Don’t Let Halloween Scare You!

Trick or Treat!

It’s that time of year again. The stores have been full of candy and decorations for months and now the candy is about to take center stage. Or is it? Here are some tips to keep Halloween from spooking you and derailing your healthy eating efforts. Halloween is just the first in a series of holidays which will be coming over the next few months, a little planning now, will go a long way in ensuring that your New Year’s Resolutions aren’t too desperate in January!

  • Make a plan – I’ve said it a million times but it really bears repeating. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Take a moment today and decide what tomorrow will look like. Don’t “save up” calories so that you can eat lots of candy tomorrow night, that’s a recipe for disaster! Instead, make sure to eat some healthy balanced meals throughout the day so that you aren’t ravenous at trick or treat time. Make a decision in advance about what kinds of treats, and how many, you will choose to enjoy. An all or nothing attitude will not end well, but deciding ahead ahead of time to enjoy 2 or 3 fun sized candy bars, is a sensible way to go.
  • If you have children that will be going tick or treating (and bringing their candy back into your house) make sure that you are not the keeper of the stash. It’s all too easy (and I say this from experience) to take a little something every time you walk by the bags. You can request that your spouse or partner be the one in charge of the loot and have them put it someplace you don’t happen upon throughout the day; or if your kids are older, request that they put it someplace out of sight. There’s no need to hide it, just make sure that it is out of eyesight throughout the day, which will make it much easier to resist!
  • If you have leftover candy, get it out of the house as soon as possible or, put it out of eyesight (see above) to a place where you won’t see it all the time. It is also advisable to not buy your favorite candy to give out to trick or treaters. If you cannot resist Butterfingers (and really, who can?) don’t buy them! Get some other kind of candy that the kids will like but you look at and think – eh, not so much.
  • Halloween is one day only, don’t let it continue on into Thanksgiving. We are headed into the holiday season believe it or not. Try to get back into your routine as quickly as possible and stick to it until November 22nd. If you do end up overindulging on Halloween (or if you are reading this post too late), check out my previous post on mitigating damage done on food holidays.
We can all get through the holidays as long as we keep our focus. I am definitely an advocate of enjoying the sometimes treats that go hand in hand with most holidays, just make sure to keep them special by only indulging sometimes. Happy Halloween!

Second Annual Food Day

Tomorrow October 24th is Food Day, a nationwide celebration of food started by the Center for Science in the Public Interest last year. Food Day is a way to “strengthen and unify the food movement in order to improve our nations food policies”; the five core priorities are to 1) promote safer, healthier diets 2) support sustainable and organic farms 3) reduce hunger 4) reform factory farms to protect the environment and animals and 5) support fair working conditions for food and farm workers. If these action items are things you have never thought about before, the list can sound very overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be! In the same way that I encourage you to take small steps to improve your diet, you can take small steps towards improving food policies.

  • Try going an entire day without eating pre-packaged foods (don’t forget to bring your own coffee cup when you go to your local coffee shop!)
  • Donate some much needed items to your local food pantry
  • Make sure that you have at least one serving of vegetables or fruit with each meal and snack
  • Shop at a farmers market or local farm
  • Prepare a meal for your family or friends (it doesn’t have to be on Food Day itself) and make a note of where each ingredient came from
  • Be aware of what you eat throughout the day. Ask yourself where the ingredients came from and how they were grown (this will also help you to be more mindful!)

I’ll be celebrating Food Day with some fellow RD’s by attending a talk about sustainability in the nutrition field; I’m really looking forward to the speaker from Farm Aid! How will you celebrate Food Day?

Incredible Edible Eggs

One of my favorite foods has gone back and forth from the good food list to the bad food list for far too long. Recently egg yolks were equated to smoking in forming plaque in carotid arteries! This single study brought fear back to egg eaters, but it did not control for many factors which also lead to plaque buildup such as exercise, high fat meats, alcohol, and other high fat foods. In reality, consumption of dietary cholesterol is not a big factor in heart disease unless you happen to be one of the few people who hyper respond to cholesterol. Trans fat, saturated fat, smoking, lack of physical activity and eating excessiveprocessed carbohydrates are much bigger factors in heart disease.

Eggs are a great, inexpensive source of well digested protein and can be cooked in a myriad of ways. It is said that the many folds of a chef’s toque represent the 100 ways to cook an egg; history is cloudy on the truth of that statement, but there are more than 100 egg recipes and many more that utilize eggs. Eggs can be used as a leavener, thickener, emulsifier or glaze. Chances are, if you don’t like eggs cooked by one method, you might like them cooked another way!

