Thankful for Health
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – being surrounded by family, friends and food and acknowledging the many things for which we are thankful. While it’s okay to indulge (it is a holiday, after all), it’s important to be thankful for our health, our ability to reach this season, and treat our bodies well so that they can continue to care for us. This year, I have a lot to be thankful for! I’m thankful for my fiancé, who keeps me strong, challenges me and loves me unconditionally. I’m also thankful for the fact that I’ll be gaining an additional family in a few short months, and thankful for my own family who has always supported me, through college and grad school, my initial endeavors as a dietitian, and always playing the role of guinea pig when I want to try out a new recipe! I’m thankful for my new home in Florida, all of my new friends, my old friends who continue to stay close regardless of being miles apart, and the ability to do what I love everyday.
I’m also thankful for my attitude toward food, as I’m aware that it does not come easy to many people, and it didn’t always come easy to me, either. Food should be enjoyed, not villainized, and celebrated for all that it can do for us, and we should aim to choose foods that will provide nutrition, as well as joy. In the midst of casseroles, cookies and pies, it can be difficult to navigate the Thanksgiving table with health in mind. Below are some tips so that you can eat your turkey (and pie), and enjoy it too!
- Start your day with some physical activity. Most of us consume more calories on Thanksgiving than on an average day, so burning some extra calories will help to offset the caloric intake to come. Also, exercise can allow you to burn some additional calories following your workout, although this amount is often small.
- Focus on veggies. That may seem difficult on Turkey Day, but there are so many seasonal veggies to choose from right now and they’ll help you to fill up with fiber, water and give you a good dose of vitamins and minerals! Some in-season veggies to consider making the star of the show include Brussels sprouts, kale, winter squash, cauliflower and cabbage. My favorite Brussels sprouts recipe is just as tasty as it is pretty!
- Turkey is a relatively lean protein, especially if you choose the breast meat (white meat). If you’re a turkey lover, feel free to enjoy the festive protein, keeping in mind that one 3 oz serving of poultry is approximately the size of a deck of cards.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking a glass of water and choosing foods that contain large amounts of water (like fruits and vegetables) can help you to feel more full, which means you may indulge less and keep portions reasonable. Also, if you’re drinking alcohol, make sure to alternate each drink with water and skip any high-sugar mixers.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains for side dishes. Try a recipe that features farro or quinoa (okay, so quinoa is technically a seed, but it’s consistency and properties are similar to a whole grain) for increased protein and fiber! Farro is my favorite, with a hearty, chewy texture that stands up to sauces and is also great on it’s own with some oil and veggies.
- Consider serving a veggie-based soup before the meal, such as my pureed roasted cauliflower soup. This seasonal soup tastes creamy and hearty, but it’s relatively low in calories and will fill you up so you don’t overdo it during the main event.
- Go for an evening stroll with some guests after dinner, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and add to your overall step count that day.
- Don’t be fooled by desserts with a health halo – an avocado brownie is still a brownie, although it is likely to be a better alternative since it will have increased monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Even if you offer some “healthified” dessert options, keep portions in check. Interested in sampling a few desserts because there are so many great options? Take small portions of a few and choose your favorite to possibly indulge in a larger piece. My favorite fall dessert? Pumpkin pie! Enjoy my favorite recipe here. More into chocolate? My chocolate goji bark is always a crowd pleaser!
Russet and Sweet Potato Latkes
Chanukah may be coming to a close, but it is still the holiday season and these russet and sweet potato latkes are a festive addition to any holiday meal or party. Combing the russet potato with the sweet potato allows for a sweet, heartier latke without straying too far from the traditional version. And the best part? Each latke is under 100 calories!
Ingredients (yields ~20 latkes)
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 large russet (baking) potatoes
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 large egg plus 2 egg whites
1/2 C canola oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1. Peel potatoes. After peeling each potato, place in large bowl of cold water to prevent browning.
2. Pat dry potato and grate by hand. Repeat for the remaining potatoes.
3. Once all potatoes have been grated, use a cheesecloth, dishtowel or paper towel and thoroughly dry potatoes by ringing out all excess water. Place grated potatoes in a large mixing bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, crack 1 egg and two whites and scramble with a fork. Add to potatoes.
5. Add salt, pepper and onion. Mix ingredients with hands until well combined.
6. Pour about 1/4 of the oil in a large frying pan (I find that a stainless steel pan works best) and warm over medium heat.
7. Take about 1 spoonful of batter, roll it into a ball and flatten the mixture (the latke should be about the size of half of your palm). Place latke in oil and repeat until the frying pan is full (usually about 5 latkes can fit in one pan). Cook until browned (about 5 minutes on each side).
