Nutrition

Healthy Turkey and Cauliflower Rice Taco Salad

I do love a good taco salad, and this version has all the ingredients you need for a healthy dose of vegetables and fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fat, all in a low-carb dish that is delicious.  As always, adjust seasonings to suit your taste, and limit salt if you are on a low-sodium diet.

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey

1 onion

1 tbsp minced garlic (more if you like)

2 sweet peppers

2 jalapeno peppers (optional if you like a little heat)

1 bag frozen riced cauliflower, or 1 head of fresh cauliflower grated finely

3/4 cup frozen corn

1 tsp cumin

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp chili powder

1 tsp smoked paprika

salad greens

sour cream (optional)

grated cheddar cheese (optional)

cilantro, chopped  (optional)

Salsa (optional)

Diced tomatos (optional)

Sliced avocado (optional)

1 tbsp olive or avocado oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Chop onion and peppers and saute in oil  on medium high heat until soft.  Add garlic and seasonings.  Add turkey and cook until browned, breaking up the meat until crumbly, 4-5 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and saute until cooked through, approximately 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the corn and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

To serve, place the salad greens on a plate.  Spoon over the turkey mixture.  Top as desired with salsa, diced tomatos, grated cheese, cilantro, sliced avocado, and sour cream.

You're Not Eating Enough Vegetables and Fruit

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According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, women over 31 years old should consume 1-1/2 cups of fruit a day.  Women between the ages of 31 - 50 should eat at least 2-1/2 cups of vegetables a day and women ages 51 and over should eat 2 cups of vegetables a day.  If you are more than moderately active, you can consume even more.  But unless you are a vegetarian or eating a primarily plant-based diet, you are probably not eating enough vegetables or fruit.

A study conducted during 2007 and 2010 found that half of the total U.S. population consumed less than 1 cup of fruit and less than 1.5 cups of vegetables daily; 76% did not meet fruit intake recommendations, and 87% did not meet vegetable intake recommendations.

In 2015, the CDC reports, less than 13% of adults overall consumed the recommended amount of fruit and less than 10% consumed the recommended amount of vegetables. 

Most of us know that we need to eat vegetables and fruit to be healthy.  We know that eating more vegetables and fruits can help us to lose weight, improve our heart health, and prevent chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers.  We know that vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are good for us. 

So why aren't we eating our fruits and vegetables?  Here are some of the most common reasons I gleaned from an informal survey of women over 50:

1.  We believe that vegetables and fruits are expensive.  Women and families living on a fixed income may not have enough to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to cheaper processed foods with lower nutritional value.

2.  We are living busy lives and we believe that we don't have time to prepare them.  Women working full time jobs and caring for families believe they don't have the time, energy, or motivation to prepare a full meal that includes fruits and vegetables.

3.  We prefer food that is convenient, quick, and easy.  We want foods we can grab and go or eat on the run, and we think that fruits and vegetables aren't as convenient, quick and easy and processed or fast foods.

4.  We believe we don't like the taste or we don't know how to prepare vegetables and fruits.  We have preconceived notions about whether we will like certain fruits and vegetables, often based on what we ate as a child.

5.  We don't want to be wasteful.  If we buy fresh fruits or vegetables and don't use them, they will go bad and we will just have to throw them out.

6.  We don't sit down to meals anymore and so we don't prepare full course meals.  Because of our busy lives and need to eat "on the go", we often lack the structure and pre-planning to prepare real food that we sit down with our families to eat.

7.  We live in food deserts where fresh fruits and vegetables simply aren't readily available.  Whether it is in downtown areas in big cities or small out of the way rural towns and villages, many women live in areas where a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (or even canned or frozen fruits and vegetables) just isn't available.  They would like to eat healthier but their options are limited.

8.  We believe we are eating healthy, even when we're not.  We often think that the food choices we make are healthy, but either our portion sizes are too large or we are choosing unhealthy dietary options (or too much of unhealthy dietary options).  We have a disconnect between what we believe we are eating and what we are actually consuming.

9.  Chronic illness may limit what we are able to eat.  Some women feel they have to limit fruit or vegetable intake because of illnesses such as diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome.

Eating enough fruits and vegetables each day requires effort and mindfulness and a desire to improve our health.  We have to be intentional about making sure we eat them in the first place.  We have to learn how to prepare them so that they are tasty and appealing.  We have to set aside the time and plan ahead.  We have to work out our budget so that we can afford healthy foods or we may have to locate a source of fruits and vegetables.  We may have to work with a physician or nutritionist to determine what we can eat and how much.  

Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables each day?  If not, why not?  Are you interested in learning how to improve your consumption of fruits and vegetables to improve your health?  

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables.png

In this 30-level challenge, you will learn why it is important to include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, and how to eat more fruits and vegetables every day. This challenge is easy and fun, packed with daily lessons, mini-challenges, and quizzes.

Why You Should Drink Smoothies

Why You Should Drink Smoothies.png

I could be just a bit biased, but I think smoothies are one of the greatest ideas ever.  Now, I am not talking about smoothies you buy at a Starbucks or a Smoothie King.  Those are just sugar-loaded desserts in a cup.

I am talking about smoothies you make yourself in your own kitchen.

I know it sounds like a fad.  You've seen websites touting smoothies for detox, weight loss, and every chronic condition you can think of.  But if you wanted to come up with a food or drink that would be healthy, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and still be delicious, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better idea than a smoothie.  

Here are 5 reasons why homemade smoothies are fantastic for you.

1.  You control the ingredients.  Unlike the smoothies made at a commercial smoothie bar, you control exactly what goes into your smoothie.  And there is a whole world of possibilities at your fingertips.  Most fruits and vegetables are fair game.  You can mix up any combination that strikes your fancy (or that is in season at the farmer's market).  Use your liquid of choice - whether that is dairy, nut milks, yogurt, or just plain water.  You get to experiment and you are totally in control.

2.  Low or no added sugar.  Unlike commercial smoothies that are loaded with sugar, when you make a smoothie at home, you are in control of how much or how little sweetener you use.  You can go all natural, with nothing sweet at all, sweeten your smoothie with a banana or low glycemic index fruit or naturally sweet vegetables like beets or sweet potatos, or use a substitute like stevia.  It is all up to you.

3.  Smoothies are loaded with nutrition.  When you make a smoothie at home, you can load it up with fruits and vegetables that are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.  Add protein and a healthy fat, and you have a high quality meal in a glass.

4.  Smoothies can be low in calories and high in fiber.  If you are trying to lose weight, low calorie high fiber foods are your friends.  They won't pack on the pounds, but they will help you to stay full for longer.  As long as you don't add high sugar foods like ice cream, you can be sure that the calories you are getting are healthy.

5.  Smoothies are easy to make.  As in, Super. Simple.  All you need is a blender.  Throw in a mix of fruits and vegetables.  Add liquid.  Add ice cubes.  Turn on the blender.  Quick and easy anytime of the day.  And refreshing.  Oh, did you make too much for one glass?  No problem - just freeze the rest into ice cube trays and then pack the cubes away in the freezer in baggies.  They are ready for a quick whirl in the blender on days when you are rushed to get out the door for work or school.

Here is my quick and easy go-to smoothie recipe for breakfast:

1 frozen banana (remove peel)

1/2 cup frozen mixed berries

1 handful of mixed power greens (spinach, chard, kale)

1 scoop grassfed whey protein

1 tbsp flax seeds

1 cup almond milk

5 ice cubes

Blend well.  Add a little water or almond milk if desired.  Bottoms up!

Sugar Traps and How to Avoid Them

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Let's just call sugar what it is:  sweet crack.  Anyone who has been paying attention to diet news over the past few years knows that sugar is a villain in the fight against obesity and many chronic diseases.

But it is so yummy!  Sweet, delicious.  It's part of our traditions - who has a birthday without a cake?  A dinner party without dessert?  It's part of our daily lives - a supersize choco-mocha-soy latte with extra caramel whipped cream to get started for the day?  Yes, please.  Cookbooks, cooking shows, blogs are devoted to how we can use the white stuff in deliciously new and creative ways.  It's how we reward people (and ourselves)!  Just a little treat, right?  Sugar is socially accepted.  No one will look at you funny if you take a cupcake at a social.  And we start young - we give sweet treats, candy, sugar loaded cereals and juices to babies and toddlers everywhere.  

And it can be incredibly addictive.  Because sugar triggers the opiate receptors in our brain, it provides us with an "award" of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which makes us feel good.  That's why when we experience a breakup or other similarly sad experience, we turn to sugar - the "bucket of ice cream" - to make us feel better.  More sugar = more release of dopamine = we want more of that, and it takes more and more to keep us satisfied.  We get addicted to our sugar high.  In fact, sugar has similar addictive properties as nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids such as heroin.

