackers! It's amazing how this works...

Special K's cracker box grabs our attention hoping to stand out from the cracker crowd.  What they have really done is to offer a smaller serving as an option.  It's misleading. Any cracker would have fewer calories if we decide to have a smaller serving. This same trick is used by manufacturers who want their foods to be labeled as low-fat or trans-fat free.  I am not impressed.

As consumers who are concerned about our health, we need to be aware of what we are buying.  Read the nutrition info panel.  Look at the ingredients.  Make note of the serving size listed.  And remember...some day soon, one of us will find a loaf of bread that declares in very tiny letters that one serving size is 1/2 a slice---and that will take the cake.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ten Steps to a Healthier Body

Are you ready for a healthier body?  Here are 10 steps to help you get there: 
  1. Sit down when you eat.  This helps you be mindful of the eating process, to slow down and enjoy your food.
  2. Fill your plate half full with fruits and vegetables before you add any other food. This helps you increase fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidant intake, and it automatically creates portion control for the rest of your meal.
  3. Get your body in motion at least 3 -5 times each and every week.  If you are new to this practice, be sure to check with your doctor first.  Then start with 5 minutes a day, adding another minute every week. Include movements that will increase your heart rate and strengthen your muscles, too.
  4. Drink plenty of fluids, including 4 cups of water each day.  Don't worry about the exact number of ounces you drink.  A good way to monitor hydration is to drink enough to keep your urine clear or pale colored.  If it's dark yellow, you need more fluids.
  5. Eat fish or seafood at least 2 times each week. The omega-3 fatty acids you find in fatty fish can't be beat for healthy fats.  Fish also deliver a wonderful source of protein. Try salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, or tuna. 
  6. Eat healthy fats daily. Let go of the idea that  eliminating as many fats as you can is healthy.  We need mono- and poly-unsaturated fats everyday. Reach for olives, avocado, flax seed, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and vegetable oils.  Try olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, sesame, and nut oils.
  7. Eat at least 3 servings of whole grains each day. Breads and grains are not bad for you. Look for popcorn, corn, brown rice, quinoa, bulgar wheat, barley and oats among many others. Find bread and crackers made with 100% whole grains for the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
  8. Stretch daily.  Have you ever noticed what a dog does as soon as it wakes up?  Yes!  Dogs are great role models for stretching.  Stretch to loosen tight muscles, increase range of motion, ease tension, and reduce the risk of injuries.  The best stretching is done after your workout or when your muscles are warmed up.
  9. Try to sleep 7-8 hours each night.  Rest is recovery time for both body and brain, yet many of us cut ourselves short. Studies have shown lack of sleep increases your risk of accidents, death from all causes, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, forgetfulness, depression, stress, appetite, cravings for high fat and high carbohydrates foods, and even ages your skin. Sleep deprived individuals are also much more likely to be obese.  Too little sleep results in low levels of leptin, a hormone that tells the body to stop eating, and higher levels of ghrelin, which signals fullness. Sleep is critical for all aspects of health.
  10. graur codrin/freedigitalphotos
  11. Get regular check-ups with your doctor.  Preventive medicine is a big key to a healthy body!
How many of these are you accomplishing regularly?  Which ones do you need to start working on? Use those as your mini goals this week...

And now it's time for YOU to take the first step!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Amazing Race

Yesterday was an incredible morning.  It was perfect weather:  not quite 40 degrees, but the sun was making it's way out.  After 10 weeks of training in the dark, snow, ice, rain and with temperatures hovering around zero we were ready.  The Playmakers Women 50+  Couch to 5K group gathered for our crowning glory:  a 5K race.  This is not about a group of athletic super stars or some unusually fit women. Nope. These are just "regular" people.  I would bet that most of the gals in this group had never been part of an athletic team before this. Some had really just started walking after years of couch sitting. Others were already walking or running, but were ready to do more.

This is a team of women taking charge of their lives and getting healthier---women of all shapes and sizes.  Not chronologically young, but young and vibrant in spirit. Together, we are doing it.

Chatter and excitement filled the air.  You could see the look of determination on faces at the start and during the race.  Big smiles. Victory in the eyes of each woman as she crossed the finish line. Afterward, one of my running buddies got goosebumps just listening to our head coach talk about our achievements. An amazing race.
There is no question that being in a group of like-minded people increases the ability of that person to reach a personal goal.  Changing behaviors is tough. Studies have shown that when it comes to losing weight and becoming more fit, people tend to do better when working in a group.

Teamwork.  We received encouragement, guidance, high fives, "atta girls," supportive emails, answers to questions, and "You Can DO It" message all the way through.  Support groups are like a good bra:  they provide much needed support, guidance and are uplifting all the way!

If you are ready to start achieving your health goals try finding a group to join or create your own supportive team.  I've enjoyed exercising for years by walking and swimming.  Yet, this group has really helped me get out there and push even harder while still having fun.  In fact, I actually ran the entire 5K (no walking at all) yesterday, which is the first time I've done that in 20-25 years.  I reached the goal I'd set...and I did it almost 4 minutes faster than the 5K I walked/ran in December.

