Healthy Comfort Foods

healthy comfort food for you

Healthy comfort food could be an oxymoron to some. Can you really eat warm, yummy fall dishes and still stay healthy? The answer is, yes!

In fall, the weather gets colder and many crave warm foods that are filling and make us feel cozy. This may be the body’s way of getting ready for winter when historically there was less food and people lived on stores: root cellar stores and their own fat reserves. Now, we have grocery stores and there is no shortage of food, but our body still says, “Cold weather! Time to stock up!”

Even though we do not need to eat more in the fall, there is something to be said about warm, savory, starchy foods. They just make us happy. Keep in mind that you can eat anything, yes anything, occasionally. Even chicken fried in lard or the double chocolate cake will not make you fat or cause you to die of coronary artery disease if only eaten a few times a year. It’s the cumulative effect of lousy eating that makes us fat, not the one-time treats.

However, there are ways to indulge in healthy foods that are still yummy and satisfying.

Pasta is probably the ultimate comfort food. Quick and easy to make, it is enjoyed by many, and there are a million ways to eat it. However, it is usually made with white flour, which is processed by the body in a similar manner to table sugar and has very little nutritional value. Pasta sauces can be high in sugar and sodium as well. And loading the whole thing down with cheese only makes it worse.

The solution? Whole grain pasta! It has a slightly different texture, but is still delicious, and is about 20 calories less per serving than regular pasta. (Hint: don’t tell the kids it’s different. Often it’s a mental block that keeps kids from eating new foods.) Buy plain tomato sauce instead of pasta sauce, and season it yourself with fresh or dried herbs. Check the ingredients for sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium. Don’t buy meat sauce; it is higher in fat, and as far as cheese goes, buy strongly-flavored cheeses, like extra-sharp cheddar. You will end up using less.

whole grain pasta recipe

The solution? Whole grain pasta! It has a slightly different texture, but is still delicious, and is about 20 calories less per serving than regular pasta. (Hint: don’t tell the kids it’s different. Often it’s a mental block that keeps kids from eating new foods.) Buy plain tomato sauce instead of pasta sauce, and season it yourself with fresh or dried herbs. Check the ingredients for sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium. Don’t buy meat sauce; it is higher in fat, and as far as cheese goes, buy strongly-flavored cheeses, like extra-sharp cheddar. You will end up using less.

Another common fall comfort food is sweet potatoes. They’re delicious and can be fixed a number of ways. However, they often have 100 or more calories per half-cup serving, without any butter, sugar, or other additives. The solution? Eat squash. Squash comes in numerous varieties and is far lower in calories than that of sweet potatoes.

One half-cup serving of baked winter squash has only 38 calories, with nothing added. The advantage is obvious, squash comes in varieties that can be mashed, baked, cooked (like spaghetti), added to soup, and fried. Substitute squash for regular potatoes, pasta, rice, or any other starchy dish.

One half-cup serving of baked winter squash has only 38 calories, with nothing added. The advantage is obvious, squash comes in varieties that can be mashed, baked, cooked (like spaghetti), added to soup, and fried. Substitute squash for regular potatoes, pasta, rice, or any other starchy dish.

A third classic autumn food is the apple pie. It is one of my personal favorites, especially if it is homemade with a  flaky crust. There is a way to have that yummy hot apple flavor without all the calories too! If you buy store-made apple pies more frequently, a great option is a warm baked apple.

One can cook them in the microwave. Simply core the apple, put sugar, seasonings, and a bit (perhaps a teaspoon) of butter in the middle of the apple, and cook until the apple is hot and soft. The length of time depends on your microwave but start with two minutes. While a slice of apple pie runs around 350 calories even without ice cream, a sweetened baked apple is about 160, even with the sugar!

One can cook them in the microwave. Simply core the apple, put sugar, seasonings, and a bit (perhaps a teaspoon) of butter in the middle of the apple, and cook until the apple is hot and soft. The length of time depends on your microwave but start with two minutes. While a slice of apple pie runs around 350 calories even without ice cream, a sweetened baked apple is about 160, even with the sugar!

 Here’s how to bake a healthy apple pie ( for all the fitness freaks)

 

Enjoying delicious fall foods does not necessarily mean destroying your diet. It just means eating in moderation and making a few substitutions; ones that are still delicious. If we take these simple steps, we won’t spend New Years Day guilt-ridden, resolving once again to lose those holiday pounds. We will instead be able to focus on other things and enjoy those family dinners knowing that we can get back on track the very next day, and enjoy doing it!

 

A Better Way to Bake

baking

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all read about it. By now we all know about the consequences of baking in the sun. I like to think of it as the two dangerous C’s, an evil version of the Chanel logo if you will: Cancer and Creases.

I hate every second of slathering on SPF 45 each morning almost as much as I hate retreating to an umbrella on beach vacations, making me feel like Edward Cullen’s grandmother, but let’s face it, while baking may provide a celeb-worthy tan, it can also wreak havoc on our health.