We start to think that foods without added sugar just aren't as good.  Food producers are well aware of our cravings for sugar, and they are more than happy to oblige our addiction.  One of the reasons processed foods are so bad for us is that so many of them contain added sugar.  I took a quick inventory of foods with sugar in my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator.  Ketchup - of course!  Barbecue sauce, marinades, tomato sauce - yep.  Yogurt - yes.  Green chile enchilada sauce and organic chicken bone broth - yes and yes - who knew?  

I fully expected to find sugar (or its alter egos, corn syrup and molasses) in ketchup, jarred sauces, and marinades - but I did not expect it to be in bone broth.  And that's just how sneaky food processors can be.  There's no good reason to add sugar to many of the products it is in - but there it is anyway.

And just as with other addictions, the consequences of all this added sugar in just about everything we eat aren't pretty:  cravings, binging, and withdrawal symptoms when we try to eliminate it from our diets.  We can get a sugar rush when we consume a food that is high in sugar, and a subsequent sugar low when our bodies produce extra insulin that burns up the sugar quickly, leaving us feeling shaky and wiped out.  A continuous "diet" of these sugar highs and lows can cause us to develop insulin insensitivity, so that our bodies have to produce more and more insulin, eventually wearing out the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. And the longer term consequences add up to chronic health problems from headaches, hormone imbalances, and weight gain, to morbid obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity-related cancers.

With a little thought, we can avoid the obvious sugar traps - the ones in plain sight.  We can add less sugar in our coffee, choose not to eat the cupcake at the office party, avoid the candy rack at the checkout.  It's the hidden sugar traps that can sabotage our way of eating and undo all the hard work we are putting in to improve our health.  A recent survey from Healthline.com found that most consumers don't know how much sugar is in their foods and are confused about how to read food labels and how to cut out added sugar.  The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day in the form of added sugars.

Below are some of the food products that are hiding added sugar, and how you can avoid them by making a smarter choice.  Of course, always read food labels (see the infographic below for a list of common sugar synonyms used on food labels).  The higher up an ingredient is on the ingredient list on the label, the more of that ingredient there is in the product.  Some producers try to hide just how much sugar they have added by breaking it up into different sugar ingredients and listing them separately in the ingredient list, so read carefully.

1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams

Note:  Beginning in 2020, manufacturers of packaged foods will have to include the percentage of added sugars in a product as a separate line item.

Source:  Food and Drug Administration

Source:  Food and Drug Administration

Food Sources of Hidden Sugar

Beverages.  The average American consumes 14% of their daily calories in added sugars, and a lot of those sugars come in the form of sugary beverages - drinking our calories, as it were.  From so-called "healthy juices" and energy drinks, to sugar laden coffee to soda to sweet tea to alcoholic beverages, our drinks are all-too-often loaded with sugar.  Even smoothies can be sugar traps when purchased at a commercial smoothie shop or hiding under the label of a "healthy" bottled beverage product.  The best thirst quencher of all - plain water.  If you can't stand the taste of plain water, add a bit of lemon, lime, or other fruits to infuse and flavor it.  You can do the same with coffee and tea.  Make healthy smoothies at home, limiting sweeteners to the fruit in the smoothie or a bit of stevia leaf.  

Yogurt.  On its own, yogurt is a very healthy food.  But we want it sweetened - with fruits, sauces, honey, granola, or just sweetened vanilla.  A favorite strawberry-flavored yogurt from a major manufacturer has 24 grams of sugar in a single serving size - that's almost the full daily allowance for a woman!  Instead, choose a plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir and add fresh or frozen fruit or a dash of vanilla extract.  If you simply must have it sweetened, try adding a bit of stevia or choose a yogurt with lower sugar content.

Instant oatmeal.  Here again, we have a product that, by itself, is a nutritious food, but manufacturers create a product with a lot of added sugar.  Instead of resorting to instant oatmeal for a quick breakfast, make refrigerator oats overnight and add a bit of fresh fruit in the morning.

Bread, pasta, bagels, crackers.  You think your whole grain bread or pasta is safe.  But even these products have added sugar to help them taste better.  Try a sprouted grain Ezekiel bread instead - and skip the bagels and crackers.  If you need something to scoop up your dip, try carrot and celery sticks instead.  Oh, and speaking of that dip...

Dips.  Yes, that delicious honey mustard dip has sugar.  So does the ranch dip and the french onion dip.  Even the commercial salsas have added sugar.  Better choices:  homemade salsa, hummus, guacamole, tzatziki, or baba ghanoush.

