All last month I was swamped (but very happily swamped) with work for National Nutrition Month. On top of the full-time job at the hospital, I was creating and presenting lectures to students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors and teaching them about healthy eating habits and the importance of starting now.
I LOVE teaching! Opening minds to new ideas and getting people to really think about how ‘you are what you eat’ is very rewarding and also hopeful that the newer and current generations will start making smarter choices and rates of obesity and related health conditions will start to decline.
My favorite moment came at the end of discussing the sugar content in popular beverages. A teenage girl looked at the 20-ounce bottle of ice tea she was sipping throughout the presentation and declared: “I am never drinking this again.” She had no idea that it basically was liquid candy nor did she realize the consequences of drinking it everyday.
Sometimes we take for granted what we know in our specialties, but it is so important to remember that not everyone is privileged to the same knowledge. And sadly, nutrition is one of those subjects that is not a standard in curriculums, which is why I jump on any opportunity I can to spread the health and wellness lifestyle message.
One of the main themes in all of the presentations was choosing healthier snack options. These are kids and their seemingly endless growing requires lots of snacks on tops of meals. Simply put, a healthy snack should include fiber, protein and healthy fats while excluding excessive amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fats and definitely without ingredients you cannot even pronounce. A snack’s goal is to provide you with enough energy to keep you full until the next meal so you can get through your busy day while being properly nourished. Oh, and it should also taste good!
Below is a new snack I made the other day that is just the perfect healthy sweet treat for any day, especially a warm day, and can even be served as dessert! There’s a bit of preparation, which is totally worthwhile because it has all the nutrients I just listed, is made from only three ingredients and natural sugars, and is about 150 calories per serving (perfect amount for a snack). This will definitely satisfy a juice or soda craving but actually provide positive benefits to your body! ;)
Try it out but also stay tuned for a future post on my favorite and go-to snacks!!
Mango Coconut Chia Pudding
Combine the chia seeds and coconut water. Stir well, wait five minutes and stir well again. Let the pudding rest over night (or at least a few hours until it begins to become gel-like).
When you are ready to eat your pudding, puree the mango. If you would like some texture, take 1/3 of the mango and dice.
Pour the puree over the chia pudding and top with the diced mango. Add additional toppings if desired (I used 1 Tbsp. of hemp hearts to add some additional protein. This brings the calories up to about 200 per serving - still okay for a snack.).
Serve and enjoy!
Yields: 1 serving
February is American Heart Month, raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and woman: 1 out of 4 deaths (1)! Heart disease includes conditions such as atherosclerosis (when arteries become clogged due to plaque build-up) that can result in coronary artery disease and ultimately cause heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the rest of your body (1,2).
What causes plaque build up? It’s mainly low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) mixed with fat, calcium and other miscellaneous materials found in your blood (1,3,4). LDL cholesterol is found in animal food sources such as meat and whole milk dairy. Many processed foods, especially commercially produced baked goods, that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils or shortening are also high in LDL cholesterol.
The good news is that maintaining healthy nutrition habits can help prevent heart disease.
A heart healthy diet includes:
Limiting: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt/sodium, alcohol
Incorporating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (i.e. eat your fiber!)
Unfortunately, many traditional baking recipes use butter, which is no doubt a fantastic tool in adding texture and flavor to baked goods but alas a major dietary source of ‘bad’ cholesterol and saturated fat. Simply put each Tablespoon of butter is loaded with fat (11g), saturated fat (7g), cholesterol (30mg), salt (95mg) and very high in calories (100 kcals) (5).
I remember at my first post-college restaurant job we had THE best granola on the breakfast menu and we employees definitely took advantage of our endless access to it. But when I started working in the kitchen and had to make it for the first time, I nearly fainted learning that the recipe called for 4 pounds of butter. Granted we were mass-producing this tasty treat, but still!! Granola is one of those tricky food items because us dietitians keep telling you to eat more whole grains (which oats surely are) because fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, but typical granola is usually coated in butter and sugar (negating oats' benefits) and mixed with other nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and nuts. Not heart healthy!
That said, I do love granola for it’s delightful taste and texture from oats, fruits and nuts but since it is very high in calories per serving, it should only be used in small amounts, such as a topping to some nonfat Greek yogurt or low-fat ice cream, and not eaten like regular cold cereal. Granola is also easy to make at home where you can control the ingredients and lower the fat, sugar and calorie content per serving, making it a healthier food in your diet and for your body. Recently, I was reading my Real Simple magazine (love Martha!) and saw a recipe for Applesauce Granola. I didn’t make her recipe (it includes butter), but I did steal her applesauce addition (think: natural sweetener) to create this Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola. It’s delicious granola but with much less fat, no added refined sugar, and packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Now that is heart healthy!
Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola
(adapted from Real Simple)
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, coconut and ginger together in a bowl. Add applesauce and maple syrup and toss until fully coated.
Spread oat mix evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat).
Bake ~60-80 minutes @ 275*F, stirring the oats every 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yields: 2 pints
My wonderful Aunt and Uncle from LaLaLand gifted me some lychees from Chinatown, so I decided to do some research into these juicy sweet treats. This fiber filled heart healthy nature's candy contains B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, copper, and more, and helps the immune system with antioxidant and anti-flu actions! Just in time for this bitter cold season!
This month my friends and I went apple and pumpkin picking at Riamede Farms in New Jersey. I made loads of treats with the pumpkin meat, but what did I do with all the pumpkin seeds? I certainly wouldn’t discard those little nutrition packed crunchy bites containing phytosterols to help reduce your ‘bad’ cholesterol, protein such as the amino acid tryptophan that will help you get a good night’s rest, and many other vitamins and minerals (vitamin E, vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, copper and manganese) that act as antioxidants, build up your immune system, produce energy, maintain the nervous system, brain, heart and cells, and promote teeth and bone health!
Check out my recipes for Roasted & Seasoned Pumpkin Seeds. These are just a few ways to prepare them. Toss onto your salads, soups, pastas, yogurt, porridge...basically anything and enjoy!