Laughing all the way in 2014

It’s here. We wait all year for it. Literally. The time to ring out the old and ring in the new. I always enjoy looking back over the past year and peering into the new year with hope-filled anticipation. I enjoy reading the trends for the coming year and checking out all those checklists about how to make our goals happen in the new year. It’s a hopeful time. A nostalgic time.

In looking back, this has been a rough year for me personally. It began with the unexpected death of my mom less than 2 weeks after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. And less than 3 months before, my dad passed away. And 2 months before, we had to put our beloved family dog of 13 ½ years to sleep. In a way, it has been a year (+) that’s gone by in a blur. This isn’t to discount the truly wonderful things that have happened this year, and there are many. But all the sadness has influenced my goals.

In reviewing numerous lists about healthy habits for 2014, including my own written for other publications, I see trends that I like and some common goals worth pursuing, including:

1. Eat mindfully.
2. Cook more.
3. Move more.
4. Get adequate sleep.
5. Stress less.
6. Be part of a community.
7. Downsize possessions.
8. Be thankful.

But I haven’t seen one of my main goals on any list so far. It is to:

• Laugh more.

If exercise is medicine – and it is, then laughter is medicine as well. A few reported benefits of laughter include:

• Decreases stress and relaxes muscles
• Triggers release of endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals
• Boosts immunity
• Promotes group bonding
• Adds joy in the journey

In these ways, and many more, laughter can help you enjoy everyday a little (or a lot) more and can help you enjoy meeting all of your other goals. Please join me in laughing more in 2014. Here’s to a healthy, delicious and hilariously happy 2014!

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Pecan Pleasures

I admit that I am on a major pecan kick.  Although my nut of choice for many years has been the creamy Marcona almond, I have to drive 1 ½  hours for a grocery store that carries them or order them online. So I have found another more easily accessible nut – the pecan.
According to David Grotto, RD, LDN in his book, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, the name “pecan” is a Native American word that was used to describe nuts requiring a stone to crack.  So as we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month this November, it is fitting to write about pecans.  Interestingly, the pecan is the only nut tree that is truly native to the United States.
Pecans, like other nuts, are nutrition powerhouses.  They are rich in antioxidants and heart healthy fats.  They are high in thiamine, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, protein, and fiber.   Because of their protein, fat and fiber, they are very satisfying and help you to feel full longer and help control blood sugar levels and may help prevent overeating and play a role in weight control. They help reduce cholesterol and may protect the mind by delaying the progression of age-related motor neuron degeneration.  Because pecans are high in fat, portion size matters.  A serving of a small handful or about 20 halves or 1 ounce contains about 200 calories.
Pecans are easy to toast in the oven or toaster oven on 300-350 degrees F. for 5-7 minutes, depending on your oven.  Watch them carefully the first time because they burn easily if toasted too long.  To help control portion size and jazz up your meals, add toasted pecans to yogurt or cereal, snack mixes and salads and other vegetables. What are your favorite ways to eat pecans?
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Brussels Sprouts Salad Surprise

Brussels sprouts came into my life in my late teens. Not a regular on my dinner table, they weren’t on my radar screen until I went to college.  I can’t say I was crazy about them at first, but as my interest in nutrition grew, so did my desire to try new vegetables.

I quickly preferred the baby Brussels sprouts more than the larger variety. I mostly ate them steamed until recently when I began enjoying them roasted. To me, roasting vegetables makes them taste so sumptuous!  And it’s so easy!

But this past weekend I tried Brussels sprouts in a new way.  They were served raw as the main ingredient in a delicious salad.  What a treat!

A cruciferous vegetable and member of the Brassica family, which includes cabbage and broccoli, Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamins C, folic acid and fiber.  They are low in fat and sodium and contain beneficial phytonutrients that may offer protection against some forms of cancer.

Although this isn’t the recipe I ate this past weekend, it sounds like a winner and comes from Cooking Light, a reliable source of healthy and delicious recipes. Enjoy – I know I will!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

Serves 6

Ingredients

• 1 quart Brussels sprouts, thinly shaved by hand or on a small mandoline
• 1 cup roasted pecan halves, slightly broken up
• 1 cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
• 1/2 cup pulled fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
• 1/4 cup Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe below)
• Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

In a medium salad bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts, pecans, cheese, and parsley. Add the vinaigrette, toss, season, and plate.

Dijon Vinaigrette

• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preparation

Put the mustard in a small heavy bowl that won’t move around when you start whisking. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. If it gets too thick, dilute with a touch of water.  Once the oil is incorporated, add the lemon juice and vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with the parsley.