Coleslaw.  At the restaurant, you might get the coleslaw because you think you are getting the healthiest option on the menu.  But it is probably has too much sugar to be really healthy.  Try a side salad instead.  And at home, make your own low sugar slaw.

Soups and broths.  I was surprised to see sugar as a key ingredient in my organic cream of chicken soup and in my organic chicken bone broth.  We often purchase these products to make our lives easier, but it's relatively easy to make soups and bone broth in the crockpot and then freeze in individual portion sizes for use later.  When we make it ourselves, we control what does and doesn't go into our recipe. 

Sauces and marinades.  Just about any sauce or marinade you can purchase in the grocery store will have added sugar.  Many sauces are simple enough to make at home using fresh ingredients, and you can leave out the sugar.  

Chinese food.  I'm not talking about a simple stir fry you make yourself.  Rather, just about all the favorites at your local Chinese buffet are guaranteed to have sugar in the sauces.  Do yourself a favor and make your stir fry at home.

Frozen dinners and prepackaged frozen meals.  A popular product in recent years is a frozen meal that you prepare in your kitchen, often combining meat, vegetables, pasta or rice, and - sugar heavy sauces.  I know we are all busy so we try to choose foods that will be convenient and still healthy, and many of these meals are marketed as a healthy alternative.  But read the labels carefully for added sugar.  You can create your own frozen meal-in-a-bag alternatives, given some planning and a few hours on a weekend afternoon.

Processed meats.  Often, processed meats such as sausages, pepperoni, salami, and deli meats are cured with salt and sugar and other preservatives.  Sugar is often added as flavoring as well.  Even some bacon (such as maple glazed bacon) may have added sugar. Check the ingredients list on your lunch meat package and you may see some form of sugar, such as corn syrup, or evaporated cane syrup, or even multiple forms of sugar.  At the deli case in your local supermarket, check your meats for added sugars before ordering.  You can also get meats from local butchers or farmers, or try your hand at learning the art of charcuterie to make your own. 

Energy bars, snack bars, and protein bars.  They are marketed as a healthy fuel source for the health conscious who exercise.  With added sugar, they are anything but healthy.  Instead of opting for an energy bar pre- or post-workout, choose nuts, a boiled egg, sweet potato, or fruit.

Salad dressing.  You might be tempted by low-fat salad dressings thinking they are healthier.  Instead, manufacturers have added sugar to make them taste better.  Try vinegar with olive oil and a spritz of lemon juice to keep your salad on the healthy side.

Condiments.  What makes ketchup so delicious?  Sugar, and lots of it.  Mayo?  Sugar.  Barbecue sauce?  Sugar.  Just about the only condiment without added sugar is mustard.  Try substituting a homemade salsa instead.

Seasonings and rubs.  Who doesn't love a good seasoning mix rub on a pork roast?  The problem is that most of the commercial seasoning and rub mixes have loads of sugar added in.  Ditch the sugar and add more flavor by making your own seasoning mix using a variety of herbs and spices.

The best way to avoid added sugar is to prepare your own meals using whole foods and minimally processed ingredients.

If you think you are seeing a trend here on how to avoid added sugar in your diet, you are right!  The best way to avoid added sugar is to prepare your own meals using whole foods and minimally processed ingredients.  Of course, with our busy lifestyles, that is not always possible, but every little bit we can do will help to cut down the amount of sugar we eat on a daily basis.  Always read the label, and look for products with low or no sugar.

If you want to know how much sugar is in the products you commonly buy, here is a great resource.

So what about fruits?  Of course, fruits contain sugar as well.  Sugar is sugar is sugar, no matter what form it takes.  But fruits include a lot of fiber that slows down the absorption of sugar and fruits are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need.  Fructose, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit, is often present in lower levels than you would expect.  For example, in a cup of blueberries, fructose only accounts for 30 calories.  Fruit can be enjoyed as a healthy alternative to cookies, cakes and candy, and in fact, the American Heart Association recommends daily fruit consumption as part of a healthy diet.  To lower the impact of sugar, choose fruits that have a high glycemic index such as berries, apples, or grapefruit.

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You Don't Have to Clean Your Plate

Photo by  Hermes Rivera  on  Unsplash

"You don't have to clean your plate."

I was sitting across a table from my husband in our favorite Mexican restaurant, finishing dinner.  He had finished before me.  After eating half his food, he had set his plate aside.  

Because I had been talking, I had been eating more slowly. 

I continued to talk and eat, waving my fork in the air to punctuate my sentences, while mindlessly scooping food into my mouth.

