With much of the Northeast covered in snow, Superbowl Sunday is an even better than usual excuse to gather together with friends and family and have a party. I’m a Steeler fan, so I’ll mostly be watching the commercials, but I still love having friends over and serving them fun food and drink during this yearly ritual.
Entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult, and the more often you do it, the more at ease you’ll be. You can easily make up some fancier finger foods ahead of time, that are healthy, but still delicious:
- Try these Zippy Zucchini Bites. You can make them ahead, and reheat them in the oven at game time.
- Try a white chili instead of the usual recipe.
- One of the simplest ways to balance out a party spread of snack foods, is to be sure to offer a simple fruit and vegetable tray. Sliced apples or just clusters of grapes on a bowl or platter, will get eaten up. Raw veggies such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli or cauliflower, pair up nicely with your favorite dip (yes, dipping is okay!).
- Mix up this nutrient-packed Sweet Potato Salad as a healthy side for your chicken wings.
- Serve this Mexican Bake or this Salsa with baked tortilla chips
You can enjoy snacking while watching the Superbowl, just be sure to have some healthy options available. While I usually don’t recommend skipping a meal before a party, since kick-off is at 6:30, if you offer a variety foods, you can count this as dinner.
Don’t Forget About Liquid Calories
Calories from beer and wine add up. Remember that a 12-ounce beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine provides about 150 calories, as does a shot of liquor. You can save some calories by using diet drinks for your mixer. Drink some water as well, and limit your libations to just two.
We all know the importance of eating lots of plant-based foods throughout our lives for good health. Plant-based foods are chock full of vitamins and minerals that help fight disease and are good for our whole body, from our hearts and brains to our hair and skin. Research shows that adults who regularly consume vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are generally those who consumed those foods while children, so be a role model for your family and improve your own health by finding ways to make eating healthy fun.
Why Plant Foods?
Plant foods are an important addition to all diets. Plants contain unique compounds called phytochemicals that maximize our well-being and keep our bodies functioning at their best. Plant foods can also be fantastic sources of protein. Nuts, beans, and legumes are just a few examples. Eating a variety of these protein sources every day maximizes our intake of the variety of nutrients. The almond butter and beet hummus recipes below are a great way to fuel up with plant protein.
In a Nutshell
Nuts are a great source of a wide variety of nutrients, including healthy fats and plant protein. Almonds, for example, provide folate and calcium and are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium. They are full of fiber and antioxidants and offer cholesterol-lowering benefits. These nuts are also rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can promote heart health. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the claim that, “Eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Try making homemade almond butter to take advantage of these great benefits without the added preservatives and additives often found in store-bought varieties. Use nut butters as a spread on graham crackers and top with a few chocolate chips for a healthy but delicious dessert instead of a cookie. Add a dollop of nut butter to your morning oatmeal or a spoonful to your favorite smoothie. In addition to all of the disease-fighting nutrients, the protein and fats in these nut butters will help you stay full longer!
Going with the Beet
Beets are one of the many nutritious and readily available red vegetables. Red foods are great choices due to their anti-inflammatory properties that keep our hearts beating strong. Beets contain a phytochemical called betanin that supports healthy blood pressure. Try roasting and steaming beets to make peeling these little gems easier. For a delicious, colorful twist on hummus, puree roasted beets and chickpeas. For a slightly more complex version, see the recipe below. Make a beet pesto by combining roasted beets, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese in a Champion Juicer for a consistent texture, or use a food processor.
An added bonus of snacking on nut butters and dips is that you can use other colorful veggies–such as bell peppers, cucumbers, and carrots–as a vessel for eating them! Crunchy chips like red or blue baked corn chips are great ways to boost color and plant-based foods.
These recipes are made with the Champion Juicer for a smooth consistent texture but you can use a food processor or blender. The best part is the Champion Juicer does all the hard work, so you don’t need to scrape out the side of the blender, start, and stop again. The nut butter or hummus comes out 100% smooth and ready to eat!
- Almonds, raw or roasted –roasted will come out creamier than raw
- Optional: Add a drop of honey or maple syrup if desired
Use raw almonds for a sweet delicate taste or roasted almonds for a more savory flavor. Fit the blank screen of the Champion Juicer (or use homogenizing body) onto the juicer body and fill feed spout about half way with almonds. Turn the juicer on, and continue to feed the almonds into the machine. Be sure to add almonds slowly. Run through twice for a creamier product.