One large egg contains about 70 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat; they are also a source of vitamins D, E and A. Eggs are also a good source of selenium which is involved in pancreatic function, DNA repair, enzyme activation, and immune function, and choline which is important for cell membrane health, and lutein which is important for eye health.

Personally I like to keep a few hardboiled eggs on hand for when I need an easy way to add some protein to a meal or snack. If you have ever had a problem with hardboiled eggs turning green or being difficult to peel, try cooking them using the Julia Child method which is detailed in her book The Way to Cook. At first it seems to be complicated, but when you break it down, it’s just being prepared (having your ice bath ready) and utilizing the kitchen timer accurately. When I use this method, I have perfect hardboiled eggs every time that are easy to peel. You can cook up a batch and keep them in the fridge (labeled or in a separate bowl!) for an easy grab and go protein option. Bon appétit!

Roasted Chick Peas

You may have enjoyed chick peas (also known as Garbanzos) in your salad or eaten them ground up as Hummus or Falafel, but have you ever considered them as a snack? When I’m looking for snack options, I want them to meet three criteria. #1 Great taste. #2 Be satisfying. #3 Have nutritional value. While I’m sure most people will agree to #1 and #2, you may not have always put #3 on the list. Of course you want a snack to taste great, that’s a given; there is no point to eating bad food. Ideally we would also be satisfied with whatever snack we choose so we aren’t looking for something else 15 minutes later. I like to make sure that my snacks also have some nutritional value because there are only so many hours in the day and we might as well make our snacks work for us!

These roasted chick peas are certainly delicious and satisfying. One serving (122g) delivers about 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber which are both important components of satiety. As an added nutritional bonus, they contain about 25% of the Daily Value for Iron and almost half the Daily Value for Folate!

The recipe if you can call it that, is to take a can of chick peas, rinse and drain them well so that most of the moisture is gone. Place them in a bowl and drizzle with some olive oil, then sprinkle them with seasonings of your choice (I used curry powder and salt but you can create almost any spice combo you like) and stir them well. Spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until they are browned and crispy; this takes about 35-40 minutes depending upon your oven.

One can will make about 3 servings depending upon the snacker. Make sure to enjoy them with a big glass of water because of the high fiber content, and let me know if you come up with any other great seasoning combos I should try!

Wrapping up Whole Grains Month

I’m wrapping up whole grains month with a recipe for Injera, a yeasted, fermented, Ethiopian flat bread made with teff flour. Injera is a plate, utensil and food all rolled up into one; everything from stews to salads are put onto and eaten with the Injera which allows it to soak up all of the flavors of the meal.

This recipe came to me from the Vegetarian Times website, and is interesting because the batter sits overnight rather than for several days (as is typical) but still develops tangy flavor. Since I can never leave well enough alone I did alter it somewhat; instead of adding cumin and fenugreek I kept it plain with just the salt, and instead of a gluten free flour mix I used whole wheat flour. The other thing that I did was to grind my own teff flour. I had read somewhere that it wasn’t possible because the teff grains are so tiny, but I tried it anyway and it worked!

The batter mixed up into a loose consistency like a sponge made for a yeasted bread; I covered it with plastic wrap and then put it aside on the kitchen counter. In the morning I simply mixed in a little honey and poured the batter onto a hot pan. I kept thinking of these as pancakes, which as you can see from the photo below is an easy mistake. They certainly could be eaten in the same way, but they are much more substantial and there are many more uses to this flatbread than just that.

The flavor of this flatbread is tangy and yeasty – in a good way. For those who are wheat and or gluten free and miss the flavor of a yeasty bread, Injera is for you! Just follow the recipe as written and use a gluten free flour mix along with the teff flour. Because of this yeasty, bread-y flavor, I think they are well suited to be paired with savory options (like stews as is traditional) or used to make a sandwich. I could picture this with caramelized onion mixed into the batter for an amazing savory dish topped with sour cream or used as a wrap.

Since the recipe made several, I simply wrapped the extras and popped them into the fridge; I was able to try them in numerous ways over the course of a few days and they reheated well in the toaster oven or were great cold too. The ways I used up my flatbread were:

  1. Wrapped around a banana and some peanut butter for a post workout snack.
  2. With pizza sauce and cheese in the toaster oven for a pizza.
  3. With a couple of chocolate chips in the toaster (just until melted) then spread around along with a scoop of peanut butter.
  4. As a wrap with some turkey, cheese and lots of greens.

