Building a “Performance Plate” for Athletic Excellence

Boston is a great place for athletes and fans alike. We love our Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. But this coming Monday, April 15, is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and the 123rd Boston Marathon. This world-class race brings many ages, genders, and performance levels to a challenging course each year. Training for a marathon involves logging in several miles of running over several months while remaining injury-free. But an athlete’s full potential can be delayed if they are not combining optimal fueling strategies with their training.

As a former marathon runner, I began keeping a food journal after running my second Boston Marathon. I quickly realized the difference between a “good” run and a not-so-good run. Hydration and sleep play a major role, but what I ate before, during, and after a long run made a huge impact on performance and recovery. Research has shown that endurance athletes who consume more calories perform better during a competition. But you need to train your intestinal track to see what works best for you. Meals and snacks with carbohydrates as the foundation and protein on the side offer the right balance for endurance training and successful competition.

Below are some guidelines that athletes may consider as a fundamental part of any training regimen in any endurance sport.

  1. Whole grains or energy-enhancing foods: 100 percent whole-wheat bread, bagels, tortillas, pita bread and crackers; brown rice; whole-grain pasta; beans; potatoes; oatmeal; whole-grain breakfast cereals; yogurt.
  2. Lean proteins or recovery/muscle-building foods: Grilled/baked/broiled/roasted chicken, fish, pork loin, turkey, sirloin and lean ground beef; eggs; low-fat cheese; tofu.
  3. Fruits and vegetables or antioxidant-rich foods: Apples; oranges; bananas; blueberries; grapes; melon; strawberries; broccoli; green beans; spinach; romaine lettuce; carrots; cauliflower; mushrooms; cucumbers; tomatoes.
  4. Fat or immunity/flavor-boosting foods: Salmon; tuna; nuts; seeds; olives; olive oil; canola oil; avocado; nut butters; oil-based salad dressings.
  5. Fluid or hydration-promoting beverages: Water; low-fat milk (cow, almond, soy, etc.); coconut water; sports drink with electrolytes; 100 percent fruit juice.

This will be my sixth year volunteering during marathon weekend and I continue to be inspired by all the athletes that come to our great city to run the Boston Marathon. “May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face.”

If you are running this weekend – good luck! If you are training for an athletic event of your own, no matter how big or how small, feel free to reach out and I will be happy to help you learn how to use food as fuel to reach your goals.

Quote of the week:

“All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.”

~ Katherine Switzer, First woman to run the Boston Marathon

Recipe of the Week: “Can’t Beet Me Smoothie”

Adapted from: Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Beets are packed with antioxidants, inflammatory compounds, and naturally occurring nitric oxide that helps lower blood pressure and improve brain function.

Ingredients:

1 cooked beet; peeled and quartered (Save time by using raw beets, instead of baked, and puree them in a high-speed blender).

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 small frozen banana

1 cup unsweetened almond milk or other milk of choice

1 cup coconut water

1-inch knob fresh ginger; peeled

1 Tbsp. almond butter

Place the beet, blueberries, banana, milk, coconut water, ginger, and almond butter in a blender. Blend on high speed for several minutes until smooth. Makes 2 servings (you can store extra serving in fridge for up to three days).

How to Decode A Nutrition Facts Panel

Food labels appear on almost all packaged foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established serving sizes for many foods and requires that all labels for a product use the same serving size. For example, the standard serving size for pasta is two ounces of dry pasta which equals one cooked cup. A few years ago, the FDA publicized a revised Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods to reveal new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The new label makes it easier for consumers to make educated food choices, especially for products that are larger than a single serving. Labels now indicate the number of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package” basis.