Roasted Beet Hummus
- 1 can Chickpeas
- 2 beets, roasted and cut into chunks
- 1 Garlic clove
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 Tsp of Olive oil and 2 tsp of tahini sauce, or tahini butter
Optional: fresh herbs (dill or basil) and sumac for topping
To make green hummus, replace beets with 2 handfuls of fresh spinach. Fit the blank screen (or use homogenizing body) onto the juicer body. Alternate chickpeas, garlic clove, and beets for best flavor melding. Mix in olive oil or tahini until you have your desired taste and texture.
Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RDN, CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with a Masters in Nutrition Education who is a nationally recognized childhood nutrition expert. She is founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. where she is “saving the world, one healthy food at a time.” Read more about her Super Crew children’s books and discover how good nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her on-line courses blog, Melissa’s Healthy Living.
This post is sponsored by Champion Juicer.
How can you be sure you will be successful this year with diet and exercise? Make it easier.
As mammals, humans are drawn to the path of least resistance. The more steps, the more difficult, the less likely that you’ll make the best choice. Have you ever noticed deer on the hillside? Or even mountain goats? They will always take the dirt path, the easier route, as opposed to walking through the tall grass or rocks.
People are like this too. Keep it simple and you will likely make better choices day after day. You gravitate to the easiest and routine thing. Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your life right now to make eating healthy easier:
- Keep fruit on the counter or in an easy bin, ready to grab every day.
- Cut vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, and broccoli into bite-size pieces and bag them into small snack bags. Keep these in the refrigerator to grab for work or to grab as a snack while you get dinner ready.
- Keep your walking shoes by the door, with socks, so you can put them on anytime and head out for a short walk. If you live in cold weather, keep a special set of “exercise hat and gloves” there too.
- Put your treadmill in your office or home space as a cue that it’s time for a 20 minute break.
- Buy lean meats (boneless pork loin, beef sirloin, skinless poultry) and put them into quart freezer bags when you get home from the store, or sometime that day. Package them with different preparations in mind – slice or cube some so they are ready for soups, stews or a stir-fry, and freeze others in 2-4 per pack. This makes it easier when dinner time hits. It also helps you maintain smaller portions of meat by portioning it out ahead, and using smaller portions of sliced or cubed meats to add to pasta or rice and bean dishes.
- Keep frozen vegetables on hand to save time and for days that you can’t get to the store. I love keeping peas, broccoli, “fajita veggies” (plain frozen sliced onions, red, green and yellow bell peppers), and spinach in my freezer.
- Fill a large water bottle or lidded cup with water and keep it with you through the day to make hydration easy.
My colleague LeahMcGrath recently pitched a question out to a few registered dietitians on Twitter using this hashtag: #5wordstoruinadatewithadietitian Knowing Leah, we all were aware it was a tongue and cheek question and got a kick out of it.
While we didn’t quite follow the 5 words rule, we easily rattled off a myriad of responses. Here are just a few of them:
“I quit sugar”
“I don’t eat food with chemicals”
“I’ve got this gastrointestinal problem”
“Is this good for you?
“Is this bad for you?”
“detox, cleanse, clean eating,”
“I don’t eat carbs”
“Thought dietitians only eat salad.” (“YOU are going to eat THAT?!”)
“I’ll have the Paleo Cheesecake”
“I’ve gone gluten-free”
“Don’t artificial sweeteners cause cancer?”
“Sugar is as addictive as cocaine” (or “Sugar is the new heroine”)
“Do you watch Dr Oz?”
We got quite a kick out of our exchange and I know I laughed out loud a few times. You see, as I often share, eating for good health should be enjoyable. Yes, you should choose healthy foods to sustain your body and keep it working. Yes I believe in adopting a diet such as the DASH Diet (since it’s sensible, includes a variety of foods, and is proven to improve health) but it’s okay to enjoy a meal.
The dietitians that chimed in with this #5wordstoruinadatewithadietitian hashtag, are science-based RDs. We are very aware of the most recent research about diet and health, as well as the historical research. We are aware of the clinical data collection tools used for diet research as well as the subjectivity of many of them. We generally want people to eat more plants, but we don’t tell them which ones to choose (there are alternatives to kale), nor do we expect you to absolutely exclude pleasurable foods (foods that may be high in fat or sugar).
There are however some dietitians, doctors, naturopaths, and nutritionists who make claims based on emotion or opinion, not science. They don’t like an ingredient, so they claim it’s unhealthy or unsafe. They may only be concerned with book sales or they want a big spotlight, so they’ll “say anything” (Think: Dr Oz or Dr Hymen).