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Kale Chips

Kale was among the treasures I brought home from the farmers market today and I could hardly wait to make some crunchy kale chips. Just finished eating them and I’m again reminded how much I love these tasty treats!  Kale chips are simple, quick and easy to make.

Kale is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.  It’s a good source of calcium, iron and folate and contains phytochemicals, including lutein, which helps improve vision and fights against cancer.

To make kale chips, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Tear the kale leaves off of their stems and into chip size pieces.  Wash and spin dry in a salad spinner or dry with a towel.  In a large bowl, add kale, 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, and fresh minced garlic.  Using your hands, coat each leaf.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and spread kale pieces in a single layer and bake for 10-15 minutes until edges are light brown and toasty.  Enjoy!!

 

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Wet Your Whistle with Watermelon

Watermelon season is here!  With water in its name, watermelon is one of the best foods to help you stay hydrated! Did you know that one cup of diced watermelon is about 92% water? Since our bodies are made up of over two-thirds water, watermelon helps us meet our daily fluid needs.

But that’s not all the good news about watermelon.  Watermelon is low in calories, providing only about 40 calories per cup.  It is an excellent source of vitamin C and lycopene, both important antioxidants that help protect against cell damage and fight against diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  It provides vitamin A, vitamin B6, potassium  and fiber, and is low or free of fat, cholesterol and sodium.  Watermelon is great to eat fresh by itself at room temperature or chilled, or added to salads and smoothies.

This juicy watermelon cooler is a healthy, nutritious and delicious treat!

Watermelon Summer Cooler

1 cup crushed ice
1 cup seedless watermelon cubes
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Blend all ingredients in blender.  Pour into 2 cups and garnish with a fresh squeezed lime wedge.

For more information and recipes, visit www.watermelon.org.

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Kebab Love

It’s kebab season. Not only are kebabs extremely easy to make and enjoyable to eat, they are perfect to help you to meet your goal of 5-9 servings of vegetables and/or fruit daily.  This also fits in perfectly with the guideline of filling half your plate with veggies, also known as eating half-plate healthy.  And more veggies = better nutrition. And what a great way to use summer’s best produce!

The term kabob or kebab or kebob, or shish kebob, originated in the Middle East but is now found worldwide and refers to skewered meats cooked over open flames. Traditionally, lamb was most often used, but in the U.S., any combination of meat, fish or poultry is mixed together with any variety of vegetables and/or fruits skewered and then cooked on the grill.

I recently bought these stainless steel, flexible skewers, which are great because wooden skewers need soaked in water before being used so they don’t burn up on the grill.  These don’t need soaked and  the flexible skewers easily fit in a zip lock bag to be marinated and then they easily fit on the grill exactly where you want them.  No limitations of rigid straight sticks or skewers.

Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, either grown in your garden or purchased at your local farmers’ market.  I used a combination of button mushrooms, zucchini, onions, peppers and cherry tomatoes that I tossed with a small amount of olive oil and salt-free herb blend of garlic and rosemary. Serve with brown rice or quinoa.

 

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Got bananas? Try Yonanas!

I love useful kitchen gadgets and appliances and every year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo is brimming with them. Last fall, I tried a delicious frozen dessert made from only frozen bananas and fruit fed through a machine called Yonanas. The dessert tasted creamy and refreshing like ice cream, but was made simply with frozen fruit – in minutes. I was sold.

Before I became lactose intolerant in my late 20s, I loved ice cream and at one time was truly addicted to it. While I still eat ice cream on occasion, finding a healthy substitute was great. Once I tasted the Yonanas frozen dessert, I thought, “Wow!  This machine is super cool.”

I ordered mine online this month just in time for the summer heat. It is reasonably priced – $49.95 – from a variety of places online – and is easy to use and simple to clean.

And talk about healthy! Simply freeze fruit, including a banana, and thaw slightly (5 minutes is enough) and feed into the chute and out comes a frozen dessert, much like soft serve ice cream but made with pure frozen fruit.  The secret to the creaminess is the banana.  It’s a great way to use bananas that are getting too ripe.  Just peel them and place in a container in the freezer for later use.
Bananas are high in potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber and low in sodium. Potassium-rich diets may reduce risk of developing high blood pressure and stoke. And any other frozen fruit blends well with the banana. I have been enjoying frozen locally grown strawberries with mine.