8. Transfer cooked latkes over to a plate covered with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Repeat steps 6-7 until the mixture is used.
9. Enjoy! Serve on their own, or with applesauce or sour cream (or try them with Greek yogurt to increase the protein content and decrease the fat content!)
The Goods: What’s Inside?
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving (serving size is 1 latke)
Calories 97 calories, Total Fat 6 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Cholesterol 9 mg, Carbohydrates 10 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 2 g, Sodium 102 mg, Calcium 12 mg
There are a ton of rumors circulating about food and nutrition lately. It’s no wonder that all of these mixed messages – from reliable and unreliable sources – can cause confusion. I wanted to sort out a few food issues that I keep encountering over and over. After reading this, you will be able to sort fact from fiction and learn the truth about hot topics in food and nutrition.
All oatmeal is not created equally. Many instant varieties contain a ton of ingredients that many of us can’t even pronounce. My rule of thumb is no one should need to be able to understand biochemistry in order to understand the ingredients listed on their food’s nutrition label (and if you do happen to have a degree in biochemistry, you would probably agree that many of those ingredients should not be consumed). Your best bet is to buy rolled oats that list only rolled oats as the sole ingredient. Craving more of an instant fix from a packet? I like Trader Joe’s Oats and Flax oatmeal, which has just four ingredients (rolled oats, sugar, flaxseeds and sea salt). Also, beware of flavored varieties, which tend to contain a ton of excess sugar and additives. Stick with a plain oatmeal and add your own toppings, such as fruit, nuts, cinnamon, or even cocoa powder.
Myth #2: Egg yolks are bad for you
I cringe when I hear this myth. In fact, egg yolks are the source of nutrients within eggs. While egg whites are a good option for those looking to decrease their calorie content, the whites offer little in the way of nutrition – just a small amount of protein and only about 20 calories per egg white, which is not very satiating. The egg yolk contains the lipids, vitamins and minerals that cause eggs to boast such great nutrition, and one large egg contains less than 80 calories. Also, egg yolks contain a substantial amount of choline, which is a nutrient that has been linked to enhancing memory. Start your day sharp and eat eggs (the entire egg!) and feel fuller, longer. Another great option? Combine one whole egg with two egg whites to shave off calories and fat while maintaining some of the nutrition of the whole egg. Also, that rumor about eggs being bad for cholesterol? False! Unless you already have high cholesterol, the cholesterol in eggs does not appear to raise one’s cholesterol. Now, no excuses!
Myth #3: Skipping breakfast is a good way to lose weight
Skipping breakfast is one of my biggest pet peeves. This myth is totally false. Want to hear a fact? Breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day. Overnight, we deplete our glycogen stores (our body’s storage form of glucose) and this stimulates a series of hormonal responses. Additionally, many individuals wake up with low blood glucose because of the lack of glycogen and exogenous fuel first thing in the morning. Eating breakfast (with some carbohydrates) helps to keep your hormones in check and replenishes your body with the fuel it needs to take on the day. Just like you would never drive a car without gasoline, you should never walk out your door in the morning without fueling up (properly). That being said, I even suggest that individuals eat a little bit of something (anything) rather than skip breakfast. People are often appalled by this, but I truly believe it is better to eat a half a bagel (or something else “shamed” by most) than skip breakfast entirely. Not hungry? That’s okay. Work your way to eating breakfast by beginning with something small (a few strawberries or a banana) and ultimately add in extras (add a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a small bowl of oatmeal). No time? I can solve that, too. Below are a few quick breakfast options. Again, no excuses!
- Make some hard boiled eggs at the beginning of the week and store in a bowl in your refrigerator. Grab and go!
- Make a breakfast smoothie the night before and store in your refrigerator, covered, until the next morning.
- Make a piece of toast and spread with a nut butter of choice. Add fruit (on the side or on top) to round out the meal.
- Bring an apple (or another fruit, like a banana) and some peanut butter with you out the door.
Myth #4: You will undo your workout if you eat afterwards
After a workout, your body needs fuel. You just took your energy from earlier in the day (and from some body reserves) to produce work and now, your body needs fuel to recover. That being said, you don’t need to go overboard. Post-workout, your body needs protein and carbohydrates. Specifically, you should aim to consume about 25 grams of protein within the first 30-60 minutes post-workout. Great options include:
- Chocolate milk (the chocolate adds extra carbohydrates, which your body needs to recover following a workout)
- Greek yogurt with fruit (add your own fresh fruit to plain – you will avoid excess sugar and reap nutritious benefits from the whole fruit)
- Fruit and nut butter
- Healthy trail mix (I like to make my own with small handfuls of unsalted or reduced sodium nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and peanuts, dried fruit, such as dried blueberries, and a small amount of dark chocolate pieces, such as semisweet chocolate morsels.)