Check out the hashtag for a laugh (and to follow some science-based dietitians who have a sense of humor). And remember that your body has it’s own unique set of nutrition requirements. See a registered dietitian to find out what they are before ruling out entire food groups or using a “detox” approach that isn’t necessary or valid. Cheers!
Honest, I am not paying US News and World Report to rank the DASH Diet as the number one diet year after year. But seriously, being voted #1 for the 5th year straight? They are trying to tell you something, the DASH Diet is good for you, there has to be something to it!
The DASH Diet is based on research. It’s proven. Originally studied to lower high blood pressure (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – DASH), this diet is well-balanced, and also effective for weight loss and diabetes control. It is a combination of low fat dairy products, lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, and smaller portions of lean meats, fats and sweets. It is easy to follow, allows for treats, but is focused on plants.
The most difficult part of changing your diet, is coming up with a plan that you can actually stick with. If you are allowed to eat a variety of foods, then it’s likely that you will enjoy eating, and therefore sustain that diet over time.
The DASH Diet is that diet. It is good for your health. It is enjoyable, easy, and therefore sustainable.
Go on, give it a go.
If you read my blog here or other articles that I’ve written over the years, or listened to my lectures, you’ll know that I am a pretty reasonable dietitian. Strict diets, or one-size-fits-all meal plans simply don’t work. They sure wouldn’t work for me, and I doubt they work for most of you. Defining some foods as “bad” and others as “good” also doesn’t work since we all eat a variety of different foods in different portions, and different frequencies.
Your “chicken wings” may be someone else’s “cheesecake” – both high in calories and fat, and neither part of your balanced daily diet. In other words, they should be considered “treats” (something that you splurge on less than once a month). Life is short. Rather than obsess about what the latest diet fad is, or what you shouldn’t eat – just eat foods that you enjoy and you know are healthy. I am certain that most people know what healthy food looks like (and it includes way less gravy and vegetables on the plate right? Yes). Instead of worrying about “butter or margarine spread”, just eat reasonably small amounts of both. You can’t go wrong with variety.
As I continue to read the stats about diabetes and obesity, I think it’s important to share with you the reasons I continue to do what I do (delivering the basic facts about diet and nutrition via writing, speaking, blogging). As you step into a new year, consider these points when evaluating what you should eat:
- Diet does play a role in your health. What you eat fuels your body. If not done properly, your body won’t function at it’s best. Nutritional needs vary through the life cycle. What’s “ok” for a teen boy to eat is not okay for a 50 year old man or a 5 year old. This is where your dietitian steps in.
- Don’t diet. There are several different types of “diets” that “work”, but they are all essentially based on a few key principles: controlled calories, include plants, limits meats, limits “junk”, includes exercise. Work on changing your behavior, moving more, and adding nutrient-rich foods into your diet instead of following a “strict diet” or eliminating foods.
- Diet alone is not the fountain of youth. We seem to be obsessed with “not aging”. The anti-wrinkle creams, the face lifting, extreme belly fat dieting, the promises to “look 10 years younger”. Nothing you eat or drink is going to cure you or kill you. And as you get older, guess what? You are aging! Don’t fall for quick fixes that promise youthfulness or some sort of “detoxification” (your colon is dirty business – a “juice cleanse” isn’t going to “clean it out” exactly).
- Genetics plays a huge role in health – but we can control some things to lessen our risk of many diseases, or minimize the impact of them – don’t smoke, include healthy foods, move your body daily, practice stress reduction activities such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Move your butt. While obesity is a multifactorial problem, and every obese person may have a variety of metabolic dysfunction, there is absolutely no question that every American is moving much less on a day to day basis than they were in 1975. Get out of the chair, and move. I’m not talking exercise – I’m talking movement. Don’t use a leaf blower, use a broom or rake, clean the house, go up and down the stairs a few more times. Walk instead of drive. Take regular “get up” breaks from your desk chair every 20 minutes. Just move more. It counts.
Top 3 Worst Fads that I Do Not Endorse:
- Juice cleanses/Detox. These diets can range from consuming only juiced vegetables and fruits to special injections, fasting, or colonics. There is absolutely NO scientific basis for these types of regimes to “cleanse” your body. If your kidneys and liver are healthy, your body is “detoxed” everyday. Period.
- Very low calorie diets or diet that focus on only a few foods (grapefruit diet, many low-carb diets, raw food diets). These diets can work in the short term but not for the long haul because they aren’t sustainable. If you don’t enjoy what you are eating, you can’t sustain it. If what you are eating isn’t providing you with the energy you need, you can’t sustain it. A successful diet plan is defined as one that is balanced and healthy, that you can adhere to for life.
