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Healthy Living: Dark Chocolate

Dark ChocolateFebruary is American Heart Month, which is when we focus on good cardiovascular health. Programs like Go Red for Women highlight the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women.

February is also Valentine’s Day, which is when we love to give chocolate to people we care about.

Well, did you know that dark chocolate is actually heart-healthy?

Dark chocolate, with 70 percent or higher cocoa content, can be a good source of resveratrol and cocoa phenols (flavonoids). Both are essential to heart health. Flavanal, a plant antioxidant, helps widen blood vessels and increases blood flow in the brain.

Studies show that daily consumption of dark chocolate lowered people’s blood pressure an average of two to three points.

Now, don’t think you can just eat a lot of dark chocolate candy bars; the sugar and fat contents of candy are counterproductive. You can mix a concentrated cocoa powder into a drink and take it that way.

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HEALTHY LIVING: 5-Minute Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

5-Minute Strawberry Frozen YogurtI spent a little too much time over the holidays sampling treats. Hershey kiss cookies. Cherry ice box cookies. Pecan pie. Eggnog milkshakes.

They were delicious but come with a price!

My kids ate a few too many treats, too, so we’re all going to be more conservative in the new year.

I love this recipe. It’s so fast, so easy and so healthy. I use non-fat yogurt because I can’t taste the difference. You can also use non-fat vanilla yogurt, too. I mostly use Greek yogurt with this recipe, which ups the protein content significantly.

I’ve swapped out the strawberries for peaches, and I have no doubt blueberries would work as well. Just make sure they’re frozen.

This recipe is easy to double and triple, and obviously it stores well in your freezer.

The sugars are natural, and the fruit boosts antioxidants during the winter, while the yogurt provides calcium and protein.

5-Minute Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Serves 4

4 cups frozen strawberries
3 Tbs agave nectar or honey
1/2 cup plain yogurt (non-fat or full fat)
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Add the frozen strawberries, agave nectar (or honey), yogurt and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor. Process until creamy, about 5 minutes.

Serve the frozen yogurt immediately, or transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 114, Calories from Fat: 0, Fat: 0 g, Trans Fat: 0 g, Cholesterol: 1 mg, Sodium: 24 mg, Potassium: 13 mg, Carbohydrates: 28 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 24 g, Protein: 2 g

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HEALTHY LIVING: Chicken Avocado Burritos

Chicken Avocado BurritosIt’s that time of year.

You know what time! That time when we all try to get healthy again and renew our commitment to fitness and proper nutrition.

If you’re like me, you work at it hard for the first few weeks, but then slack off. I think the secret is moderation, at least it is for me. If I eat nothing but salads for weeks on end, I promise you I’m going to end up binging on the biggest plate of Mexican food known to man. So, I take it slowly. I try to eat healthier versions of the things I love, like the burritos. You can even bake them instead to save having to use the extra oil. You can cut back on the cheese and use low-fat sour cream, as well. I never recommend using low-fat cheese. It doesn’t melt right and leaves a weird aftertaste, in my opinion. Just use less of it.

The avocado provides heart-healthy fats and the chicken, of course, is lean protein.

Chicken Avocado Burritos
Serves 4

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbs mustard
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, grated
1 avocado, diced
2 Tbs cilantro, chopped
4 large tortillas
4 Tbs sour cream
1 Tbs oil

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan. Place chicken breasts sprinkled with salt and pepper in pan, and roast for about 5 minutes on each side. Spread 1 tablespoon mustard over each chicken breast, add about 1/4 cup water and cook covered for a few more minutes.

Cut cooked chicken into thin strips. Mix the chicken, cheese, cilantro and the diced avocados.

Spread 1 tablespoon sour cream on each tortilla; add 1/4 of the mixture then form a roll.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil into a pan and place all four tortillas on the pan. Cook for 2 minutes on medium- high heat. Flip on the other side; cook for another 2 minutes or until the tortillas are golden.

Serve warm.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 390, Calories from Fat: 220, Fat: 24 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 73 mg, Sodium: 130 mg, Potassium: 518 mg, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Fiber: 5 g, Sugar: 0.7 g, Protein: 28 g.

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Healthy Living: Avocado Pasta

Avocado PastaAvocados remind me of summertime, and that’s always a good thing in the throes of winter.

They’re so fresh and bright as well as a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats that they’re a perfect pairing with pasta.

When you throw in some tomatoes (which are high in antioxidants) and basil (which has anti-inflammatory effects and is a great source of vitamin A), this is a good mid-winter meal to fight off colds and winter’s aches and pains.

The avocado makes a decadent coating for the pasta, and while this is a rich dish, you can eat it without qualms because it’s super-healthy as well.

Avocado Pasta

12 oz whole-wheat spaghetti
2 ripe avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well.