One last thing about teff that helps to make it an even better nutrient powerhouse, is that it’s also a great source of Iron. Increasing Iron intake for those who are deficient can be very difficult because supplements can cause GI problems for some people. Having more easy food options for optimizing Iron intake is priceless. Per serving teff contains 160 calories, 6g fiber, 5g protein and 20% of the Daily Value of Iron; not too bad for a tiny seed!

Whole Grains Month: Trying New Grains

Whole grains month is in full swing here at my house. Over the past 3 weeks we’ve tried a few grains that are new to us, which was my goal. Amaranth, Teff and Millet are all grains that have been around for a long time but for some reason are not currently part of the mainstream diet in the US. When it comes to whole grains, the majority of people probably think of whole wheat first, which is why it was so easy to find wheat berries in my local market. This is part of what makes whole grain eating so hard for those of us who must go wheat or gluten free due to allergies, intolerance or Celiac disease.

After checking out my local grocery stores and coming up empty, I headed over to the health food store where they had plenty of different grains. Because these grains are not mainstream and the demand just isn’t there, they can be hard to find and expensive! The Amaranth was $9.69 for a 24 ounce bag – ouch! This is definitely part of what keeps people from trying it out I’m sure. The Teff was $6.99 for 15 ounces (even more expensive!) but the Millet was a bargain at only $4.99 for 30 ounces! I got them home and started playing around with them. I’m not going to go too in-depth on these because it’s very easy to find information via google, but here’s a breakdown of my impressions and what I tried.

Although amaranth is a tiny grain (as you can see) it can be used in a variety of ways. I found recipes for everything from popped amaranth to amaranth clusters to amaranth corn bread and we tried them all! The popped amaranth was good (and fun to do!) although not every gain popped and it is still tiny so kind of hard to eat! I can see that this would probably be good if it was incorporated into a granola bar or something similar. The clusters were good although the tiny amaranth grains were a little too crunchy for some people in my house and the same goes for the cornbread. One thing that I found quite by accident was that amaranth acts quite similarly to polenta. I had cooked up a batch one night in order to reheat in the morning and I found that it was just one big mass. I sliced it up and sauteed the pieces with a little salt – delicious! This would be a great side for those who prefer a savory breakfast.

Just as tiny as amaranth was teff! Once again, this tiny grain behaved in a similar way to polenta. I used it in a breakfast porridge and it was very good; with diced apples, cinnamon, vanilla and a little milk over the top when it was done. I was also able to cook it the night before and then saute slices in the morning. I found some recipes that I haven’t tried yet but I’m planning to, like these powerhouse energy bars. I think there is still some great potential for this grain in my pantry!

Last but not least is millet. I found that this cooked up to be very similar to cous cous. It looks, tastes and chews just like it. If you are a fan of cous cous but have been eating the zero fiber, white flour kind or if you miss the taste of cous cous and can’t eat it anymore because you need to do gluten free, I think millet just may be the answer! It was definitely the starchiest tasting of the three, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

As you can see from the chart there is a lot packed into the tiny amaranth package! I encourage you all to break out of your grain rut at least once and try one of these grains if you haven’t before, then let me know what you think!

Whole Grains Month; What I’m Eating to Celebrate

As part of whole grains month, I set out to try some grains that I have wondered about in the past but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to try. One of the problems with trying new whole grains is that they are not always available at your local grocery store. Depending upon where you shop, grains like Teff, Millet, and Amaranth may or may not be available however you can usually find multiple wheat varieties. Because of this, I started out whole grains month by cooking up some wheat berries.

The picture above shows wheat berries before (left) and after (right) cooking. As you can see, they start out looking quite similar to brown rice in size and shape, but plump up quite a bit in cooking. They have a very pleasant nutty flavor and chewy texture, making them a great base for side dishes and salads (they can be used in place of cracked wheat for Tabbouleh too). Since I usually eat wheat berries in savory dishes, I decided to try them in place of quinoa or oatmeal for a hot breakfast cereal. As I have been doing with the quinoa, I was able to cook up a batch of wheat berries at night, portion it out and have speedy breakfasts the rest of the week. I have to say that I really liked this as a change of pace. The texture is chewy and made me really slow down and take time to throughly chew each bite and the flavor is reminiscent of fresh baked bread. Additionally, each serving has 6g of protein and 6g of fiber which, along with the soy milk and fruit I add make for a very filling and satisfying breakfast.