- Miracle ingredients or foods. Thanks to Dr. Oz, people have flocked to special supplements (raspberry ketones anyone?) or foods. This is all a big fat hoax. There is no miracle food or diet cure. A cup of tea can be healthy and relaxing, but it’s not a cure-all for anything. Nor is a teaspoon of vinegar or any other nonsense like that. Can some of these foods be part of a healthy diet? Absolutely, but they aren’t a cure-all in and of themselves.
Just don’t go there.
The DASH Diet has been ranked #1 for the past 3 years so be on the lookout for the 2015 ratings. We wrote books based on this diet plan because it is science based (that is, good research has been done to show that it’s a healthy diet that can lower blood pressure, control diabetes and weight). It’s truthful. It’s sustainable.
Use the DASH Diet to set your dietary goals for 2015 and you can’t go wrong. It’s that simple. End of story.
Happy New Year!
Last October, I had the opportunity to meet Lisa Cain, aka, Snack Girl. She and I exchanged books to review.
Snack Girl to the Rescue is a book that provides 100 recipes under 400 calories. For middle aged women, such as myself, a 400 calorie/meal goal is a reasonable one. Considering that you may have a snack or two each day, sticking to 400 calories per meal will keep you in the healthy calorie range of 1400-1800 calories per day (about what most women over 45 need).
Lisa shares her journey in the Intro, and it’s very relatable to any busy career woman with children. Her eating tips in the first few chapters are also very reasonable and her diet advice is sound.
The recipes are great. They range from totally basic to a few fancier recipes. I love that she includes simple recipes like Easy Baked Brown Rice, because these are the kinds of dishes that you can realistically get onto the table on a weeknight. Nothing fancy, just simple and healthy! You’ll find great snacks to incorporate into your weekly diet or to bring to the next party. She’ll teach you how to roast vegetables – which is my favorite prep method to deliver the tastiest veggies. You’ll also find some go-to snack ideas, as well as slow cooker recipes and comfort foods.
I love the way she describes some foods as “entertainment” as opposed to nourishment. While she encourages you to reduce your intake of these types of more processed “entertaining” treats, she doesn’t scold you for enjoying them once in a while. I like that.
The chapter on food marketing makes some good points, and others that I could argue with, but Cain’s general message is to read labels and make the best choice. She refers to corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors as ingredients she tends to avoid – but these are all safe ingredients (corn syrup is glucose, high fructose corn syrup is about half glucose, half fructose – like table sugar and honey are).
All in all Cain gives some reasonable advice and encouragement in her book, and the recipes are very doable for even the less-experienced cook. She does a great job at outlining some no-cook meals and snacks to use daily, as well as delicious “makeover” dishes.
Check it out!
Did you know that the DASH Diet is powerful medicine? Using the DASH Diet to guide your eating choices can help you manage weight, lower blood pressure, control diabetes, and stay healthy in general.
Rather than wait until the New Year, start improving your diet now. If you have high blood pressure, what you eat can lower it! It’s easy to begin incorporating some of the principles of the DASH Diet. Start this week.
Add more low fat dairy to your diet:
- Include low fat milk or cottage cheese at breakfast
- Enjoy a cup of yogurt as a mid-day snack
- Use plain Greek yogurt for your holiday dips and recipes
Add nuts, seeds and more fruits and vegetables to your diet:
- Put an apple and a clementine in your bag or briefcase in the morning, before you leave for work.Portion out about 20 almonds and enjoy them when you get home from work
- Add 2 teaspoons of sunflower seeds to your tossed salad
- Keep frozen vegetables in your freezer. Try the microwaveable bags to enjoy quick, steamed veggies as a side dish with dinner
- Use those veggies with whole wheat pasta to make a healthy Alfredo sauce – make a roux by melting 1 tablespoon of butter, then adding 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly for one minute. Add 2 cups 1% milk to boil, then simmer, stirring until thickened. Add 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Toss with 2 cups of cooked regular or whole wheat pasta, 2 cups of cooked veggies, 1 cup of chopped, cooked chicken
- Chop apples or cranberries into your stuffing recipe
- Add spinach to your soups or omelets
Cut back on Sodium:
- Look for low sodium or sodium-free broth for cooking, and add less salt to foods
- Use leftover meats (roast beef, turkey, chicken breast) instead of lunchmeat for sandwiches
- Read labels, and choose lower sodium foods. These may not be labeled as “low sodium” but compare similar foods (bread for instance can vary greatly)
Have you heard about the new Barbie® doll that makes an attempt to mimic a real young women’s figure? Images abound that suggest what you “should” look like, and women are particularly susceptible to being impacted by them (although I’m sure 6-pack abs are airbrushed in on male photos too). Rather than pursue the perfect body, resolve to shift that focus to staying or getting healthier.