As Andre Dumas wrote in the Three Musketeers:  All for One and One for All!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pancakes, Anyone?

When you are ready for a leisurely breakfast or an easy dinner, pancakes are just perfect.  Warm, comforting, fun, and yummy all rolled into one.

With our focus on health, we have to tweak the recipe to make sure the pancakes are packed with plenty of good-for-you whole grains and use healthy fat.  All you have to choose is what to put on top! A little syrup is fine, but too much is just adding empty calories.  Try topping your pancakes with a little fruity syrup (recipe below), low fat yogurt, fresh fruit, cottage cheese, or an egg for a yummy new, more nutritious twist!

Easy Whole Wheat Pancakes

Heat griddle until hot.
Grease lightly with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, blend:
     1 cup low fat buttermilk*
     1 egg
     1 Tbsp. canola oil

Whisk together in another bowl:
     3/4 cup whole wheat flour**
     1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour**
     1 tsp. baking powder
     1/4 tsp. baking soda
     1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. (Don't over stir or you'll end up with whole wheat hockey pucks!)

Scoop onto hot griddle using 1/4 cup measure.  Cook until bubbly and flip.  Cook until golden brown.

Makes 8 pancakes.
Each pancake contains:
     94 calories
      3 g. fat
     28 mg. cholesterol
     140 mg. sodium
     14 g. carbohydrate
       2 g. fiber
       4 g. protein
  One cake is 1 starch exchange

*No buttermilk?  Simply put one tablespoon of vinegar in a cup measure, then fill to the 1 cup mark with non-fat milk.
**Or skip the whole wheat and all-purpose flour and use 1 cup white whole wheat flour!

Fruity Syrup:

Bring to a bowl in saucepan:
     2 cup fresh or frozen berries
     1/3 cup maple syrup
Cook until thickened. Serve hot on top of pancakes!

3 Tbsp contains:
     54 calories
       0 g. fat
     14 g. carbohydrate
       1 g. fiber
       0 g. protein

Oh, so good...Enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What About Probiotics?

I've had several questions about probiotics recently. Should we be consuming probiotics everyday for our health, or are they just another passing fad?

Probiotics are actually live "good-guy" bacteria that are normally found in your digestive tract. These microorganisms are important for development of the immune system, digestion of foods, and absorption of nutrients. A healthy body has zillions of these friendly bacteria, and their presence helps to keep down the less friendly bacteria population. The question is: if probiotics are naturally a good thing, would consuming more be even better?

We've all heard claims that consuming probiotics strengthens the immune system, reduces IBS (irritable bowel syndrome,) treats intestinal infections, helps cure the common cold---all sorts of things. But, do they really work?  So far, the research has produced encouraging results for the use of probiotics to reduce diarrhea from antibiotic use and lactose intolerance, and to help treat yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Other studies have raised the possibility that probiotic use decreases bladder cancer recurrence, aids in treatment of intestinal infections, reduces the symptoms of IBS, prevents and treats eczema in children, and perhaps even reduce the length and severity of colds and flu. Lots of research is underway and more is needed to find out everything we can about probiotics and to determine its safety for all ages.

Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, fermented milk, miso, and tempeh. Look for foods labeled "live and active cultures" to make sure they contain functional probiotics. You may see the type of bacteria listed---most often lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.  Some juices, infant formulas and other foods are now fortified with probiotics. You can also purchase probiotic supplements  in pill, powder, and liquid form, which provide a much, much larger concentration than you would find in foods.

As we wait for more information, eating yogurt, miso, or tempeh every day would be an easy, safe way to add probiotics in your diet. If you are thinking of taking probiotic supplements to help treat an illness or to possibly improve your health, be sure to talk to your doctor first to determine whether they are the right thing for you.

To your health!

Here's a good video for more information:

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

No-Bake Granola Bars

This week's recipe is a quick, easy, and healthy alternative to boxed granola bars.  They not only taste great, but are also so good for you.  I like to wrap them up individually and put them in the snack basket in my pantry for something easy to grab when I need it.

No-Bake Granola Bars

Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
Mix in a large bowl:
      1/2 cup sunflower seeds
      1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts or almonds*
      1 1/2 cup dried cherries*
      2 cups dry old-fashioned oats
      2 cups dry, toasted rice cereal (if you can find whole grain, use it!)
Microwave in a glass bowl until bubbly---about 2 minutes:
      2/3 cup honey
      1/4 cup brown sugar
      1/2 cup peanut butter
Add 1 tsp vanilla.
Pour over dried mixture and stir well.
Press into prepared pan and let cool

Makes 24 bars
     168 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 49 mg sodium, 0 g cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein, 3 units

Have fun with the recipe by using various nuts or dried fruit.