Next up for whole grains month; Teff and Millet and Amaranth – oh my!

Whole Grains Month is Coming!

Saturday is September 1st which means whole grains month! What, this isn’t on your calendar? Hopefully you already follow the recommendation to make half your grains whole (especially if you read my previous post about whole grains); however if you don’t, this is the perfect opportunity to start incorporating more whole grains into your diet.

Since I already eat quite a few whole grains, I’ve decided to try a little different challenge for myself this month. I’m going to seek out some different grains that I haven’t yet tried, and also try to use some of my old favorites in some new ways. I already started this four weeks ago when I started having quinoa for breakfast. I am still going strong with my breakfast quinoa, but I just might come up with a different grain I like as much, if not better!

Stay tuned for more whole grains all month long. If you are interested in finding some ideas to celebrate whole grains month, head on over to the Whole Grains Council website.

The Best Diet!

Now that I have your attention, how many of you thought I was going to let you in on the ‘secret’? I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but there is no one perfect diet out there for everyone. There have been countless studies done on various ‘diets’ trying to prove which one will help you to lose the most weight. Some results show that high protein works, or high fiber, or low fat, but really the bottom line for all of these has been that when calories are reduced, the subjects lost weight; but what really matters is, can they keep it off?

If you want to know what it takes to keep off the weight you lose, check out the National Weight Control Registry. This is an ongoing investigation of people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year. Among the findings, the researchers have discovered that most participants continue on a low calorie, low fat diet and perform high levels of activity.  Additionally:

    • 78% of participants eat breakfast every day.
    • 75% of participants weigh themselves at least once a week.
    • 62% of participants watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
    • 90% of participants exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.

You all know my philosophy by now: load up your plate with vegetables and fruits, add some lean protein (from meat, chicken or fish, nuts, beans and low-fat dairy), if you are going to have a grain make it a whole grain and wash it all down with plenty of water, this is a winning combination. I know it all sounds very general, but that is because whatever combinations of foods you eat, need to be chosen by you! There are a myriad of vegetables, fruits and protein sources out there, find the ones that you like best and then don’t overdo it.

Have you ever tried a diet in the past that ‘worked’ only until you went back to your old eating habits? Did you get bored with the mandated menus or maybe you didn’t really like them to begin with? Just say no to the hype! The best diet is one that you like and that you can follow for a lifetime!

What I’m Eating – Dates!

Most of you know by now that I’m a huge advocate of using whole foods whenever possible and that extends into what I use to fuel my extended workouts. I have previously written about the need for fuel when you are exercising strenuously in an endurance situation. What, and how much you need to consume will depend upon the length, and type of activity, as well as how well fueled you were prior to your activity; each individual and their circumstances are unique!

There have been some recent studies on whole foods that got me excited. One study showed that raisins worked as well as sports jellybeans for endurance runners. There had previously been studies showing that raisins and other dried fruit worked well for cyclists, but there was some question about GI upset with runners due to the presence of fiber in the raisins. Raisins were shown to not only work as well as the beans, but there was no difference in GI upset when using the raisins over the beans. There have also been studies with cyclists showing that bananas not only work as well as the typical sports drink, but they come packaged with nutrients and compounds that will benefit the athlete beyond just carbohydrate replenishment.

While I have been known to do a lot of things, I have not yet started running with bananas; what I have been doing is running with dates! I have occasionally used dried fruit in the past (including prunes) with no GI upset. But over the winter I was using some jelly candies and had also tried some other packaged sports chews; the problem with these things for me was that I suffered from sugar fatigue! I just can’t stomach that much sweetness for very long, yuck! One of the big things that has been keeping me from relying on dried fruit was the combination of electrolytes they contain. Of course dates are a fantastic source of electrolytes except for one – sodium! Since I’m such a heavy and salty sweater, this is a bit of a problem for me. I came up with what I think is a great solution; dates with salt.

What I do is to cut open the date to remove the pit, and then sprinkle a little salt inside. Not only does this take care of my sodium problem, but it also gives me a sweet/salty taste with every bite. Think about a salted carmel and you get the idea. I package them up into a little bag and away I go. Each date has about 25 calories (a little over 6 g Carbohydrates) and it’s easy to dole out just the right amount for 9 miles versus 13 miles. Of course I’m also following a hydration plan and I chase each of these salty dates with some water. So far this plan has really been working for me. I look forward to putting dates into practice during my next half in September!