Have you tried making your Mondays meatless? There are a lot of benefits to decreasing your meat intake (or even cutting it out all together). Meat-free meals are typically lower in saturated fat, which can have beneficial effects on your cholesterol and blood lipid levels. Typically, diets low in meat are higher in fruits and vegetables, which provides a number of health benefits.
The biggest concern I hear from meat eaters regarding decreasing or completely cutting out meat is - what about protein? It is possible to get adequate protein with less or no meat though (yes, even for athletes). Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts/nut butters, ,and quinoa are all great sources of protein. There are also foods that when paired together make a "complete" protein. Meaning alone the foods are missing an amino acid that is essential in the diet, but when paired with a complementary food that has that missing an amino acid, you have a food that provides the same protein as meat. Some of those pairings are rice & beans, lentils& rice, corn& beans.
One thing to be aware of though is that just because something is "vegetarian" doesn't mean it's a healthy choice (similar to those "low fat" "low sugar" "diet" foods out there). This weekend I bought vegetarian Kielbasa to grill for Labor Day. However, a peek at the nutrient label shows that although it is lower in saturated fat than a turkey kielbasa, it's higher in overall fat and therefore higher in calories. It's also higher in sodium content (660mg in the vegetarian v 500mg in the turkey). I like to think the takeaway message from this is that processed food is processed food whether it's "vegetarian" "diet" or "low fat". It's always best to eat homemade food.
So if you're interested in making a Monday meatless, give this recipe a try! I'd love to hear what you think, or what meatless recipe you love in the comments below!
Spaghetti Squash Casserole
1 medium spaghetti squash
4-5 mini bell peppers (or 2-3 large ones), chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium tomato, chopped
5 oz spinach
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cheese
Cut spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place on microwave safe dish and add 1/4 cup water. Cook in microwave for 10-12 minutes, until squash is easily pierced in with a fork. Allow to cool for 15 minutes until cool enough to handle.
Sauté oil and garlic. Add bell peppers and tomato until tomato softens. Then add spinach and mix until spinach wilts.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scrape squash out with a fork into a large mixing bowl. Then add vegetables. Mix with yogurt and 1/4 cup of cheese. Spread mixture into 11 x 7 baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is golden brown.
One of the saddest times for me as a dietitian is when someone tells me they don't like vegetables or they don't like fruits. I've heard this a number of times in the past five years. I find it very confusing, that's an entire food group (two if you don't like both) you've cast out! There are so many different fruits and vegetables, is it really possible to dislike all of them? I like to think it isn't. I like to think if people experiment they can find ways to eat some fruits and vegetables that they enjoy (or at least tolerate).
There's a reason the USDA went from 5-A-Day to More Matters. Fruits and vegetables are a key part of a nutritious, well balanced diet. They are rich in antioxidants and many of the vitamins and minerals we need for a healthy life. How many fruit and vegetables servings you need can be fairly individualized. The reason the USDA got away from 5-A-Day is because it's generally agreed that for most people 5 servings a day isn't enough. The Mediterranean follows 9 servings a day, which most Americans find overwhelming. So, I think it's just best to shoot for as many servings as you can in a day. If you currently get few to no servings, start with a goal of 5 servings and work up from there. That's five servings of fruits & vegetables total, not 5 servings of fruit and another 5 servings of vegetables.
(Aside - if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease your needs for fruits and vegetables and the types you eat are going to be different from the general population and you should definitely work with a RD to figure it out. /aside)
In general, most Americans do not get enough fruits and vegetables, but increasing your fruit and vegetable servings doesn't mean you have to eat salad and a plain apple everyday. There are as many recipe options as there are fruits and vegetables, maybe more!
Here are a few examples and a recipe for you to try.
- Oven roast broccoli and cauliflower and mix it in with some whole wheat pasta
- Sauté tomatoes, garlic, and bell peppers and add it as a side on your meal
- Throw some fruit into your morning cereal or yogurts
- Sprinkle half a peach with cinnamon and oven roast it until it's soft for dessert
Or make this bread and have a couple slices for breakfast.
