Sunday, January 24, 2010
Almost as soon as the Times Square ball drops and the confetti was thrown, I started making resolutions to improve my health and life. In my past, within a few weeks, my resolve would fade -- and I'd go back to my old, bad habits. But this year I'd recently joined Spark and instead of trying to make sweeping changes, I resolved only to tackle a few easy ways to lose weight and boost health.
I went with the health and weight loss resolutions that call for minor, doable changes. I wanted to take small, positive steps and move ahead consistently. I needed to be realistic about the changes I can achieve. So this year I did more planning and less proclaiming.
I knew that I needed noticeable results within a couple of weeks to help keep me motivated to continue improving my health and wellness.
Resolution 1: Learn to interpret food labels, and to identify the best choices when eating out.
Resolution 2: Strap on a Pedometer -- Seeing a number at the end of the day can make getting more walking in a lot more fun (talk about instant gratification). Not bad for an investment of around $15. I knew I wasn't fit enough to use 10,000 steps as my short term goal so I set a goal of walking 30 minutes and 3500 step or more a day.
After just two weeks of walking more, I saw measurable health benefits. I have hypertension and diabetes (Type II). I saw a reduction of my blood pressure, and better blood sugar levels.
Resolution 3: Drink 8 Cups of Water a Day
I used water as a substitute for my regular diet soda consumption.
Resolution 4: Switch to Whole Grains
Switching to 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread was easy, especially now that so many 100% whole-wheat products are available in supermarkets -- from hot dog buns to breakfast cereals to pasta. The trick to switching to whole grains is to keep trying products and brands until you find one that works for you and your family. Once you find brands of whole-grain hamburger buns, sandwich bread, hot and cold breakfast cereals, crackers, and pasta you like, sticking to this resolution will be a snap!
Resolution 5: Switch to Healthier Fats
For cooking, I swithed to an oil(canola, olive) that has more of the "better" fats and less of the "worst" fats -- like saturated fat -- whenever possible. If a bakery recipe calls for adding melted butter, shortening, or margarine, that's your clue that you can probably switch to canola oil without any change in texture. Just remember to drizzle, not drench, your food in oil because even healthy oils add more than 100 calories per tablespoon.
Resolution 6: Cut Down on Sodium
Sodium is a problem for lots of Americans, especially those like me with high blood pressure. And the key to cutting back is to eat fewer processed foods. Just using the salt shaker less won't touch the source of excess sodium for most Americans. Eating fewer processed foods also made room in my food plan for more fruits and vegetables, which increase potassium -- a mineral that has been linked to lowering blood pressure.
I'm reading the labels on processed and package foods. I switched to sodium-free herb blends for seasoning food in cooking and at the table. I'm choosing to buy lower-sodium choices in soups, crackers, salad dressings, canned tomatoes, and other products.
Maybe these few resolutions echo your own. At any rate I've been able to stick with these, how about you?
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Vegetables are one of those foods people either love or hate. If you aren't eating vegetables, you aren't getting all their amazing components like fiber, antioxidants, and other powerful phytochemicals.
So what's a veggie-hater to do? People who think they hate vegetables can definitely learn to embrace this colorful food group. Are veggie haters born, or made? The answer seems to be both. Some of us have negative veggie experiences from our childhood that come back to haunt us as adults. Maybe you were forced to eat vegetables, or had to plow through a stack of green beans to get to dessert. Maybe you were served overcooked, mushy vegetables. Or perhaps some time in your life, you were on a fad diet where all you could eat were certain vegetables.
"If veggies are only served in ways that don't match your personal flavor preferences, they won't seem exciting," explains Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research. So if you love spicy food, you won't like veggies served plain; or if you love simple, earthy flavors, veggies covered with rich sauce won't appeal.
But there are also innate physical reasons why some people have an aversion to certain vegetables. According to Collins, a genetic trait has been identified that seems to make some people have extra-sensitive receptors for bitter tastes. The vegetables that tend to be the bitter offenders are cruciferous vegetables (those from the cabbage family, including broccoli and cauliflower), some of the leafy greens, and eggplant.
But there are ways to tame the bitter taste in these nutrition-packed vegetables. Check out the tips below for help on this, and for more ways to get vegetables past the lips of even confirmed veggie haters.
Tip No. 1: Add veggies you almost like to dishes you already love.
Layer zucchini slices, chopped spinach, or cooked carrots into lasagna. Stir broccoli florets into macaroni and cheese. Toss whatever veggies you like (tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus) into an omelet or quesadilla.
Tip No. 2: Try them in soup.
Embellish your favorite soups with added veggies. I love adding carrots to chicken noodle soup, and edamame or green beans to minestrone. Just add the raw or frozen vegetables while you are cooking or heating the soup.
Tip No. 3: Slip them into salads.
Load your salads with all the veggies you enjoy (or at least tolerate). The options include cucumber, grated carrots, zucchini, green beans, onions, radishes, jicama, tomato, broccoli or cauliflower florets. You can even use spinach leaves instead of lettuce.
Tip No. 4: Serve them raw.
Raw veggies can be more appetizing than their cooked counterparts to people who aren't crazy about vegetables. The flavors of raw veggies can be milder than those of cooked ones. And the texture is crispy, rather than mushy.
Vegetables Tip No. 5: Take raw vegetables skinny dipping.
There's nothing like a little light ranch dressing or onion dip to make a platter of raw veggies disappear. Make it super easy by using bottled light ranch, bleu cheese, or Italian dressing. To make light onion dip, stir onion soup mix into some fat-free or light sour cream.
Tip No. 6: Sneak them into spaghetti and pizza.