In addition to the serving size and the servings per container, the FDA requires that the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels show nutrient information in two ways – in quantities (such as grams) and as percentages of standards called the Daily Values. Based on these recommendations, a person who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume:

  • less than 65 grams or 585 calories from fat
  • less than 20 grams or 180 calories from saturated fat
  • at least 275 grams or 1,100 calories from carbohydrates
  • approximately 50 grams or 200 calories from protein
  • less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (although the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day)
  • less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol
  • about 25 milligrams of dietary fiber

Food labels list ingredients in descending order of prevalence by weight, nutrition facts based on standard serving sizes, and Daily Values based on a 2000-calorie diet. For example, if you compare a cereal that contains “whole grain oats, sugar, oat bran, corn starch, honey, brown sugar syrup, salt, tripotassium phosphate, rice bran, canola oil, and natural almond flavor” to a cereal that reads “100 percent rolled oats” on its label, it is easy to see the difference in nutritional value.

Important things to look for on a nutrition label include:

  • Serving size – If you eat more than one serving, you are consuming more calories, fat, and sugar than what is listed. It may be important to measure out some foods.
  • Fat – For optimal health, you should avoid anything that contains trans fats. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils.” Choose foods with more unsaturated fats than saturated fats.
  • Total Carbohydrate – Aim for whole-wheat or whole-grain ingredients, such as oats or quinoa, and look for foods with high fiber content (at least 3 grams per serving).
  • Protein – If two products are similar in calories and sugar, choose the food with more protein. Proteintakes longer than carbohydrates to break down in the body, providing a longer-lasting energy source.
  • Sodium – Avoid packaged foods that contain more than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving. Excess sodium increases blood pressure because it retains fluid in the body, and that creates a strain on the heart.
  • Sugars – Sugars in food can be naturally present and added to foods. Sugar has many names on an ingredient list. Besides those ending in “ose,” such as maltose or sucrose, other names for sugar include high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, syrup, honey, or fruit juice concentrates. You want to avoid added sugar as it contributes zero nutrients and adds many calories that can lead to extra pounds.
  • Ingredients: Look for ingredient lists that are short and contain whole-food ingredients. I strive to purchase products that have five ingredients or less as well as recognizable ingredients that I can pronounce.

Every ingredient is important! Compare food labels to make healthier choices in the foods you buy. I downloaded a nifty app on my phone called Fooducate that helps me make better food choices. You can scan a packaged item’s bar code (or search for food items through the website), and you’ll see its letter grade (A to D) with a description of its nutritional benefits or reasons to leave it on the shelf. That said, shopping the periphery of a grocery store will ensure you stock up on fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish– all foods that do not require a Nutrition Facts panel.

Quote of the week:

“To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.”  ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Recipe of the Week: Hot and Spicy Nuts

A savory, snack that you can also package in mason jars for gifts.

Ingredients:

4 tbs. Butter

2 tbs. Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. cumin

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. salt

4 cups of unsalted mixed nuts

2 tsp. kosher salt

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add all spices and simmer over low heat. Add nuts and stir. Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. Spread nuts and toss with kosher salt. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool on paper towels. Enjoy!

Hot and Spicy Nuts

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation, or swelling, is part of the body’s natural healing system and helps fight injury and infection. But when there is no external injury or infection to heal, the immune system cells that naturally protect us begin to damage healthy arteries, organs, and joints. Daily stress, poor sleeping habits, less than optimal nutrition, and lack of exercise all contribute to inflammation in the body.

Initial signs of chronic inflammation can be subtle and include feeling tired or run down. As inflammation develops inside the body, it begins to damage your arteries, organs, and joints. There are several ways to reduce or reverse inflammation through a healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. This begins with managing stress. If you experience constant stress in your life, this will contribute to inflammation. If you have never tried meditation, INSIGHTTIMER.com is an app you can download on your phone for free with guided meditations. Another way to de-stress is by practicing yoga. I am not that flexible and don’t always find time to attend a class, so I purchased a DVD I can do at home.

Regular physical activity is an excellent way to avoid inflammation and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10-20 minutes of weight training (or resistance training) five times a week.

What you eat can have a significant impact on inflammation. Eat more fruits and vegetables and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, tofu or soybeans, walnuts, and flax seeds. Other anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, grapes, celery, garlic, olive oil, tea, and some spices (ginger, rosemary, and turmeric). Avoid or reduce foods that promote inflammation such as red meat, simple carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, refined sugar, and high fructose corn syrup) and anything with trans fats (margarine, corn oil, fried foods, and most processed foods).