Fig, Date, & Nut Whole Wheat Bread
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped fresh figs
1 cup chopped dried dates
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350
Mix milk, eggs, sugar and oil with whisk until well mixed. Add half of the flour, mix, then add the rest of the flour as well as the baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Once well mixed add in figs, dates, and pecans. Once mixed in pour into greased bread pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Note: If fresh figs aren't something you have available to you, dried figs would work just as well.
I am a huge fan of breakfast. Both the foods and the meal. I'm a huge advocate for breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner, breakfast all day long. Seriously, I love breakfast. There's just so many delicious options.
I know breakfast can be hard, especially if you're not a morning person, but it is pretty important. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the most important meal. Every meal is important, and none of them should be skipped. Eating breakfast is not going to magically make you lose weight, only calorie restriction will do that. However, eating breakfast can help you not overeat at lunch because you're not starving before noon.
When you wake up in the morning your body has gone 7-8 hours without food (assuming you get the recommended amount of sleep), or longer if you don't have a snack before bed. (Aside - if you're diabetic I highly recommend a snack before bed, something with carbohydrates and protein./aside) This means that your blood sugar is low, which can make you tired and make it difficult to focus. In order to provide your body with fuel to focus on school, or work, or traffic, you need to eat breakfast.
If you train in the morning, breakfast is even more important so you can get the most out of your session. I usually recommend grabbing something with carbohydrates, like a granola bar or some toast, before the gym. Then having a full breakfast after your workout (something with carbohydrates and protein to help with recovery).
If mornings are rushed go with a breakfast that's quick and nutrient rich like whole wheat toast and peanut butter (maybe a banana on top or an apple for later in the morning). You can also pick one day a week where you make a week supply of some grab and go breakfasts. If you just can't stand the idea of eating so early in the day, try a shake - throw some Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and a little bit of fruit juice or milk in the blender and your breakfast is ready to drink.
Here's a recipe for one of my favorite breakfast foods. Give it a try this weekend, or for dinner tonight! I'd love to hear what your favorite breakfast foods are in the comments!
Preheat oven to 425 degree F. Halve the avocado and pit it. Scoop out a little bit extra from each side of the avocado until you have a nice little hole for your eggs. Place the avocado halves in a baking dish. In each avocado half, crack an egg, trying to get the whole egg inside the avocado. Sprinkle the eggs with some black pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, egg yolks should still be runny.
Avocados are high in fat (healthy fats), which could make this a high calorie meal if you eat both avocado halves. I recommend 1 half as a serving. Maybe have one half with a slice of toast, or some oven roasted tomatoes and potato slices.
Gluten is currently the black sheep of the food world, probably an extension of the distrust of carbohydrates. Fad diets like to find a "Big Bad" to blame for all our nutrition ills. In the early 90s it was fat, then Dr. Atkins came along and fat was good again, but carbohydrates were bad. I still hear people trashing carbohydrates, but usually it's more specifically gluten.
But what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). It gives the dough elasticity and helps it rise, it's also responsible for the chewy texture. Seems pretty innocent, right? Who doesn't love chewy, warm bread? Mmmm.
Well, for most people gluten is not a problem. The gluten free fad came from a greater public awareness of Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten causes the immune system to attack the small intestine causing inflammation, malabsorption of nutrients, and damage to the part ofvthe small intestine that is responsible for nutrient absorption. For people with Celiac disease eating gluten can cause lasting damage and malnutrition.
There's also been an increasing amount of talk about something called "gluten sensitivity" which is something that's not an allergy and not an autoimmune response to eating gluten. It can cause symptoms similar or Celiac disease, or non-intestinal symptoms. The research on gluten sensitivity is still in the very early stages. There's even some studies that suggest gluten sensitivity might not be about gluten at all, but actually a sensitivity to fructans, a carbohydrate in some of the same things gluten is in (but not all).
If you think you might have gluten sensitivity, or any food sensitivity the best way to determine if the symptoms you're experiencing are a result of something your eating is to keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat in the day, as well as the time you eat it. Then write down whenever you feel your symptoms and what time they start. Then try to get an idea of what could be the cause. Symptoms that occur in the intestines (bloating, gas, diarrhea) usually take 2-3 hours to appear after the culprit is ingested, while stomach symptoms (nausea, burping, vomitting) can be almost immediate. Then start taking suspected foods out one at a time and see if your symptoms disappear.