To make the avocado sauce, combine avocados, basil, garlic and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste. With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until emulsified; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine pasta, avocado sauce, cherry tomatoes and corn. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 481, Calories from Fat: 334, Fat: 37 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 13 mg, Potassium: 682 mg, Carbohydrates: 37 g, Fiber: 12 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 8 g.

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Healthy Living: No-Bean Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili

There doesn’t have to beNo-Bean Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili any debate on whether or not this chili should have beans because you don’t even miss them with all the other delicious and healthy flavors blended in.

This is the time of year when we tend to get worn down, exposed to germs and, horror of horrors during the holiday season, we get sick!

This chili is packed with vitamins and antioxidants to help you ward off colds and other illnesses, and to help you stay healthy during the holidays. As a plus, this chili won’t force a trip to the closet to find the stretchy pants!

Turkey is a lean and flavorful alternative to ground beef in this recipe. Turkey contains less fat than ground beef, and at 54 calories an ounce, it packs eight grams of protein and a lot of potassium.

Sweet potatoes are often called nature’s “perfect” food. At 114 calories per cup, sweet potatoes provide 337 percent of the daily recommended allowance for vitamin A, a good supply of potassium and 15 percent of the USRDA for vitamin B-6.

No-Bean Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 5

20 oz lean ground turkey
kosher salt, to taste
1/2 cup onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (10 oz) can Rotel Mild Tomatoes with Green Chilies
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large skillet, brown turkey over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks into smaller pieces; season with salt and cumin.

When meat is browned and cooked through, add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes over medium heat. Add Rotel, sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, water, cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and bay leaf. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, or until potatoes are soft and cooked through. Add 1/4 cup water, if needed. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Calories Per Serving: 215, Fat: 8 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 81 mg, Sodium: 557 mg, Carbohydrates: 12 g, Fiber: 2 g, Protein: 24 g.

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Healthy Living: Green Bean Salad

Green Bean SaladThere’s a certain dish that’s pretty much a staple of holiday gatherings in the South, or really at any celebration I’ve attended.

It involves vegetables, but it’s not healthy, at all.

Holiday meals are often laden with sauces, gravies, calories and fat that we don’t need. I do try to trim calories and fat where I can, and the vegetables are the obvious place to me. I’d rather expend calories on dessert, where it’s more difficult to trim fats, than on a veggie dish any day.

This green bean dish cuts the fat but adds tons of flavor. The cheese can be omitted if you’re really trimming calories.

Green Bean Salad

1 lb green beans
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 small red onion
feta cheese

For the dressing:
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Make the dressing first. In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients.

Trim ends off green beans and rinse. Steam (or boil) for about 3-4 minutes until crisp-tender. In a colander, rinse well with cold water to stop cooking then pat dry. Cut green beans into 1- to 2-inch pieces.

Dice red onion and halve cherry tomatoes.

Place onions and green beans in a bowl. Drizzle dressing over top and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to marinate.

When ready to serve, add in tomatoes and feta; lightly toss.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 108, Calories from Fat: 68, Fat: 8 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 11 mg, Sodium: 147 mg, Potassium: 251 mg, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 3.5 g.

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Healthy Living: Simple Salad

Simple SaladWhen I was grocery shopping this weekend, I was buying all the fixings for a large, elaborate garden salad when I realized that I’m really the only one in my family who eats the whole thing. My boys pick out the parts they like and leave bright green spinach leaves lonely on the plate.

I decided just to simplify. I still bought the spinach because I eat it with scrambled egg whites in the mornings, but I also got some dark green cucumbers and the last of the season’s Roma tomatoes, bright red gems with juicy centers, firm flesh and that bright, earthy taste I miss so much during the winter.

I chopped and diced, and that was that, salad.

To serve, I sprinkled with sea salt and pepper then drizzled with red wine vinegar.

The boys loved it.

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, which is essential this time of year. Cucumbers have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The two together make for a tasty side dish and a power-packed snack.

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Healthy Living: Slow Cooker Lean, Clean Chili

Slow Cooker Lean, Clean ChiliI find it more difficult to be healthy during the colder months.

Well-protected by a camouflaging layer of sweaters, jackets and scarves, it’s easy to curl up by the fire and fantasize about cinnamon rolls, baked potato soup, chicken and dumplings, cheesy lasagna and warm apple pie.

However, those aren’t always the healthiest options and can easily result in layers of fat camouflaging lean muscle mass!

It’s often easy to slim down your favorite recipes, like the slow cooker chili. The recipe calls for lean ground beef. I honestly prefer the turkey and have even used ground chicken as well.

One of the keys to this recipe is making sure you drain the fat from the meat, no matter how lean, before adding it to the slow cooker. You won’t have a lot, but it will save calories and fat.

You can also use organic canned beans and tomatoes, if available.

I’ve found this is actually better the second day, so double the recipe if you want an abundance of delicious leftovers.

