February 2014: Chocolate and Strawberries

Chocolate: Sweetness without the Guilt!

Indulgently delicious, dark chocolate has many surprising health benefits:

  • May lower overall blood pressure
  • Can lower cholesterol
  • Contains serotonin which boosts mood
  • High in antioxidants
  • Flavanols found in chocolate may have other cardiovascular benefits such as improving circulation
  • The scent of chocolate can induce relaxation

In general, research does not appear to indicate that more is better- so enjoy chocolate in moderation. As little as 3 grams per day of dark chocolate (1 ounce of chocolate could easily have 30 grams alone) has been shown to have potential health benefits. Now you can celebrate Valentine’s Day guilt-free with a few pieces of decadent dark chocolate.

Recipe of the Month: Vanilla or Chocolate Coconut Mousse
Something delicious to dip your favorite fruit into.

Serves at least 4
• 1 can coconut milk
• ¼ cup cocoa powder (optional for chocolate mousse)
• ½ spoon pure vanilla extract
• Sweetener to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Place the unopened can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Remove from refrigerator in the morning, open can, and scrape the top solid layer into a mixing bowl. Do not place the thin liquid at the bottom of the can into the mixing bowl- instead consider using it for a smoothie or other recipe.
3. Whip the coconut cream (*you can purchase premade coconut cream in many stores and skip the above steps) with an electric mixer until it appears to have the consistency of of whipped cream.
4. Gently mix cocoa powder, vanilla extract, sweetener, or anything else you might enjoy, such as cinnamon, into the bowl until uniform during the mixing process. Do not over mix.
5. Pour over your favorite berries. For the data below, consider using 2 cups raw, halved strawberries:

Per serving: 1/4 ingredients used

Calories 128
Protein 2g
Total Fat 13g
Carbs 69g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 8mg
Fiber 1g

Fitness Corner

According the online video titled 23 1/2 hours, if you walked or exercised just 30 minutes to 1 hour a day, you can gain some of these benefits:

  • Improves knee arthritis pain and ability to move
  • Can reduce progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Helps to manage diabetes
  • Reduces the number of hip fractures among post-menopausal women
  • Can decrease anxiety
  • Reduces depression
  • Can lower overall risk of premature death
  • Fights fatigue
  • Improves overall quality of life
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Winter Garden Inspiration

It’s cold outside and there isn’t much green outside, even down here in the South, this time of year.

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However, when you just want to cozy up inside and have a hot bowl of soup, it can give you time to prepare for the Spring and Summer months; after all, there are bathing suits in the stores already!

I’ve been trying out a few different apps (Noom, Endomondo, and MyFitnessPal to name a few) to monitor my nutritional intake and my physical activity. I’ll post in the future about my reviews on those. Like many others, I take January to re-assess my needs and focus on my weaknesses (again, did I mention the bathing suits?!?!). I’ve stumbled upon a few free fitness websites I’d like to share if you’re getting ready for the warmer seasons like I am: Fitness Blender on Youtube and ToneItUp.com (which is really geared towards the female population but trust me, if you can look past all the girly marketing, there are some great workouts for anyone!). I don’t get anything from anyone to share these; I just like to share anything I come across that might be helpful (and especially if it’s free!).

I’ve been telling myself every morning my new mantra “Summer bodies are made in the winter”. So, I’ve changed some workout habits and as I have posted previously, I’ve been working to shift to a ‘clean eating’ lifestyle. Which brings me to two topics I want to share: 1. Clean eating recipes I will start to implement as I try them out and 2. Updates, occasionally, on my own garden in which I will include some form of nutritional tips to accompany those posts (recipes, what’s in season, tips on storing them, etc).

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To ensure I have a long growing season of delicious vegetables to eat, I had to start some seedlings, early, indoors.