If you get overwhelmed or need guidance interpreting your food diary, that's what I'm here for! The most important thing, whether you have Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or any food sensitivity, is to make sure your diet it well balanced and provides you with all the nutrients you need.
As kids are starting back to school, I've noticed a few more news stories on how the blue light from our devices throws off our bodies sleep cycle. In case you haven't heard about this, the wavelengths of radiation released from the blue light of computers, TVs, cell phones, and tablets suppresses our body's release of melatonin (a hormone that helps us fall asleep, among other things). But this is a nutrition blog, why am I talking about sleep?
Well getting a good night's sleep affects more than just how tired we feel, and being chronically sleep deprived can actually increase your risk of weight gain. But this sleep stuff works into a larger problem I've been noticing. Sometimes we're so "plugged in" and over scheduled and "productive" that we become deaf to the signals our body is pre-programmed to send us.
How many times have you had lunch because it was lunch time and not because you were hungry? We've all done it, sometimes work schedules and breaks force us to eat at certain times no matter what. Focusing excessively on counting certain nutrients or calories can cause the same problem, we eat because our calculations tell us to and not our body.
My fiance is currently following a power lifting program and focused on gaining muscle mass. When he starts to feel like he's not seeing gains he'll ask me "Do you think I'm eating enough?' and my answer is always the same - "Are you hungry?"
Do you even know how you body lets you know it's hungry? Have you ever found yourself cold (poor temperature control), tired, and annoyed around 2pm at work? Those are hunger cues. Next time try having an apple with peanut butter instead of a cup of coffee, which can suppress your hunger signals.
Becoming more attune to what our body is telling us also means learning to understand satiety signals (ie when we're done eating, I don't like to say "full" because feeling "full" actually means we've over eaten). The best way to do this is to focus on your meal, meaning not in front of the TV or computer, or while you're browsing on your phone. Sometimes our tech driven world can make us feel like we don't have time to sit down and just enjoy a meal. But I think you'll find life in general is more enjoyable if you can take a few minutes out of your day to just breathe and enjoy your food. When you do that, you'll start to notice a moment in eating when you feel satisfied, not full or stuffed, just content. That's your body saying you've met it's needs and it's okay to be done eating (yes, even if there's still food on that plate. I know that can be difficult if you grew up in the clean plate club. But that food will keep, and leftovers are great!)
I'm going to be honest with you now. I know I've written this whole post in an "it's so easy!" tone, but if you've gone a long time not listening to your body, or maybe not even knowing what to listen for, it may be really difficult and incredibly frustrating to do this. It may feel impossible. It's not impossible, but it is a lifestyle change. Lifestyle changes, no matter what the change, are hard. There will be failure, but that's ok. It's ok to "fail" or "fall off the wagon" as long as you keep going. The only real failure is giving up, because you can do this.
Start small, maybe keep a journal for a week and write down how you feel before and after you eat. Start to notice when it might be real hunger and when maybe it's just "time" to eat. Try ending you meal before you normally would and see how you feel. At the end of the week look back on what you've learned and go from there. And if you need guidance or support, that's what I'm here for.
Eating healthy can be challenging sometimes. After a long day it would be so much easier to order take out or grab a pre-made frozen meal. You tell yourself you'll get something with lots of veggies and not covered in cheese and it won't be so bad, right? The healthiest option is always to eat fresh, homemade food.
(Aside: This doesn't mean that take out is never an option. If, every so often, you want to order Chinese food, drink wine, and watch Netflix the world is not going to end. You're not going to slide down some slippery slope of unhealthiness to your untimely demise. But take out should be a special, once in awhile, thing. I'm of the opinion that when you make food choices out of desperation you're more likely to make not as good choices - notice I didn't say bad, because there are no "bad" foods. /Aside).
This is why I am a huge fan of leftovers. For most meals I'll usually make at least double of what I think I'll need, the leftovers make a great lunch to take to work the next day, or a foundation for a new meal for dinner later in the week. Stored in an airtight container and refrigerated, leftovers will last for about 7 days. If you don't think you'll use them before then, you can always freeze them for up to 3 months. Sometimes reheating in the microwave can leave food soggy, so for things like vegetables or bread it's best to reheat in the oven or toaster oven. Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees (F) internal temperate to kill any possible microorganism - nobody wants food poisoning. This means a rolling boil for any liquid leftovers (sauces, gravies, soups, etc). If you don't have a thermometer, I highly suggest you get one for food safety reasons. Ikea has a great one that I use all the time, you can find it here. If you don't want to reheat by temperate make sure your leftovers are at least heated all the way through (but using a thermometer is really easy and super fast, I promise!).