Baking in the kitchen has it’s downfalls just the same.  Anyone who has done their fair share of cooking knows that often the fastest way to suck the flavor out of vegetables is to bake them; That is until you toss them into a pie which won’t do your blood sugar or your waistline any favors.

Despite this, I am going to give you a reason to bake. Yes, you heard me. Make a break for your kitchen cabinet and pull out the baking soda. Okay, okay, you caught me. I’m not giving you a reason to sun bake, but hopefully, this form of baking will outshine the sun.

Baking soda is primarily known for making batter more buff, neutralizing foul-smelling sneakers, and a slew of other uses. Additionally, its eternal shelf-life makes it the Zeus of all food items. Speaking of powerful men, ever notice the very buff bicep on the box? Just a small visual perk. You might even remember this white powder from chemistry class, where it is referred to as sodium bicarbonate. (Finally, a carb that’s good for you. Sold.)

baking soda

While baking soda usually resides in kitchen cabinets, it should be making an appearance in your bathroom cabinet as well. When I was in high school, my mom always knew to check under my bathroom sink when her box disappeared. Add just a bit (a teaspoon) of baking soda to a dollop of any face or body wash.

After mixing the two together, you’re left with a grainy paste that cleanses and exfoliates your skin. If you want to replicate a gentler form of microdermabrasion, just add more baking soda to the mixture. You can even use the paste as a deep cleansing mask by leaving it on your skin for five to ten minutes. Use a warm washcloth to remove the mask and reveal squeaky clean and refreshed skin.

Why bake in the sun, or even in the kitchen for that matter, when you can bake in the bathroom? Baking soda can whip even the soggiest cakes and dullest T-zones into tip-top shape. Let a bit of baking soda make your complexion as impeccable as a Top Chef dessert. What are you waiting for?

Let’s get Cookin’,

English

The Fatty Acids of Fish Oil

If you are committed to proper exercise and nutrition, then you have probably heard of Fish Oil supplements before. Fish oil comes from the tissues of oily fish, such as tuna, cod, and salmon, containing omega-3 fatty acids. More than fish, omega-3 is found in chia, flax, hemp, purslane, English walnuts, and algae. Fish oil is sometimes considered a “brain food” by its takers because it has helped people with their cognition from conditions such as ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease.

Omega-3s are classified as essential fatty acids. They are “essential” because our bodies cannot produce these substances alone, so we must ingest them in our foods and supplements. However, when talking about omega-3, it’s important to learn about its counterpart, omega-6. Both work in two opposite but healthy ways if balanced correctly, yet American diets tend to have higher amounts of omega-6 than omega-3, in such products as corn and sunflower Oils.

According to Dr. Simon Evans, the author of BrainFit for Life, a User’s Guide to Life-Long Brain Health and Fitness, omega-6 is inflammatory, signaling to the body’s immune system to turn on, while omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, helping to signal to the immune system to turn off. Each works to communicate to the body what hormones should activate (omega-6) or deactivate (omega-3). This process is vital for when nutrients and oxygen enter our brains.

Some animals, who are without sufficient omega-3s, suffer from low amounts of serotonin and dopamine, two essential chemicals for regulating our moods, such as happiness and motivation. Even on SPECT scans, people with bipolar disorder who had mood fluctuations because of the higher activity in their brains, tended to have less brain activity when they took omega-3. Their moods were more stable because their over-active brain signals were calmed down.

For omega-3, there are three main types of healthy but hard-to-pronounce fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Our bodies convert ALA into DHA and EPA, a process that helps us to sustain healthy functioning. Dr. Ronald Hoffman, an active clinician and author, says that DHA acts as a building block for tissues in our brains to form neurotransmitters like phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid compound that makes up an essential part of cell membranes, particularly those in our brains. It acts in improving memory and concentration, reducing the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and preventing stress and anxiety.

The neuroscientist and best-selling author, Dr. Daniel Amen, sees omega-3 as crucial for benefiting the brain. In his list, Seven Simple Brain Promoting Nutritional Tips, Dr. Amen recommends this fatty acid, because “DHA, one form of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain.” He goes on to say, “The fat in your brain forms cell membranes and plays a vital role in how our cells function. Neurons are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.”

Not only are omega-3s beneficial for our brain health, EPA and DHA convert into hormone-like substances, which act to aid and regulate cardiovascular functions. Many intervention trials have shown that these two fatty acids can work to prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as from lowering a person’s blood viscosity and cholesterol ratios. In a MRFIT study, people who had taken up to 700 milligrams of DHA/EPA a day reduced their risks for having coronary disease mortalities.

In another study, published in the journal, Lancet, researchers looked at what effects pills, such as fish oil and vitamin E, did to those who recently suffered from heart attacks. There were over 11,000 subjects participating. Each had a heart attack within three months of the trial. This study found, after 42 months, that those who took the fish oil pills (omega-3) significantly reduced their chances of cardiac death. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of this fatty acid.

