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Healthy Living: No Fad Diets

No Fad DietsI overheard my 13-year-old son on the phone last week.

“If you eat nothing but fruits and vegetables for 20 days, you’ll lose 20 pounds,” someone told him.

I yanked that phone right out of his hands, and a long discussion followed about what is healthy and what is not.

Fad diets are not healthy.

Cutting out food groups is not healthy.

Losing 20 pounds in 20 days (a fifth of his body weight) is not healthy.

It made me sad that we even had to have the conversation. As someone who has struggled with weight my entire life, I didn’t want my son to be stained with the stigma of food, and fad or yo-yo diets. He’s not heavy; he’s at that awkward 13-year-old stage when his body is transforming. I don’t want him to be uncomfortable with himself.

We could be better at home about incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our meals. A meatless meal can be a great thing, but his growing body needs good protein as well. We could eat fruit for dessert instead of ice cream.

The next morning, I let him help me pack his lunch. I explained to him that lean turkey was brain food and would help him stay full in the afternoon. I talked about how whole-grain bread is a complex carbohydrate, which fuels his body and gives him energy during the day. We talked about how mustard added a lot of flavor without fat. He added fresh baby spinach and tomato slices to his sandwich. We then packed two kiwis and a small, 1-ounce bag of Takis chips because it’s okay to have a treat now and again.

When he comes home again, we’ll have a dialogue about meal planning and healthy choices.

No fad diets in this house.

Healthy Living: Sesame Ginger Quinoa Salad

Mardi Gras is just around the corner, and this festive – and healthy – salad is the perfect way to celebrate. It brings in all the colors of the festivities – purples, golds and greens, and it is a healthy oasis in the sea of excess.

This hearty salad can easily be a main dish as it includes cooked quinoa for protein and fiber, while being vegan and gluten-free. At only 331 calories, each bowl offers 13 grams of protein and seven grams of fiber.

Plus, did I mention it’s pretty?

I’m a huge carnivore, so I try to get protein from alternate sources as often as I can. The quinoa is filling and adds protein, and the edamame adds protein as well. Sure, you can serve this as a side dish to a meat main course, but why would you want to?

Sesame Ginger Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups shelled frozen edamame
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup red cabbage, chopped
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs rice vinegar
3 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced
1 Tbs sesame seeds

Place the quinoa, water and salt in a covered pot. Heat on high until it boils then lower the heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is soft and the water is absorbed.

Pour the quinoa into a medium-sized bowl. Mix in the frozen edamame, carrots, peppers and cabbage.

In a small bowl, make the dressing by mixing the sesame oil, rice vinegar, minced ginger and sesame seeds.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and veggies; mix thoroughly.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 331, Calories from Fat: 122, Fat: 13.5 g, Trans Fat: 0 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 195 mg, Potassium: 769 mg, Carbohydrates: 40 g, Fiber: 7.2 g, Sugar: 4.5 g, Protein: 12.8 g

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Healthy Living: Body Weight Exercises

Body Weight ExercisesAt the beginning of the year, I read an article saying that “body weight resistance” exercises would be the “it” workout in 2015.

I guess if we can have a Hollywood “it” girl and guy, and Pantone can declare the “it” color of the year (It’s Marsala this year, by the way), we can have an “it” exercise.

It turns out that after I did a little research, body weight resistance exercises are vastly preferred by a lot of area trainers.

This simply means using your own body weight as resistance when you work out. Push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, planks, sit-ups, leg lifts and the like are all body weight resistance exercises.

There are no pushing machines at the gym or lifting dumbbells that your body can’t handle. It’s free; you don’t need anything beyond what God gave you, and you can work out anywhere.

My 11-year-old told me recently that he wanted to start “lifting weights” for upper body strength. Well, weight-lifting really isn’t recommended for an 11-year-old, but body weight resistance exercises are fine. He’s been doing push-ups, dips, planks and burpees, and he is having a great time with it.

So, if part of your New Year’s resolution was to get back in shape, start with what you have at home: your own body.

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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

Avocados 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 be 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

There’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

When 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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