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6 Ways to Make Your Soup a Bowl with Benefits

Just when you thought it was safe to put down the bone broth, we now have a soup-er challenge you won’t want to miss! Everyday Health is kicking off our #10soupchallenge today! Although you may long for the sight of spring flowers, enjoying a hot mug of soup in the weeks ahead is a great segue way between the two seasons as you begin to lighten up your diet.

This chameleon of a meal, comfortably appearing as either an appetizer, main dish, or a between meal snack, can be enjoyed all year through. Soup can healthfully hydrate while putting a halt to hunger. Here’s how you can create a bowl with benefits:

1. Soup is a perfect vehicle for veggies. Fresh, canned, or frozen, you can add any veggies to soup because you’re not necessarily looking for a crisp texture and mouth feel. Frozen and canned vegetables are easier to store and are usually less expensive than fresh types.

2. What lays in soup stays in soup. Whatever beans, vegetables, or proteins (chicken, meat) you add will get cooked directly within the soup, thereby retaining valuable vitamins and minerals that would otherwise get lost in other forms of meal preparation.

3. If you’re not a veggie lover (but you know you should be eating more of them), try using an immersion blender. This inexpensive tool is perfect for pureeing veggies right within the pot of soup. It’s easy to use, clean, and store and turns a chunky soup into a creamy one in minutes.

4. Cook now, sip later. Make more than you need and store soup in small containers in the freezer. Carry some to work with you and pop it in the microwave for an afternoon snack that will carry you through to dinner without needing to pay a visit to the vending machine.

5. Adding soup could ditch calories. Studies show that a bowl of broth-based soup before a meal can help you eat less at that meal and thereby help slash your calorie budget. Cream-based soups, of course, might add more calories than you bargained for, so when dining out, ask your server about what might be hidden in that bowl.

6. Proceed with caution when comes to sodium. Read labels carefully to check serving size since some canned soups may show half a can as a portion, in which case you’d have to double all of the numbers listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. To help keep sodium in check, jazz up your soup with savory spices and seasonings — a healthy way to showcase your creativity!

Need some soup suggestions? Try my thick, wholesome split pea soup recipe or go to the Recipe Rehab Facebook page for more ideas and tips. Are you up for the challenge?

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Cut Sugar and Meat and Eat Green, Says Government Panel

The long awaited suggestions for the  2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as submitted by an independent Advisory Committee, have finally arrived! It has been five years since we’ve heard what government experts have to say about what we should be doing to lead healthier lifestyles.

Although some of us anticipated shocking changes that would make us want to run home and clear out our cabinets and refrigerators of all the (new) junk we shouldn’t be eating, the fact is that not all of the guidelines are even news. Some diet and exercise principles are represented with the same solid, and somewhat humdrum, information that we’ve heard for ages.

There are some exciting changes, however, including suggestions on how we could not only improve the way we look and feel, but also how we can protect our planet.

To put this 500-page document into perspective, I took the liberty of highlighting and summarizing certain significant findings. This is not a complete list, but it includes info I know my patients and readers will be asking about:

Protein. The push is to move meat from the starring role on the plate to the supporting cast. Make meat a side dish or swap in fish, nuts, beans, and other plant proteins. Cut the meat in your burger by combining ground beef or turkey with chopped veggies to cut calories and meet another goal — and that’s to increase your vegetable intake.

Added sugars should not account for more than “10 percent of total energy.” So what does that mean? I get it — it’s not easy to understand percentages! Here’s the quick math: The average caloric recommendation equals 2,000 calories (even though that’s more than many of us need). So 10 percent of 2,000 calories equals 200 calories. Then 200 calories of sugar equal 50 grams (gm) of sugar (one can of cola soda has 35 gm of sugar!)

But will this recommendation to cut sugar drive food companies to start using more artificial sweeteners? If you do choose an artificially sweetened product, be sure that it is one of value; an artificially sweetened yogurt that also contributes protein, calcium, and potassium is more valuable than a diet soda, which is devoid of essential nutrients.

Saturated fat should not exceed 10 percent of total calories. Unlike sugar, 200 calories of fat equals 22 grams. Be sure to check labels to find out what’s really in those casseroles and pizzas! Saturated fat content is listed on every food label.

Cholesterol is not considered to be a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. Go enjoy an omelet for a change, but be sure to stuff it with lots of vegetables (which we are definitely not over-consuming!)