To your good health!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Band-Aid Will Make You Feel Better

I just took my daughter back to college after recovering at home from a tough bout of mono.  She felt terrible for 2 weeks before the mono test was positive, then ended up with a bacterial infection on top of it.  This was just before her spring break, so she had to cancel a trip to visit a friend...definitely not what she'd looked forward to.

Resting for 10 days on the sofa was just what the doctor ordered, along with lots of fluids and protein packed meals and snacks. I spent time sitting with her and watching movies---one of her favorite things to do.  As she started feeling better, I tried to find something fun to help her cheer up. She had to take it slow with one little trip at a time, then come home and rest. I scheduled a facial one day and a massage on another day (we'll just call these medical expenses :) We hit Target for a half hour to find a top that looked like spring. On Saturday, she felt good enough to take a little trip to the make up counter at the mall. We used to do this when she was little.  I would spend just enough to get the free gift, and she would get the pretty little bag with the make up samples I didn't want. The cosmetic salespeople always loved putting a little make up on her, too. This time, the mini-make over was all for her and she had lots of fun finding new colors for her eyes. without food.
It struck me while driving today, that I may have done something right as a mom.  I tried really hard to make sure my daughter didn't learn to use food to feel better (since I had a history of doing just that.) Sure, we made lots of cookies and enjoyed great food with all my kids.  But, the goal was to keep the cookies as food and not as something to reach for to lift spirits:  cookies are not band-aids.  As I think about it, my daughter does know this.

Her band-aids are watching movies on TV, buying a new lip gloss, a book, a new piece of clothing... Yes, some come with a price tag (though we both try to keep the price down,) but the cost of a new shirt is far less than the long term effect of always eating large amounts of peanut M&M's to feel better, as I can testify from personal experience.

With this in mind, what are your band-aids? Do they make you feel better without long term consequences? If you are using food as a band-aid, it may be time to find a better one---with fewer side effects!

Fire Up!  You Can Do This!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Celebration of Change

I saw this post on a friend's facebook page, and just had to ask if I could share it...

At 245 pounds, Amy was unhealthy and unhappy. She had tried to lose weight so many times that she classified herself as a Yo-Yo dieter: the weight never stayed off...until this time.  

How many of you can relate to Amy?  Check out where she is today:

A Celebration of Change 
by Amy Harris
Amy Harris Medalist!
Earlier this weekend I read an e-mail, but I didn’t have time to reply to it.  As I washed dishes, I started to compose the response in my head.  It started with the words “I am currently training for my second marathon”.  I pondered that for a moment, and it was a bit mind boggling.  Those are words that three years ago I NEVER would have thought would come out of my mouth.

Three years ago, I was still in the “I hate running” camp.  Three years ago I was losing weight after my second child, but I didn’t feel all that great about myself.  Three years ago I most likely had an unhealthy relationship with the scale.  Three years ago, I was still eating things that were countering whatever movement I was doing....and three years ago, I was probably mad at myself about it.

But then, not quite three years ago, I met Jonathan, and that’s when my life changed–one baby step at a time.  I began to see that I was important enough to make time for me.  I began to see that one slip up doesn’t mean I quit completely.  I began to see that as long as I continue to make better choices–not perfect choices, but better choices–I am still in the game.  I began to see that the past does NOT determine my future.  I began to see that there was a better version of me inside....and I began to see that I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

My body started to change, but more importantly, so did my mind.  I found myself willing to try things I wouldn’t have tried with my bigger, unhealthy body.  (Kayaking, anyone?)  I found myself looking in the mirror and thinking maybe my husband is right–maybe I am beautiful.  I found myself happier and better able to cope with life.  I found myself pushing myself to new challenges.

Then one day an e-mail from Jonathan said he thought I could run a marathon–26.2 miles!  I knew then and there that my mind had shifted from fat, lazy thinking to fit, active thinking because I didn’t fall out of my chair laughing.  Okay, so I may have chuckled at the thought at first, but it quickly became a goal.  A crazy goal, admittedly, but a goal nonetheless.  I didn’t think it was a crazy goal because it was unreachable–as I once would have–but I thought it was a crazy goal because it was so far from anything I had ever done in the life I had known up to that point.  For over a year I planned and trained–longer runs and longer races–until last October, when I ran–and FINISHED–my first marathon.

The fantastic thing about this story is that almost three years after the journey started, I am still “the new me”.  I haven’t reverted to the way things used to be.  This baby step thing really works to make things a permanent change.

So wherever you are on your journey, don’t give up.  You are worth more than that.  You had a bad day yesterday and ate a candy bar?  That doesn’t mean you need one today.  Missed a workout yesterday?  Who cares?  Do one today.  Your past does NOT dictate your future.  A favorite quote says “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Your body and your mind will not change completely in one day, but the process can certainly START in one day.

Make that day today.  Start your new ending now.  Never quit.  Before you know it, you will be amazed at yourself.