You may not be able to change everything all at once, but if you are mindful of ways to reduce inflammation and take the necessary steps, it will pay off over time with improved health and reduced chronic disease.

Quote of the week:

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Recipe of the Week: Lemon Chicken with Broccoli

This is an easy, one-skillet dinner that can be served on its own or paired with angel hair pasta or brown rice.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I use Penzeys Italian Herb Mix)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Juice of one lemon (about ¼ cup)

4 cloves minced garlic

10 ounces fresh broccoli

Heat your oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle sea salt, pepper and Italian seasoning on each side of the chicken. Once your skillet is hot, add your chicken breasts. Brown chicken for about four minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and minced garlic to the skillet. Stir and scrape up any brown bits that are stuck on the bottom.

Add your chicken back to the skillet. Simmer the chicken in the sauce for about 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Add your broccoli to the skillet and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender and chicken is cooked through, about 5 additional minutes. Serve hot!

Lemon Chicken with Broccoli

Ten Easy Ways to Shed Pounds Without Dieting

It is no secret that maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health. The list of benefits includes lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. Meeting or keeping to this goal is easier than you think with these ten tips:

  1. Sleep! Poor sleeping habits or inadequate sleep can lead to unhealthy behaviors. When we are tired, we may make poor food choices or skip on exercise which may contribute to weight gain. Setting yourself up for a successful night’s sleep means shutting off all electronics, lowering the temperature of your room, and keeping the room dark. *If you have an iPhone, you can even use the Bedtime feature offered in the clock app. You can set the time you want to wake up and track how many hours of sleep you would like to get, and the app will notify you 15 minutes before you should head to sleep! This app can also put your phone on “Do Not Disturb”, so no phone calls or texts will wake you.
  2. Drink more water. Sometimes when you are hungry, you are actually thirsty. Drink a few glasses of water before a meal to curb your appetite.
  3. Eat mindfully. Think of what you are putting to your mouth and savor each bite. Eating slowly allows you to enjoy your food and know when you are full.
  4. Eat breakfast. Not everyone feels like eating in the morning, but skipping meals lead to overeating during other meals or snacking more at the end of the day. A good breakfast includes protein and fiber to keep you full. Healthy choices include yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, nuts, whole-grain toast, and eggs.
  5. Write it down. I just started keeping a food log through Lose It! and became hyper-aware of my eating habits and empty calorie intake.
  6. Exercise. Daily physical activity is good for the mind and body. Every minute counts, so if you can’t get to the gym or exercise class, go for a short walk, do some jumping jacks, pushups, and sit-ups.
  7. Meal prep. I covered this is an earlier blog post (linked here). The  benefits of planning and cooking your meals ahead of time include less time cooking during the week or when you are hungry for something healthy and have no time to cook.
  8. Rearrange your plate. Build your plate with half vegetables, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter protein. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas are included in the “grains” portion of your plate. You can also use smaller plates to reduce the amount of food you serve yourself.
  9. Eat more veggies! Vegetables are low-calorie, high-fiber, and nutrient-rich. When thinking of your next meal or snack, think of a few vegetables you enjoy and super-size the portion. Then you can add in some protein and whole grains. I love pasta, but do not have it often. When I make a pasta dish, I toss with a variety of grilled, sautéed, or roasted vegetables and serve with a garden salad.
  10. Set goals. You don’t have to overhaul your life to achieve optimal health. Taking small steps each day that include healthy habits will ultimately lead to a healthier lifestyle. For example, eating breakfast every day or beginning an exercise routine.

Quote of the week:

“Change the way you look at things and things that you look at change.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Recipe of the Week: Baked Eggplant Sticks

I always forget that I bought an eggplant and then I am forced to look for new ways to prepare one. I saw this recipe on SkinnyTaste and had to share.