Myth #5: You need to take protein supplements if you are active
It’s true that active individuals may require more protein than non-active individuals. However, most Americans already consume more protein than needed from diet alone. It is recommended that adults consume 0.8 g/kg body weight protein per day. For a 70 kg male (154 pounds), this equates to 56 grams of protein daily. That is not that much and can certainly be attained (and often is exceeded) by an adequate diet. While active individuals may require more protein, many guidelines recommend 1.0-1.7 g/kg body weight, depending on the activity (and the duration and frequency of the activity). So, at 1.5 g/kg body weight (which would be toward the upper range of protein recommendations), a 70 kg male would require 105 grams of protein per day. That post-workout protein shake? It’s probably just going to add excess calories and should only be consumed every once in awhile, if there aren’t other food options to provide the carbs and protein you need to refuel after a workout. Also, it should be noted that protein does not get stored like carbs and fat do within the body. So, what happens to protein that’s consumed beyond your body’s energy needs? It will either get excreted or stored as fat.
Myth #6: Carbs are the devil
I like carbohydrates. Repeat: I like carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel – and they are everywhere (which is not a coincidence). It’s true that refined carbs are not ideal, as they offer little in the way of nutrients and are often enriched with vitamins and minerals that are taken out in processing, along with chemicals. However, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta products and farro is recommended. Additionally, foods such as fruits (and many vegetables) offer carbohydrates – and there is no reason to run from them. Many of these foods also contain fiber, which many Americans lack in their diet. Also, your brain runs on glucose – about 50 grams of it per day. Without consuming glucose, your body converts fat to ketones, which your brain can use as a secondary fuel source – as a last resort. Relying on ketones regularly puts your body in an unhealthy state and prevents your brain from obtaining the fuel it needs and creating an optimal environment within your body for necessary enzymatic reactions. Many individuals require between 250-300 grams of carbohydrates per day, with active individuals often requiring even more than that. Put this into perspective next time you see that a snack contains 30 grams of carbs – it is probably okay to consume.
The take-home message
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned that, while there are a ton of nutrition rumors out there, it is important to learn the facts and fuel your body right. Also, many fads do not hold up to the science and it is important to learn the science (or speak with someone who does understand and keep up with the science, such as a registered dietitian) to separate fact from fiction.
*oats picture courtesy of: http://www.babybulletblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/oats.jpg
**apple and peanut butter picture courtesy of: http://images.meredith.com/fitness/images/2008/12/ss_101159512.jpg
Chicken with Spinach and Goat Cheese Topping
This dish is a cinch to make and tastes like you’ve been cooking for hours! Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein and the vegetables top this dish off with a ton of nutrients! Spinach offers folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and many other vitamins and minerals to fuel your body right! Tomatoes not only add color to this dish – the pigment that supplies the red color also gives your body a healthy dose of vitamin A! Goat cheese offers a creamy, satiating feeling to this dish, plus delivers calcium! Don’t let chicken seem like the boring dinner – spice things up and enjoy this dressed up staple!
Ingredients (serves 2):
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (approximately 4 oz each)
3 C spinach, raw
1 small onion
1.5 C cherry tomatoes
1.5 oz chevre (soft goat cheese)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
*Note: This recipe uses a skillet to cook the chicken. If you would like, you can also bake the chicken in an oven. Drizzle 1 Tbsp olive oil over chicken and add spice rub. Bake at 350 degrees (F), until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees (F). Then proceed to step #4.
1. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to medium skillet and warm over medium heat.
2. Rub chicken with spices (cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, paprika, garlic powder)
3. Cook chicken in skillet until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees (F). You will need to flip the chicken when the sides begin turning white.
5. Chop tomatoes in halves or quarters and add tomatoes to skillet with onions. Cook another 5 minutes.
6. Add spinach to skillet and allow to wilt, approximately 3 minutes. Add goat cheese and cook 1 minute.
7. Remove chicken from skillet. Place on plate over paper towel to allow excess oil to drain. Transfer to plate. Pour contents of skillet (spinach, onions, tomatoes, goat cheese) over chicken. Serve hot.
Nutritional Analysis Per Serving:
Calories 358 calories, Fat 21 g, Saturated Fat 6 g, Cholesterol 76 mg, Carbohydrate 13 g, Fiber 4 g, Sugar 6 g, Protein 33 g, Sodium 278 mg, Calcium 113 mg.