One of my colleagues doesn’t weigh her clients any longer, because she found that weighing them at the beginning of their counseling session depressed their focus. Instead of being able to focus on positive steps and goals, they became fixated by a number.
Losing weight is, and has always been, difficult. For this reason alone, it’s worth fighting for prevention of weight gain in the first place. But if you are over forty years old this is easier said than done. Becoming comfortable with your new body shape and focusing more on health goals, as opposed to “swimsuit goals”, is a good idea.
As a younger person in your twenties or thirties, going to the doctor may not have been an annual thing, but it is very important to get regular check-ups in your forties and fifties. Things can change quickly at this point. Normal blood pressure, may not creep up, it may just bolt up. Seeing your doctor annually enables you to have your blood pressure and weight checked; two factors important to heart health that are very treatable. If you have a family history of diabetes (also a risk factor for heart disease), your doctor should know, and may even routinely screen for this, but if not, speak up. Your doctor can only treat you if he or she knows more about you.
Have you considered your overall health and disease risk? Consider this:
- Are you overweight?
- Do you know what your blood pressure is lately?
- Do you have high blood cholesterol, specifically a high LDL?
- Do you have high blood sugar or triglycerides?
- Do you exercise regularly? Do you still have muscle tone?
- Do you smoke?
- Women- Do you have regular screening for breast and cervical cancers?
- Men- have you had your annual prostate exam yet?
- Are you aware of your own family history for disease (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer)
- Do you have an annual visit with your physician?
Learning more about your overall health status can empower you to take small steps toward big long-term improvements in your health. We can’t change our genetic make-up but we can change our diets, exercise habits, how often we go to the doctor, and whether or not we smoke.
Talk to your physician about what is ailing you, what doesn’t feel right, or any pertinent family history (diabetes, heart disease, and cancer primarily; and any other diseases or disorders that you know of).
Then start setting health-minded goals, focus on the positive, and smile every time you look in the mirror.
Well I don’t know about you, but the holiday season seems to have arrived at warp speed again this year. It doesn’t help that retail and grocery stores had the winter decorations up on Halloween day. Some also say that having a late Thanksgiving has an affect, since December will arrive just a few days from now!
While the holiday season is a time to enjoy gatherings of family, friends, food, and beverage, you certainly don’t want to neglect your health at this festive time of year. If you are following the DASH Diet, working on weight loss, have diabetes or other health issues that are strongly tied to dietary management, you can stick with it over the next month, and arrive healthy in January.
The reality is – there are lots of high calorie foods around at work and at home during the month of December – so starting a routine of simple and light meals now helps. Eating light during the week in preparation for special weekend gatherings can keep calories under control and help with weight control, even if you splurge a bit on the weekend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, starting today:
- Breakfast. Start every day off with a healthy, high fiber breakfast. Sometimes it’s easier to stick with a few options during the work week. Consider a hearty 1-cup serving of cooked oatmeal with low fat milk; an English Muffin with one egg; 8 ounces of plain yogurt topped with 1/4 cup nutty granola and sliced bananas. Or try a high protein smoothie using peanut butter powder and bananas.
- Lunchtime. A salad or half-sanwich with vegetable soup; a half sandwich with an apple and handful of nuts; a large green salad topped with low fat cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, and chopped veggies; a bowl of bean chili
- Dinner. Cook at home more during the week to save calories. Focus your meals on protein and vegetables and skip the starches (starches are fine, but occasionally skipping the rice, potato or pasta dish and adding more low calorie vegetables is a good low-cal plan to balance our special occasions).
- Skip Snacks. There are benefits to healthy snacking, but for many middle-aged folks, and women, the calories in snacks aren’t usually necessary unless you are in a situation where you have to skip a meal, or are highly active. Skip snacking during the week to allow for the extras you may choose at a holiday party.
- Get some fresh air daily! This is good for the mind and body. Even a short walk can be enough to keep your metabolism stoked.
You can do it. Focus on a few simple goals (smaller, lighter meals, with limited snacking) and you can balance out your intake, and enjoy every holiday party and day of the season!