Ingredients:

10 oz eggplant

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

1/2 cup Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs

2 tbsp parmesan cheese

1 large egg white

oil spray

1 cup marinara sauce for dipping (optional, extra)

Preheat the oven to 450°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. Cut ends off the eggplant. Slice eggplant in half, then into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Lay each slice on the cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch strips. Be sure to cut all the strips the same size so they cook evenly. Place eggplant strips in a bowl and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in a bowl, and egg whites in another.

Dip a few strips of eggplant at a time into the egg whites, then into the breadcrumbs. Using a fork, remove eggplant from crumbs and place on the baking sheets. Spray with more oil and bake 10 minutes in the middle rack. Turn over and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot.

The Health Benefits of Vitamin D

The body produces vitamin D as a response to sun exposure. The best way to increase vitamin D levels in the body is by exposing bare skin to the sun for about 5-10 minutes 2-3 times a week. Living in the Northeast, it is unlikely that people are getting enough vitamin D and may need to consume fortified food or supplements.

Having enough vitamin D is essential for several reasons:

  • Support the health of the brain, immune system, and nervous system. Supplementing with vitamin D during the winter months may reduce the risk of influenza.
  • Maintain strong bones and teeth by regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.
  • Support lung function and cardiovascular health
  • Regulate insulin levels and manage diabetes. Insufficient levels of vitamin D in people with type 2 diabetes may negatively affect insulin secretion and glucose tolerance.
  • Pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of developing preeclampsia and require a cesarean section.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include depression, fatigue, hair loss, muscle pain, and painful bones and back. The most accurate way to measure vitamin D levels is a blood test.

Although sunlight is the most efficient source of vitamin D, there are natural ways to increase vitamin D. Foods that provide vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, include some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Quote of the week:

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” ~ Martin Luther King

Recipe of the Week: Smoked Salmon Appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 1 pre-baked pizza shell (I used Stonefire Artisan Thin Crust Pizza)
  • Herbed cheese or creme fresh
  • Capers
  • Fresh snipped dill
  • Smoked salmon.

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees; place pizza shell on rack for 8-10 minutes. Remove shell to cutting board and smear cheese all over crust in a thin layer. Sprinkle generously with capers. Arrange salmon on top, snip dill over entire top. Cut into 16 sections and serve at room temperature. You can also cut into little squares

Smoked Salmon Appetizer

The Quickest and Easiest Way To Meal Prep

Preparing and eating meals at home or taking on the go does not have to equate to hours in the kitchen. With a little prep work on the weekend, you can have a week’s worth of healthy meals to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Below are a few simple steps to ensure a week of healthy eating.

Write it down! Spending time to make a shopping list and create menu ideas for the week ahead is optimal for saving time and money. A list will make weekly shopping more manageable and also provide a solid plan for meals, especially dinner. And if you don’t want to do all your shopping at once, you can refer back to the list for ideas.

Plan ahead! Take a quick inventory of your fridge and pantry so you can navigate the grocery store and only purchase what you need for the week. Shop the perimeter of the store first, as that is where you will find the healthiest foods (fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and dairy). You can also stock up on staples like whole grains, dried herbs and spices, canned broth, beans, and eggs.

Time to cook! It may be easier to prepare meals for the week on the same day you shop. Begin with foods that require longer cook times, such as brown rice or soups. Let hot foods cool to room temperature before you store or freeze. Cook chicken breasts ahead to use on salads or in stir-fry dishes. Wash and dry lettuce so it’s ready to use for salads. You can also slice or chop veggies that you will use throughout the week in salads, stir-fry dishes, snacks, or roasting (peppers, carrots, celery, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, zucchini, summer squash). If you are pressed for time, you can purchase chopped vegetables or cut fruit. In addition, buying a whole rotisserie chicken is a huge time-saver for a quick dinner.

Time to Eat! Below are a few suggestions for weekly meals:

Breakfast ideas:

Smoothies – prepare fresh fruit such as bananas, strawberries, and pineapple and freeze in individual bags. Or you can buy frozen fruit and add a fresh banana. Using fresh-squeezed orange juice or almond milk is an easy way to add flavor or creaminess without added calories/sugar.