It wasn't a completely unhealthy meal.  Carne asada, rice, beans, guacamole.  Oh, and the three flour tortillas that come with it.  And cheese dip.  And tostada chips.  It was a big meal.

I was down to the last few bites.  

"You don't have to clean your plate," Joe said quietly.

My loaded fork, on its way to my mouth, paused in midair.  My first reaction was hurt.  My brain raced around a few thoughts:  "Seriously?"  "Are you saying I'm a pig?"  "How could you say that?!"  "How rude!" I thought to myself in indignation.

Fortunately, in that little pause, the cognitive part of my brain took control over the emotional part that wanted to lash out.

Calmly, I set my fork down, and pushed my plate aside.

"You're right," I said.  "I don't have to clean my plate.  That's just my programming."

"I know," he said.  "You can stop eating when you feel full.  You don't have to clean your plate.  I love you."

See, he knows that I've been focusing on portion control lately.  He knows that most of the time, I eat healthy, but the portions I eat are too large.  

I grew up in a "clean your plate" household.  "Clean your plate - there are starving children in China," my mom told me.  Or Africa.  Or Russia.  Or wherever the starving children happened to be that night.

Even as a small child, I knew her argument didn't make sense.  How would my cleaning my plate help those poor starving children?  A few times, I dared to say, "Well, then, how about you take this food and send it to them?"  But over the years, my mother's programming took hold in my brain and stuck there, as mom programming usually does.  Having grown up poor, the thought of wasting any food was abhorrent to my mother.  So she passed that mindset to me.

As a young mother myself, I found myself using the same arguments with my children.  Of course, they also asked why I didn't just send the food to the starving children in Africa.  "Because!  Now clean your plate!"  The same answer my mother gave me.

I often eat mindlessly, while working on some other task or talking or watching television or reading.  I barely taste the food.  I mindlessly clean my plate because that's my childhood programming.  

My husband's quiet reminder to me was that I can break with my programming.  Just because that's the program my brain has been following all these years, doesn't mean I can't change the program to a better one - a program that makes sense, that isn't borne from a lifetime of scarcity.  

You, too, may have been brought up with the "Clean Your Plate" fallacy.  You, too, may have found yourself mindlessly cleaning your plate because that's what you grew up with and it feels somehow "wrong" to waste food.  If so, here are some tips to change the program, or trick the program if you just must clean the plate.

1.  Practice eating mindfully. 

In other words, when you are eating, focus on eating.  Not on reading, watching TV, playing computer games, or all the other things we do when we are eating (but do engage in conversation with family and friends if you are eating in a social group - we don't want to be anti-social!)  Actually taste the food you are eating, pay attention to how much you are eating, and how you feel as you eat.

2.  Stop When You Are Full

It sounds so simple, right?  Just stop and push the plate aside.  This technique does take mindfulness and willpower.  First, you must learn to recognize when you are full.  Not so full that if you take another bite, you will explode like the fellow on the Monty Python skit who ate "just a thin mint."  No.  Just comfortably full.  You have to learn when you've eaten enough that you feel nourished and comfortable for the next several hours.  And then, you need to not pay attention to the uneaten food on the plate.  When you have grown up with the "clean your plate" mentality, it is hard to see food left on a plate and wasted.  It disturbs you.  It distracts you.  It calls to you - "Eat me!"  Don't listen to the siren song - remove the plate from the table, and dispose of the food.  Either throw it away (it gets easier) or put it in the fridge for the next meal if you can't stand to see it go to waste.  Remind yourself that it's okay not to eat it.

3.  If You Absolutely Must Clean Your Plate

If you're programming is so strong that you just must clean your plate, no matter what, then we have to trick the programming.  There are two ways to do just that.  The first way is to use a smaller plate.  Downsizing your plate will automatically downsize your portion size.  Use a saucer, instead of a full-size plate, and do not go back for seconds.  The other way to trick your programming is to change what you put on your plate.  Load a larger portion of your plate with green leafy vegetables which will add bulk and fiber and many fewer calories.  Add a healthy protein, a healthy fat, and if your diet allows, and healthy carbohydrate such as a bit of sweet potato.  Consider using the Healthy Eating Plate created by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard School of Medicine as a guide for choosing your foods.

 

Remember, we do not have to be slaves to our childhood programming.  We have the power to choose ways of eating that help us to be healthy.

Do you have any tips to overcome the Clean Your Plate mentality?  Share them in the comments below.