Slow Cooker Lean, Clean Chili

1 large onion, chopped
2 small green bell peppers, chopped
olive oil cooking spray
1 lb extra lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper, to taste
2 (15 oz) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 cups water
2 tsp chili powder

Add chopped onions and green peppers to medium-sized pan sprayed with olive oil spray, and cook until onions are translucent and peppers are soft. Add ground beef, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Sauté until beef is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink. Drain any fat.

Add beef mixture to slow cooker. Add in remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Cook on high setting for 4 hours or low setting for 6-8 hours.

Serve with plain non-fat Greek yogurt.

Serves 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 694, Calories from Fat: 56, Fat: 6 g, Trans Fat: 0.1 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 43 mg, Sodium: 343 mg, Potassium: 2957 mg, Carbohydrates: 110 g, Fiber: 28 g, Sugar: 10 g, Protein: 51 g.

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Healthy Living: Greek Yogurt

Cream Cheese Marbled Chocolate BrowniesGreek yogurt is quite possibly the best thing to come out of the Mediterranean country since the Olympics.

OK, not really, but Greek yogurt definitely deserves a gold medal.

Greek yogurt is made from goat’s milk, which has been strained through a cloth, paper bag or other filter to remove the whey, resulting in a relatively thick texture while not altering the taste.

Greek yogurt has fewer carbohydrates, more protein and about equal the number of calories as regular yogurt. You can substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream, mayonnaise or even oil in a variety of dishes. One trick is to add 1/4 cup Greek yogurt to a boxed chocolate cake mix to make it taste more “homemade.”

Cream Cheese Marbled Chocolate Brownies

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 24

2 oz fat-free cream cheese
1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
2 Tbs sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
4 (1 oz) squares unsweetened chocolate
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs

In a small bowl, whisk together cream cheese and 1/4 cup yogurt until completely smooth. Add sugar and egg yolk; whisk and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325° F. Coat a 13 x 9 dish lightly with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.

In a large heat-proof bowl, combine butter and chocolate. Set over saucepan of barely simmering water, and stir often until melted and combined. Remove from heat.

Whisk sugar into chocolate mixture, then whisk in 1/2 cup yogurt and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in flour mixture until well-blended. Scrape butter into prepared dish. Spoon dollops of cream cheese mixture on top, and swirl with spoon or spatula to create marbled effect. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center come out with only a few crumbs. Set on wire rack to cool completely. Cut into squares.

Calories Per Serving: 184, Fat: 8 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 52 mg, Sodium: 49 mg, Carbohydrates: 27 g, Fiber: 1 g, Protein: 3 g.

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Original Greek Yogurt Where to Swap

1 cup sour cream 1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • baked potato
  • tacos
  • dips
  • quick breads
    & cakes 

1 cup mayonnaise 1/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • dips
  • sauces
  • coleslaw 

1 cup butter 1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • mashed potatoes
  • cookies
  • cakes 

1 cup oil 1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • brownies
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • pancakes 

1 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • cream-based soups
  • soups
  • frosting 

1 cup milk or
half-and-half or
light cream
3/4 cup milk or half-and-half or light cream
1/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • mashed potatoes
  • cereal
  • doughs 

1 cup buttermilk 1/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • biscuits
  • bread
  • pancakes 

8 oz cream cheese  4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • cheesecake
  • frosting
  • dips 


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Healthy Living: Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and GritsI may have mentioned before (like 97,000 times) that I’m on this new, doctor-driven diet. I didn’t exactly embrace it at first, but now I’m having a lot of fun trimming down recipes that might not otherwise be viable on a low-fat diet.

Right when I started this diet, I had a hankering for shrimp and grits. Before, that would have meant shrimp sautéed in butter over a bed of creamy grits laden with butter, cheddar cheese and bacon. Yep, I think I just felt my arteries constrict.

While that still sounds good to my palate, which hasn’t finished adjusting to the new way of eating, that isn’t good for my heart. And, I have to be good to my heart.

However, I still wanted the shrimp and grits, so I had to come up with a new way to make them. With the addition of some chicken stock, some herbs and some veggies, I didn’t even notice the absence of the fat. I grilled the shrimp instead of sautéing it in butter, and it tasted even better with the smoky flavor from the grill.

Shrimp and Grits

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tbs low-sodium Cajun seasoning
1 cup grits
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbs hot pepper sauce
1 Tbs fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbs fresh oregano, minced
3 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Toss shrimp with Cajun spice. Thread onto skewers with space between each shrimp. Grill over medium heat until shrimp is pink and cooked through.

Bring chicken stock to a boil. Add grits and stir, reducing heat to medium-low. Add salt and pepper. When the liquid is mostly absorbed, stir in pepper sauce, garlic and oregano. Stir well. When liquid is incorporated, remove grits from heat. Stir in tomatoes. Cover the pan and let stand for 3 minutes. Serve immediately with shrimp.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 197, Calories from Fat: 29, Fat: 3 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (1 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 239 mg, Sodium: 2678 mg, Potassium: 423 mg, Carbohydrates: 13 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 28 g.

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