For those of you who made the heatwave recipe from my last post, here's a recipe for those leftovers!
Greek Rice Bowl
1 chicken breast
1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1 cup chopped cucumber
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
Bake chicken breasts in the oven at 375 degrees until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Mix yogurt, cucumber, oregano, and garlic powder (to get the most flavor out of your dried herbs rub them between your fingers as your sprinkle them over the yogurt mixture). Reheat rice to internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Scoop 1 cup rice into a bowl, top with half of a diced chicken breast, and top with 1/4 cup of the yogurt mixture.
The recipe only needs one chicken breast, but if you have more, make more! You can store the extras in the fridge and put them in a salad the next day, or mix them with some sauteed vegetables and noodles, or thinly slice it and top with with avocado on toasted bread. Your options are endless!
You may have heard, California is literally on fire right now. Temperatures were over 100 degrees all weekend and the very last thing I wanted to do cook in the hot kitchen. It's times like these I'm grateful for my Big Lots crock pot find a few years ago. Crock pot cooking is great for busy days when you can put all your ingredients in early in the day and have a meal ready by dinner, but you don't have to plan that far ahead to cook with your crock pot. The recipe I'm going to give you only take about 2 hours in the crock pot.
This recipe calls for chicken (or vegetable) stock, which I love because it's lower in sodium than broth, and so much more flavorful. If you can find unsalted stock in your grocery store, go with that one, but if your grocer doesn't carry the unsalted variety just regular stock works just as well, and is still 300mg lower in sodium per serving than broth.
Greek Inspired Rice with Vegetables & Tofu
1 3/4 cups uncooked brown rice
1 T canola oil
3 1/2 cup chicken stock (unsalted if you can find it)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 carton of tofu
Heat the canola oil in a skillet and add rice, toast the rice for 2 minutes, add to crock pot. Put onions on skillet and season with oregano and pepper (use as much or as little as you'd like). Saute until translucent, then add garlic. Once garlic is just beginning to brown and onion and garlic mixture is fragrant add a cup or so of the stock to the skillet to deglaze, then add everything in the skillet to the crock pot. Add the rest of the stock to the crock pot and cook on HIGH for roughly 1 1/2 hours.
After 1 1/2 hours, add the chopped pepper. The rice will have absorbed a good amount of the stock by now. After 15 minutes, add in the olives. Let cook for 15 more minutes, while the rice finishes cooking, season the tofu with oregano and pepper and cook in the skillet until lightly browned. Mix the tofu with the rice, and serve with a tablespoon sprinkle of feta cheese on top of each serving.
Now, when you get to about the hour and a half mark the rice is going to look like it's not anywhere close to done. I tell you this from experience - Do not panic! (I panicked). When you come back to add the pepper the rice will look much closer to done, and if you panicked 15 minutes earlier you're going to feel very silly (trust me).
Welcome to my blog! I've spent a lot of time this afternoon trying to decide what the initial post on this blog should be about as it potentially sets the tone for the blog and the site for the rest of time. Or it's just a post some people will read and some people won't. It's a lot of pressure, is my point. Ultimately I decided that the best way to start off is with a confession, so here it is:
There was a cake at work today, and I had some.
That's right, the dietitian ate a slice of cake, icing and all. The nurses we're just as shocked as you are. I didn't feel guilty about it. I like cake. I also like cookies and donuts. I used to like ice cream until my body stopped producing lactase enzymes; now I like it from afar.
There is often a lot of preoccupation with what we put into our bodies, often times to the point of deprivation. We like to think if we can put foods into categories "good" and "bad" then this whole healthy thing will be easy. But there are no bad foods, everything you eat will provide your body with something it needs. That piece of cake I ate provided my body with carbohydrates that helped fuel my brain and kept me alert until I could take my lunch break.
The problem comes when we overindulge and lack variety in our diet. That's why nutrition education and learning to listen to your body are so important.
So if you go to a birthday party this weekend, have some cake (a small piece)! And have some ice cream for me.
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.