Just as with omega-3, omega-6 has important fatty acids, like Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is found in egg yolks and vegetable oils. According to the site, Cancer.org, some studies have suggested that, GLA has slowed down or stopped certain cancer cells from forming, but these same studies recommend treatment options before this one. However, GLA has helped people with many conditions such as skin allergies, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

While omega-6 is usually known for promoting inflammation, GLA may actually lower it. If GLA is taken as a supplement, it could convert into another fatty acid called, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). DGLA is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, especially when the person taking it has consumed enough nutrients, like magnesium.

Although there are many health benefits of ingesting omega-3 and omega-6, people should be careful when taking these fatty acids. It’s recommended that people should not take fish oil pills before a major surgery and diabetics should check with their doctors before consuming daily.

Dr. Daniel Amen, the neuroscientist and author, in his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age, says that too much fish oil (15 grams or more daily for a prolonged time) can have side effects, like fishy breath, burping, diarrhea, nausea and halitosis. Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bi-polar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.

Dr. Daniel Amen, the neuroscientist, and author, in his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age, says that too much fish oil (15 grams or more daily for a prolonged time) can have side effects, like fishy breath, burping, diarrhea, nausea, and halitosis. Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bipolar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.

Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bipolar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults over 19 years is 1.6 grams (males) and 1.1 grams (females). Infants (up to 6 months) can take .5 grams daily. For omega-6, adults from 19 to 50 years should take 17 grams (for males) and 12 grams (for females). Infants should have 4.4 grams, children 10-11 grams, and adolescents, 16 grams (males) and 11 grams (females).

If consumed responsibly for even a short time, omega-3 and omega-6 can improve the quality of our health, providing us with essential supplements for our lives, yet it is always important to consult a doctor if there are any worries about the potential effects and to see if these fatty acids are right for you.

Sources:

1. Evans, J. Simons. BrainFit for Life – A User’s Guide to Lifelong Brain Health and Fitness. River Pointe Publications; 1st edition. September 15, 2008.

2. Evans, J. Simons. Omega-3 and Brain Health: Your Questions Answered. 2003-2010. Website: DepressionToolKit.org.

3. Hoffman, Ronald. What are EPA/DHA? 2004. Website: drhoffman.com

4. Amen, Daniel. Seven Simple Brain Promoting Nutritional Tips. 2005. Website: Creatvityatwork.com

5. Amen, Daniel. Magnificent Mind at Any Age. Crown Archetype; 1 edition. December 2, 2008.

6. Higdon, Jane. Drake, Victoria. Jump, Donald. Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: Essential Fatty Acids. 2003-2012. Website: lpi.oregonstate.edu

7.  The Lancet. Effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomized, doWeb. 21 June 2012. Website: omega6.wellwise.org/omega-6-benefits

Five Healthy Foods for the Average Buyer

Whether shopping in a grocery store or eating at a restaurant, it is difficult to know how to eat properly and where to spend our money wisely. Some foods seem too much to buy every week or too rare to find.  For those of us who are managing our food-budget and want to eat healthier, here are five, for improving nutrition and increasing daily health.

Acai Berries

The Acai berry is a reddish-purplish fruit native to Central and South America. This “beauty berry” is classified as a super-fruit because it is loaded with a high amount of antioxidants. These antioxidants strengthen our immune systems by preventing and reducing cell damage caused by free radicals.

Acai gets its color from an antioxidant called anthocyanin, one class of a flavonoid compound. This substance has been shown to reduce the aging process, the risks of heart disease, and stresses. Acai is small and round, but it contains 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and is one of the most nutritional foods around.

acai berries

Bananas

Bananas, those yellow fruits chewed on by hooting monkeys in the jungle, are beneficial for humans too. They contain a high amount of potassium, which helps with digestion, low blood pressure, and muscular movement. Bananas have tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a building block for proteins.

Tryptophan in the body makes 5-HTP, which later is manufactured into serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for the regulation of mood and sleep. Bananas have the vitamins, B6 and B12, which improve nerve function and help smokers reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Chicken Breasts

Without eating the skin and bone, the chicken breast has many health benefits. For example, this food contains the mineral, selenium, and the B vitamin, niacin. These work to protect the immune system, repair damaged cells while lessening the risk of cancer. In addition, the chicken breast is high in protein, which has been shown to reduce bone loss in older people, burn fat and build muscle mass. The B6 and niacin sources convert the body’s fats and proteins into usable energy while improving cardiovascular functioning.

Here’s how to cook the perfect chicken breast

 

Strawberries

Strawberries are full of antioxidants such as ellagic acid, quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and vitamin C. These work in reducing the chance of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline. In fact, one antioxidant and pigment, anthocyanin, is abundant in strawberries, which gives them a red color. Strawberries have vitamin K, magnesium and potassium, which helps in maintaining bone health. These plump aggregate fruits are cholesterol and fat-free, while at the same time, low in calories.

Blueberries

Blueberries have the most antioxidants out of any common fruit. Eating this indigo-colored (because of the pigment, anthocyanin) berry strengthens the immune system and reduces the chances for muscle degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, memory loss and urinary tract infection. Blueberries and strawberries stimulate the making of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure (the reward system in the brain) and with motivation.