Sustainability was covered for the first time as more of us are concerned not only about what we eat, but also where it came from, how it got to us, and what happens to it when it gets disposed. A diet higher in fish and plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in total calories and animal-based foods is better for us and the planet.

Water is the preferred beverage choice, and this includes sparkling waters. Read labels to be sure your clear beverage is not laden with hidden sugars.

So what’s the bottom line on how to use this information? Let’s turn this document into a to-do list. You know each item on your list is important, but you can’t seem to get to all of them at once. To make these recommendations into daily habits instead of fly-by-night notions, take it one step at a time so that you can incorporate a few of these guidelines into your life instead of trying to change your life overnight to meet these goals. Here’s a slice of my to-do list:

  • Don’t demonize or condemn individual components of a food (like saturated fat, sugar, or sodium) and instead, take a closer look at your diet as a whole. Are you skipping meals? Do you have portion distortion? Do you read labels? When’s the last time you ate a veggie?
  • Changing your diet is not only about restrictions and reductions – it’s also about replacements. Shift your intake of saturated fats by reducing butter intake and swap in oils and avocado. Instead of pastries for breakfast, try whole grain breads and cereals. Ditch your meaty meals a few times a week and replace them with fish, nuts, beans, and non-animal sources of protein.
  • And by all means, use everything in your power to bring your family together to share a meal and a conversation at the table. Children model their parents’ eating and exercise behaviors, so the habits you have today become the habits of generations to come.

With the release of the advisory report today, a 45-day period now has opened for public comment, where HHS and USDA are welcoming the public to review the report and submit comments to DietaryGuidelines.gov.

The guidelines will appear late this year as policies and those policies will drive food companies to supply your supermarkets with foods that show nutritious and delicious can co-exist.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Supermarket Sleuth: Which Protein Foods Are the Best?

When you think of the word “protein,” what comes to your mind? Some of you may conjure up thoughts of sitting in a steakhouse while facing a juicy rib eye that’s bigger than the size of your plate. Others might think about grabbing an energy bar that says “protein” on the label, not realizing that you could be getting less protein than a bite of that previously mentioned steak.

For years, protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs were considered the “main dish” of the meal. But in recent times, it’s kind of moved to the side. Protein’s role in the diet as a supporting cast member, rather than a star, was highlighted further by the Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” symbol, which – much to my patients’ shock and dismay – illustrates that protein should only take up about 25 percent of precious plate real estate. Moreover, it’s disappointing for them to hear that even protein needs to be “counted” when it comes to calories, since so many fad diets treat these foods as if they can be consumed in unlimited quantities without consequence.

But even if you are a simple meat and potatoes kind of eater, choosing the best protein foods can be complicated, especially because of conflicting media messages. We’ve seen studies showing that meat that is high in saturated fat, and cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. For this and several other health issues, there’s been a soaring interest in plant sources of protein including a welcoming of ancient grains, nuts and seeds. Yet diets like the paleo plan continue to gain popularity, perhaps because of its simplicity when it comes to meal planning and its ability to help consumers shed pounds. Admittedly, I’m far from a paleo fan, since I don’t advocate diets that ditch whole food groups, particularly grains. But I am an advocate of simplicity – to lose weight and stay healthy you should follow a plan you’ll never have to stop.

So how much protein do you really need? The average woman needs around 46 grams of protein per day and the average man needs around 56 grams, except for special circumstances like pregnancy or wound healing. Do you realize how little that is compared to the amount most of us eat? As a frame of reference, 1 ounce of protein is equivalent to around 7 grams of protein. So yes, the small, 8-ounce steak in that restaurant contains all of the protein you’ll need for the entire day.

Unlike other aisles of the supermarket such as produce or cookies, protein foods are all over the store, appearing in the meat department, dairy section and amongst the canned goods, just to name a few. To help make the protein portion of your supermarket trip less confusing and more health-oriented, here four power-packed tips:

1. Avoid label fables.

“Free-roaming,” “free-range” and “cage-free” are all terms that make you feel so happy that the animals they’re referring to are frolicking in the fields. Not necessarily true. The problem is there is no regulation regarding whether the animals have spent the majority of their lives in the great outdoors. “Access” to the outdoors for “an undetermined period each day” is the requirement for a product to wear those labels, but whether that access is taken advantage of is not guaranteed – especially if food and water is inside.