Speaking of, let me introduce you to my favorite soup recipe during the winter months:

Cabbage & Garden Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 potato
  • 1 medium cabbage (we like red but green tastes delicious too)
  • Tomato paste to taste
  • 1 turnip
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 3 cups diced vegetables of choice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste.

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Directions:

  • Boil 2 quarts of water in a large pot. Add olive oil, as desired.
  • Peel potato. Dice it up and boil in 2 quarts of water until tender. Once tender, mash it up in the water, as desired.
  • Add tomato paste, salt, and black pepper to taste.
  • Dice up all vegetable, as desired (you might like chunky or smaller pieces), and put in pot of boiling water.
  • Add cabbage last, putting in as much as will fit. Let it boil down and add more, as able.
  • Add water, if needed.
  • Approximate cooking time is 1 – 1.5 hours. Taste broth and add seasonings as desired.

Week 13 Countdown to Unprocessed Foods: “Real” Beverages

Week 14 Recap:

I was challenged to have at least 2 different fruits and/or vegetables with each meal. Well, although I didn’t do it at every single meal or snack, I am proud to say I did this at most meals- if I had to guess I’d say around 60-75% of my meals for the week. I spent more than one week working on this challenge and will be spending the following week focusing on the next part. Even when we get busy, distracted, or aren’t able to get it all done in a week, it’s good to know we can make progress.

So, there’s room for improvement for me. How about you?

Week 13: “Real” Beverages

That means limiting all drink choices to water, tea, coffee, milk, limited juice, and wine in moderation (one drink for us ladies, possibly two for men). Tea, coffee, and the like should only be mildly sweetened with a little honey or 100% maple syrup according to the challenge website.

For me, most of this challenge won’t be a difficult task as I already try to drink this way (carbonation has always made me sick so I gave up soda as a child). With that said, I have a sweet tooth and I inherited multiple “bitter receptor” genes so cutting down the sugars/sweeteners will be the biggest challenge here for me.

Tips for Week 13: “Real” Beverages

  • 1 serving of 100% fruit juice is only 4 ounces.
  • 1 serving of wine varies depending on the type but table wine is generally 4-5 ounces; if you’re drinking port wine or something else, check out this graphic.
  • Consider drinking tap water from a purified source and check for BPA-free containers.
  • Bored of water? Consider jazzing it up by adding slices of fruit or herbs (check out some examples here) and you can always sweeten it a little bit.
  • Tea comes in a variety of flavors and caffeine content so try out different samples, combinations, and add slices of fruit or herbs to enhance flavor. If you want to try herbal tea and aren’t sure what you like, I suggest buying assorted sampler packs for affordable prices (usually online) or stop by a place like Teavana to try some out before you spend any money.
  • If you can’t tolerate coffee, want a caffeine-free alternative, or want to add flavor to your coffee without creamer, consider products such as Teecino (chocolate mint is my go-to) and Choffey.

What about you? Do you think you can clean up your drink choices? Even if you can do it for at least half of your choices, or even one meal a day, it’s progress.

Here’s to continuing to add two fruits/vegetables per meal AND only drinking “real” beverages. Next week I will recap on how both of these challenges are going for me.

Week 14 countdown: Fruits and Vegetables

According to the “14 steps to unprocessed foods” challenge I am participating in, I am to include two different fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

Breakfast

First of all, I chose some of my already established breakfast choices and asked how I could add more fruits and vegetables to them. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Scrambled eggs or omelets: these are easy choices to add vegetables to. For convenience, I purchased frozen (usually organic for personal preference) vegetables and tossed them into the skillet first with olive or canola oil and then added my eggs, as desired. I stick with the general rule of a serving of vegetables as 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
  • Hot or cold cereal: another choices that made it easy to add fresh fruit to; strawberries, blueberries, and peaches are my top choices. I also like to add a little cinnamon for blood glucose control (see a post about this later) and taste.
  • Of course, if I didn’t feel like I could get enough in with what I was eating, other options included a yogurt with fruit added (I usually buy a large tub and add my own fruit), I could have a small glass of fruit/vegetable juice, or I could throw in whatever I felt like into a smoothie and take it with me to sip on throughout my morning.
  • Now, for my simple tastes, I could eat the cereal and/or eggs every other day for each day of the week and be satisfied. However, if you’re craving more adventure, I suggest that since we’re talking about fruits and vegetables, you take a visit to VegetarianTimes.com Breakfast Recipe Section or any recipe website/book you enjoy that will encourage you to add in more fruits and vegetables.