Vegetable Quiche Cups: Combine egg whites, cheese, spinach, green or red pepper, onion and a dash of hot pepper and bake in muffin tins for a high-protein breakfast on the go. FULL RECIPE HERE.

Lunch ideas:

Greek Salad – Using the washed lettuce you prepared early in the week, toss together a with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, and avocado. Add chicken breast for added protein if you’re extra hungry!

Chicken Caesar Salad – Combine the washed Romaine lettuce with cooked chicken, Parmesan cheese, and a simple dressing. Be sure to measure out the serving size of the dressing so extra calories and fat don’t sneak their way into your salad.

Minestrone Soup: Prepared ahead of time, this is a hearty meal to eat at home or pack to go. (RECIPE HERE)

Snack ideas:
Cut veggies with hummus or ranch dressing; homemade trail mix (RECIPE HERE), or fruit salad.

Dinner ideas:

Zucchini Noodles and Marinara Sauce – You can spiral the zucchini ahead of time and combine with jarred sauce or homemade marinara and top with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Veggies and chicken sausage – Since the sausage is fully-cooked, you can slice and pan-fry with prepared roasted vegetables.

Stir-fry vegetables with brown rice – Using the rice you cooked earlier in the week, stir-fry in sesame oil and/or olive oil with chopped vegetables (broccoli, carrots, onion, cauliflower, and red peppers) and serve over rice.

Quote of the week:

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.  ~ Jim Rohn

Recipe of the Week: Easy Greek Salad with Avocado

Ingredients:

Field Greens or Romaine Lettuce (washed and chopped)

1 large tomato chopped

1 medium cucumber chopped

¼ cup Kalamata olives

¼ Feta cheese

1/3 avocado

Fresh ground pepper

Red onion (optional)

For dressing: Wisk juice of one lemon with one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl and toss well with dressing. Enjoy!

Let’s Get Physical! The Benefits of Regular Exercise to Improve Your Health

It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for your mind and body. The simple message offered in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition) says to “move more and sit less throughout the day” and suggests 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults and 60 minutes for children, at least five days a week.

Physical activity for all ages, genders, and body types can make you feel, function, and sleep better. In addition, the long-term health benefits of physical activity are proven to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. Whatever your current level of fitness, there are so many ways to incorporate more physical activity into your week. When I was a young mother, I needed a quick, concentrated workout to fit into my busy schedule. I headed to a nearby track and began by walking one lap, running one lap until I could run a mile. One mile led to three miles, which led to my first 5-mile race.

Physical activity is an individual choice and does not need to involve a trip to the gym. Some days, my “workout” may include a walk with a friend, cleaning my house, walking my dog, doing some yard work, and walking the golf course (in my attempt to be a golfer!). Ideally, combining moderate aerobic activity (endurance or cardio), strength exercises, and stretching into every week is optimal for overall health. Below are a few tips to succeed in regular physical activity at any level:

  • If you are sedentary, begin with light-intensity activities like a leisurely walk (2 mph) or light household chores.
  • If you are currently active, but not regularly exercising, try moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, doubles tennis, golf, biking, yard work, or recreational swimming.
  • If you already engage in regular physical activity, you will benefit from vigorous-intensity activities on most days of the week. These include jogging, hiking, running, swimming laps, jumping rope, strenuous group fitness classes, and strength training.

For significant health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (or a combination of both moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity). Incorporating a variety of activities during the week will prevent boredom and fitness plateaus. The bottom line is: get moving and keep moving! No one ever said, “I wish I didn’t do that workout!”

Quote of the week:

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.”