Most people like spaghetti and pizza, which makes them a good place to sneak in some vegetables. Chop any vegetables your family likes (zucchini, onions, eggplant, broccoli, celery, carrots) and add them to the spaghetti sauce. The smaller you chop them, the less likely anyone will notice that they're there. Vegetables can also be a tempting topping for your pizza, adding fiber and nutrients. Any combination of the following will work well: fresh tomato, onion, bell pepper, mushroom, zucchini, artichoke hearts, fresh basil leaves, and chopped spinach.
Tip No. 7: Drink your vegetables.
There are several good veggie juices on the market (V-8 or carrot juice), even veggie-fruit juice blends that taste great. Or, create your own veggie blend juice by blending some carrot juice with a fruit juice (like mango, tangerine, or orange juice).
Tip No. 8: Increase the fun factor.
Let's face it: some vegetables are just more fun to eat than others. Corn on the cob (especially when grilled) continues to be fun into adulthood. So are veggie kabobs, and celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter or light cream cheese. And a zucchini half, tomato, bell pepper, or portobello mushroom stuffed with a savory filling can be as elegant as it is fun.
Tip No. 9: Grill, baby, grill!
You'll be amazed at how great grilled veggies taste. Before grilling, just brush veggies lightly with canola or olive oil, light Italian dressing, or the same marinade you're using for your meat (make sure to use marinade that hasn't touched the raw meat). Large pieces can go straight onto the grill (portobello mushrooms, zucchini halves, large pieces of eggplant, asparagus spears). String smaller pieces onto a skewer for a veggie kabob.
Tip No. 10: Know how to cook the stronger flavored veggies.
The strongest tasting (and smelling) vegetables are those in the cruciferous family, along with some greens, and raw eggplant. Keep in mind that generally, the longer you cook these veggies, the stronger their odor and flavor will be. The exception is eggplant, which becomes milder with cooking.
Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.
To cut the bitterness of these veggies, there a few tricks you can have up your sleeve. Add a little olive oil (or other fat) when stir-frying or sauteing; add something salty or sour (like a drizzle of light soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, lemon, or shredded Parmesan); or glaze the vegetables with something sweet (a small spoonful of honey or orange marmalade).
Tip No. 11: Try them where you least expect them.
You might be surprised at how well vegetables can complement the featured ingredients in many of your favorite foods. Roasted red pepper, roasted or sun-dried tomato, and/or grilled eggplant all work well in hot or cold sandwiches. Raw tomato, spinach leaves, fresh basil, grated carrots, sprouts, sliced or grated zucchini, shredded cabbage (green or purple) go well in sandwiches, wraps, and pitas. Add grated or finely chopped vegetables to meat loaf, pasta fillings (such as manicotti), and fillings for Mexican entree fillings like tacos, enchiladas, and flautas.
Tip No. 12: Be sensitive to textural turn-offs.
If your experience is mostly with canned or overcooked vegetables, give them a "fresh" start. You might be more willing to eat vegetables prepared in more texturally pleasing ways (lightly cooked stir-fry veggies, raw veggies, or veggies lightly cooked in a steamer or microwave, just to the point where they're slightly tender but still have a nice crunch. Minimal cooking also keeps the color is bright and appealing. Consider a bright green asparagus spear, cooked just until crisp-tender. Then think about overcooked or canned asparagus, which is beyond soft in texture and has an olive green color.
Tip No. 13: Even fast-food vegetables count.
You can even get vegetables at your favorite fast-food chain -- as long as you like salads, that is. Look for side salads or salads made with grilled chicken and choose the light or reduced-calorie dressing. Use half of the packet of dressing (it's plenty), and you'll be adding just about 25-50 calories and 0-4 grams of fat to your salad.
Tip No. 14: Don't reward your kids (or yourself) for eating vegetables.
"Studies suggest that when we are rewarded for eating something, then the reward becomes the treat and we will not see the food itself as enjoyable," notes Collins. When this is standard table practice for vegetables, we're taught indirectly that the vegetables are the punishment we have to get through to reach our reward.
Tip No. 15: It's all about the cheese.
When all else fails, you can always sprinkle a little grated, reduced-fat cheese over the top. If cheese sauce is more your style, drizzle it over vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower and suddenly, it's a whole different ball game.
Hope you find these tips useful.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
1. Potable water
2. Canned beans as they fill you up for very few calories and are easy to prepare.
3. A variety of nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans) as their fat and fiber content make them a great hunger-reducer.
4. Blueberries and other berries
5. Fortified whole-grain cereal makes a great snack or breakfast even without milk. Top your cereal with dried blueberries and nuts for a great trail mix.
6. Crunchy vegetables like broccoli and carrots
7. Red or Black Grapes
9. Citrus fruit such as oranges, clementines, tangerines
There are all sorts of nutritional reasons for these picks but the main reason I chose them is I actually like them and know I'll eat them.
What do you consider survival food?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Daily meditation became my norm a few years ago after I retired. I took a beginner Tai Chi class and during the session the instructor and other students would talk about various meditation techniques and their perceived benefits. It sounded worthwhile to me and I visited a zen website and some others to read about various techniques. I tried just listening to some soft background music, turned lights off and focused on a burning candle and tried to clear my mind. Initially, I would become so relaxed that I actually fell asleep but after a few more weeks of trying I finally learned how to clear my mind and stay awake and focused and did feel the calming effect and mental cleansing. So for me it became a worthwhile activity and I can devote as little as 10 minutes to be effective as a stress relief or longer s my planned activities permit. I'm gad I learned about it and also about Tai Chi which in itself I find mentally and physically relaxing. Namaste
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