Lunch/Dinner

For lunch and/or dinner, I suggest falling back on “The Plate Method” because it allows you to pick the protein, vegetable, starch, and fat of your choices which is convenient when you’re at home or dining out. It’s also perfect if you’re a visual person. Now, The Plate Method is often something used for diabetics but even though I don’t have diabetes, I find it to be a very effective visual aid to remind people, including myself, of what a balanced meal consists of.

The Plate Method

The typical guidelines are:

  • Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables
  • Fill 1/4 of your plate with lean protein
  • Fill 1/4 of your plate with starches (grains, breads, starchy vegetables)
  • Add a serving of fruit, if appropriate/desired
  • Use heart-healthy fats/oils for preparation
  • Add seasonings and spices with minimal sodium for flavor
  • For more details, check out the images linked above

I actually use this method when grocery shopping- sometimes I draw the plate out on a sheet of paper a few times and write in the different proteins, starches, etc. that I want in my meals for that week or I use the hand-drawn plates to come up with my meals. This method works great for simple meals. For combination meals and recipes, I like to use a variety of websites that give me the nutritional information such as http://www.eatingwell.com/.  As I mentioned above, there are some wonderful plant-based or vegetarian recipes out there that will help you figure out what fruits and vegetables to add to your meals- you can simply swap out their recommended meatless choices, such as soy, for your own meat of choice in the recipes.

Share with us! What are some tips or recipes you use to get more fruits and vegetables into your meals? Did any of my tips spark any ideas? Please share so that others may also benefit from your experiences. Also, keep an eye out as I will try to update this post with more tips, pictures of some of my meals, and recipe inspirations.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet or exercise routine.

14 weeks to clean: This RD’s journey and tips

I recently stumbled upon a “healthy eating” challenge called “Clean Eating in 14 Steps” where you are asked to swap out a behavior for a cleaner eating version each week.

I wanted to not only challenge myself and see if I could clean up my own diet but also to blog about each week and give my own suggestions on how you can make these changes, too!

 

 

So, what is clean eating anyways?

Well, first of all, I like to think of it more as a lifestyle than a strict dietary regimen. It’s about every time you are going to put food into your body, you go through a little mental checklist of things such as (and these are only examples as everyone’s vary based on their personal preferences):

  • Is this food in its whole, natural state?
  • If not, are there fewer than 5 ingredients, all of which I can pronounce, on the label?
  • Is it all-natural and/or organic?
  • If not, is it on a lower pesticide list?
  • If it’s a protein- are the animals fed an appropriate diet and given an appropriate environment?
  • Is it local?
  • And so much more depending on each person’s preferences.

The general idea, though, is to eat food as close to it’s natural, whole, and ‘clean’ form.

What do you have to look forward to in my coming blogs?

Each week I will focus on at least one aspect of the 14 week challenge that I found here!

I love that they kept the weekly objectives short and simple but I’m going to take each week and give it my own twist and offer suggestions and resources that you might find beneficial.

The breakdown will be similar to

  1. Real fruits and vegetables at each meal
  2. Real beverages
  3. Protein choices
  4. Fast food or deep-fried foods
  5. Trying new foods
  6. Fat
  7. Whole grains
  8. Feeling full
  9. Sweeteners
  10. Oils
  11. Artificial foods
  12. Simple and fewer ingredients

I know, it’s only 12 weeks. I’m sure I can come up with something else interesting to throw into my own version.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet or exercise routine.