~ Audrey Hepburn

Recipe of the Week

Oven-roasted sausage with vegetables*

Ingredients

6 sweet Italian pork sausage (you can also use cooked chicken sausage)

1 large green pepper

1 large onion

1 medium head cauliflower washed, trimmed, and florets separated

Olive oil for pan

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the sausage links for about 15 minutes and remove from oven and cut into 1-inch pieces. Slice the pepper into 1-inch pieces and place in large bowl. Slice the onion and add to bowl. Add the cauliflower pieces and cut sausage to bowl and toss well. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the sausage/vegetable mixture evenly on pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until the sausage begins to brown. Serve with brown rice or whole-wheat penne pasta.

*For a vegetarian/vegan version of this dish, eliminate sausage and super-size the veggies (I swap the pepper for Brussels sprouts).

The Power of Food to Defend Heart Disease

February is American Heart Health Month and a time of year to raise awareness about heart disease and prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, yet highly preventable. The ideal diet for heart health is one that is low in animal products, low in sugar and processed foods, and high in vegetables and other whole plant foods. In addition to regular exercise, making heart-healthy nutritional choices will help you live a long and healthy life. Below are eight heart-healthy foods to include in your diet.

Berries: Eating a variety of berries may prevent cardiovascular disease as this colorful fruit is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. Rich in vitamin C and fiber, berries such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain compounds that help lower blood pressure and LDL (the bad cholesterol!).

Avocado: This fruit has more potassium than a banana, which helps to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that eating avocado can improve heart disease risk factors like cholesterol levels as well as blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood). Although a healthy fat, keep in mind that the serving size of an avocado is one-third, which is 123 calories.

Green Leafy Vegetables: Another reason to love spinach! Leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, romaine, and spinach contain vitamin K which helps with the synthesis of blood clotting and also slows calcium deposits in artery walls leading to a healthier heart.

Nuts and Seeds: Eating nuts, nut butter (peanut, almond), and seeds (think pumpkin, sesame, flax, and chia) have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammation, and decrease insulin resistance. A little goes a long way as this heart-healthy food is rich in (good) fat, fiber, and protein, but high in calories.

Beans: Not only do beans have an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but beans also contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and oxidative damage within the arterial walls (oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your body).

Apples: Eating an apple a day is a natural way to prevent heart disease, as benefits include lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that prevents cholesterol absorption in your gut.

Tomatoes: As a source of the antioxidant lycopene, tomatoes can lower inflammation in your body and prevent oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease. The nutritional value of a tomatoe is improved when cooked as it releases more lycopene, which has shown to improve heart health and blood pressure.

Dark Chocolate: Yes! Dark Chocolate is an antioxidant-rich food that helps reduce cardiovascular disease. The darker, the better, so look for varieties that contain at least 72% cocoa.

Quote of the week:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

Recipe of the Week: Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 5 scallions, chopped, whites and greens separated
  • 1/2 cup shredded or diced carrots
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 large Egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or black pepper
  • 1 medium head cauliflower trimmed, and florets separated
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or Tamari

Instructions:

Coarsely chop the cauliflower into florets, then place half of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the consistency of rice. Set aside and repeat with the remaining cauliflower. Shred one carrot in the food processor or dice (I used shredded carrot). Combine egg and egg whites in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Season with salt. Heat a large non-stick pan or wok over medium heat, then add olive oil. Add the eggs and cook, turning a few times until set; set aside. Add the sesame oil and sauté scallion whites, peas and carrots and garlic about 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and sauté one additional minute. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the cauliflower “rice” and soy sauce to the pan. Mix, cover and cook approximately 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is slightly crispy on the outside but tender on the inside. Add the egg then remove from heat and mix in scallion greens. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower “Fried Rice”

Do you Know Your Food Footprint?

Your “food footprint” is part of your ecological footprint and sustainable food strategies have social, economic, and environmental impacts. Food’s carbon footprint is the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking, and disposing of the food you eat. There are many environmentally friendly food choices that can improve your own food footprint.

Some foods demand more water, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy for their production than others. Meat, eggs, and cheese have the highest carbon footprint while fruit, vegetables, beans, and nuts have a lower carbon footprint. Below are a few tips to reduce your carbon footprint to help preserve the environment.

Eat vegetarian: The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-eater.