This is a great product for helping people meet their recommended fruit intake of about 2 cups per day. So this summer, go bananas for Yonanas!

 

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Vacation Season: Enjoy and Indulge Without Gaining Weight

Vacations stir thoughts of splurging on wonderfully tasting rich foods – ice cream, caramel corn, taffy, fresh cut French fries, pizza, and the list goes on.  Can you enjoy vacation foods without gaining weight?  Yes, you can!

Indulgences are important for any good vacation and actually, should be part of your regular healthy eating habits.  One of the reasons diets fail is because people feel deprived and restricted, which may ultimately lead to overeating high calorie foods.

Everyone should indulge once in a while and in moderation.  Vacation is a perfect time.  Moderation is the key. The first few bites of a food provide the most taste satisfaction.  Be mindful to savor each and every bite and become satisfied with the smallest portion possible. Even a few bites can be satisfying. Instead of buying large portions for yourself, consider ordering small portions and sharing them with your family or friends.  Eating smaller portions makes a big difference in total calories consumed.

While on vacation, remember to eat nutrient rich foods first, such as plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources like fish, chicken and lean beef, as well as whole grains and non-fat or low-fat dairy products.  People who successfully lose weight and keep it off continue to eat healthy while on vacation. They don’t throw caution to the wind.

Vacations offer opportunities for increased exercise.  Without the usual work schedules, more time is available to be active.  Why not choose to move more, including activities such as walking, biking, canoeing, playing tennis, and swimming?  Burning more calories while on vacation will help balance those extra calories consumed.

Splurging while on vacation doesn’t have to ruin healthy eating habits or promote weight gain.  Remember to enjoy your favorite healthy foods every day, even while on vacation, and allow yourself some splurges in moderation.  Enjoy!

 

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Spring onions…simple & easy to grow

I love planting onions. They’re so easy. Stick them in the garden in the spring and they seem to grow no matter what. Because the spring is wet, they rarely need watered. They are dependable.  This year, it has been particularly cold in mountain Maryland, but that hasn’t deterred their growth. They don’t mind the fickle temperature fluctuations of spring. Along with some onions that sprouted from last year’s bulbs, my spring onion bed has sprung to life (see photo).

Onions are the first veggies I plant each spring around St. Patrick’s day,  and I replant them every couple of weeks through the spring and then again in late summer for a fall harvest. They are tender and mild and add so much to meals, whether eaten alone or in salads, grilled or in stir-fries.

In Latin, the word onion means “large pearl.”  Onions may have been one of the earliest “health” foods enjoyed by Europeans as a breakfast food and salad ingredient.  They are one of the most popular vegetables world-wide.

Onions belong to the allium family, along with leeks, garlic and shallots.  While all onions are low in calories, green onions contain vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium and fiber.  Onions contain important phytochemicals, including organosulfur compounds that may fight against cancer, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.  They also contain quercetin, a flavonoid that helps fight cancer and heart disease.

Spring onions are lovely, healthy and versatile. Will you be planting any this spring?

 

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An Excellent Time For Eggs

Easter is egg season!  But should this be cause for concern? When I first became a registered dietitian, over 25 years ago, eggs were considered too high in cholesterol to be a regular part of a heart-healthy diet. But have times changed?

The Egg Nutrition Center website states that more than 30 years of research has shown that healthy adults can eat eggs without significantly affecting their risk of heart disease or stroke.  Their website cites many studies that demonstrate that healthy adults can enjoy one or two eggs a day without any affect on their heart disease risk.  For more information, read, “Cracking the Egg-Cholesterol Myth” at http://www.goeim.com/edelman/incredibleedibleegg_press_release/02-06-08/index3.html.

According to the USDA, one egg contains less than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol.  Eggs were previously thought to contain much more cholesterol.
The cholesterol in eggs is found in the yolks and most of the protein is found in the egg whites. This makes egg whites a heart-healthy source of protein.  Try substituting two egg whites in recipes calling for one whole egg. Egg substitutes, such as Egg Beaters, are mainly egg whites and are ready to use for cooking and baking.

One egg contains about 70 calories. Eggs are good sources of high-quality protein and vitamins, including riboflavin and vitamin D, and minerals, such as selenium, and healthy phytochemicals including choline, important for brain development and function, as well as lutein and zeaxnthin, two antioxidants found in egg yolks that help prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of age-related blindness.

And eggs are budget-friendly, costing less than $1 per serving, according to the USDA.  So, enjoy eggs as part of a healthy diet this Easter and all year.

 

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