Studies have shown that vegetarians have about half the “foodprint” of meat eaters. If you don’t want entirely to give up meat, just cutting back can shrink the footprint of your diet by one-third. LEARN MORE!

Cook at home: Preparing meals at home is a great way to improve the health of you and your family because you can control the amount you make and eat and halve  your carbon footprint. Meal planning also reduces food waste and you can be creative with leftovers (recipes to follow!).

Eat organic: Organic farming methods (for both crops and animals) have a lower impact on the environment than conventional processes. If you can’t always buy organic, The Environmental Working Group offers a “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce” that may help you navigate the food aisle.

Shop local and wisely: Where you shop may impact your food’s carbon footprint. A weekly trip to the supermarket is a habit of many, but shopping in bulk a few times a month for non-perishable items and using a local market for fresh foods can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Food is important to our ecological footprint and changing the foods you eat can have a big impact on the environment. By choosing food that has less packaging, has not traveled a long distance and has been produced in a sustainable way, you can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Quote of the week:

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. – Gandhi

Recipe of the Week

Whole-wheat Pasta Primavera with Fresh Mozzarella

This recipe is so easy to make, and you can use any fresh vegetables on hand (even leftovers!).

½ pound whole wheat penne pasta

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon fresh minced garlic

½ small red onion, sliced

1 large zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced into ¼-inch thick slices

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or no-salt organic seasoning)

Fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste

Fresh Mozzarella or grated parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tbsp salt for 2 quarts of water). While the water is heating, prepare the vegetables. Cook the vegetables while the pasta is cooking so they are done about the same time.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta to the water and follow directions on package. Cook uncovered at a vigorous boil. Drain, but reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.

Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften.

Add zucchini and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes on medium high to high heat, until almost cooked through. Add the cooked pasta, fresh tomato, pepper, and salt, and toss until coated with vegetables. Add some of the pasta water if desired and toss again. Top with fresh mozzarella or grated parmesan cheese.

Whole-wheat Pasta Primavera with Fresh Mozzarella

Decoding “Functional Foods” for Optimal Health

What are functional foods? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”

If you are still confused about functional foods, it basically means foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. For instance, eating foods that contain phytochemicals like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other plant sources has been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease.

But consumers should be aware that many processed foods become functional foods when they are fortified with nutrients or enhanced with phytochemicals or herbs. For example, calcium-fortified orange juice or cereals enriched with vitamins and minerals. Even eggs and milk are now being fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids for heart health, but you can naturally obtain this unsaturated fat in your diet by eating cold water fish like salmon, swordfish, or tuna. Regular intake of functional foods in its purest, natural form promotes optimal health by helping to reduce the risk of disease.

Below are a few examples of food sources and possible health effects:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale (to name a few) may trigger production of enzymes that block DNA damage from carcinogens.
  • Hot peppers regulate blood clotting and possibly reduce the risk of fatal clots in heart and artery disease.
  • Whole-grain wheat and rye may reduce the risks of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
  • Red wine, peanuts, grapes, and raspberries act as an antioxidant and may prevent cancer growth as well as inflammation.
  • Intensely pigmented fruits and vegetables (apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, red pepper, and watermelon) act as antioxidants, possibly reducing risks of cancer and other diseases.

The ideal way to incorporate functional foods in your diet is to routinely choose whole, unprocessed foods and fruits and vegetables in an array of colors.  So, an apple a day keeps the doctor away and may protect against heart disease!

Quote of the week:

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.  ~Hippocrates

Recipe of the Week:

Baked Salmon
Salmon is a great source of protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acid. It is also linked to improved cardiovascular health and helps fight joint inflammation. This oven-baked salmon recipe can be ready to eat in 20 minutes!

Ingredients:
8 oz salmon fillet
Coarse salt or salt-free seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedge

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon skin-side down on baking sheet. Season the salmon with salt and pepper (I used an organic salt-free seasoning). Bake until cooked through, about 12-15 minutes. Squeeze with lemon before serving. Serves 2.

Baked Salmon