2. Find fish.

Cast your line for types like mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, lake trout, cod and pollack. Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or those who are nursing, as well as young children and the elderly, should avoid mercury-laden fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. But don’t shy away from fish. Studies have shown that the benefits certainly outweigh any potential risks. Fish is one of the richest sources of heart-healthy, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Try to eat fish at least twice a week, but if you can’t (or if you don’t like it), you may want to take a walk over to supplement aisle. Check to see that your label includes EPA and DHA omega-3s.

3. Remember: You “can” cook.

Sadly, canned foods are misunderstood and too often neglected. Fish, beans, chicken and other protein sources in cans are easy to stock at home, have a long shelf life, are available in most stores, are cost-effective and can easily be incorporated into casseroles, soups, sandwiches and salads. I’ve heard concerns from patients regarding canned goods and sodium content, but you can ditch up to 40 percent of the sodium in some canned foods just by giving them a good rinse with water before using them.

4. Choose protein bars wisely.

Just because the word “protein” is mentioned on the front of a food label doesn’t mean that your bar is packed with this nutrient. As mentioned previously, 1 ounce of protein has 7 grams of protein, so if you choose an energy bar that contains only 1 gram of protein, it’s more likely to be filled with lots of sugar that could zap energy instead of providing it. Choose bars that have at least 5 grams of protein in the company of a mix of healthy fats like nuts, fiber and whole-grain carbs or real fruit, and try to select the kind that resembles its contents – not the kind that looks like pressed wood.

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Bone Broth: The Latest Soup-er Food or Hype?

Make no bones about it — bone broth’s popularity is still on fire and, at least in these winter months, it continues to be a hot trend. Hundreds of stories have been written about this seemingly astonishing soup, raising it from appetizer status to highlighting it as an on-the-go beverage and magical diet mainstay.

My video interview with TODAY.comexplored the myths and facts about bone broth and the related story even included a recipe for you to try at home. (Don’t be surprised if your grandma already knows how to make her own version without needing a recipe.) Since you may be seeing this soup on a restaurant menu or supermarket shelf near you, before you sip, slurp and swallow, here are some pros and cons to be aware of:

Watch sodium content. Not all bone broths are created equal. While some might have around 100 mg of sodium per cup, others contain more than 400 mg and beyond for the same amount…and that’s just for 1 cup. Regular rations of the stuff could reek havoc on your blood pressure or, if you’re salt sensitive, cause fluid retention and bloat.

Beware of hidden ingredients bringing unexpected calories. Broth-based soups are usually low in calories, but some may contain cream, butter, or oil which could jack up their caloric value without boosting nutritional value. Read food labels when possible and don’t be shy about inquiring about what’s in your steamy bowl when dining out.

Make it work for weight loss. You might find stories that show that consuming bone broth could help melt pounds away, but this process may not be as simple as it seems. Weight loss would certainly ensue if this soup replaced cookies or a candy bar or if it acted like a speed bump and prevented the higher calorie nosh you may have otherwise chosen in its place. But don’t expect this soup to speed up your metabolism, dissolve cellulite or provide any special powers. Let’s keep it real…it’s soup.

Create a veggie vessel. Why just have plain broth? Soup is a perfect carrier for vegetables and lean protein. Add fresh, canned, or frozen veggies, quinoa, barley or whole grains, or make it a main dish by including some chicken, beans or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. If your kids don’t like to see vegetables, use an immersion blender to give rise to a creamy mixture. (But don’t keep those veggies a secret; let your kids know why their soup was so delicious and they might even request vegetables in other dishes!)

So is bone broth the next superfood? I say yes, if you invite other foods, as mentioned above, to join in the party. But as far as making your wrinkles disappear, you’ll probably have to keep looking for that super serum. No research to date has demonstrated that bone broth can fulfill thelong list of attributes that have been bestowed upon it but as far as keeping you warm on a chilly day, it might just hit the spot.

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Is it Time to Unbake the School Bake Sale?

I can’t even remember the last time I stepped into a bakery.

Creating cakes, cookies, and pies at home always brought me back to my childhood when I baked with my grandmother. Baking with and for my own children helped to fuel their interest in healthy, delicious dishes. These baked goods were regarded as special treats that they understood weren’t meant to replace a meal or be consumed in excessive portion sizes. The challenge for me, however, was putting together a baked good that not only tasted good, but was also good for them. 

Unfortunately, when it came to bake sales in their schools, health was never on the menu. Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, candies, and other sugary snacks were the most popular and often the only items offered. Until now.

The Smart Snacks in School guidelines required under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, allows schools to offer healthier snack foods to children, while limiting junk food that is sold during the school day. Within the detailed list of criteria of what can and cannot be sold, standards include foods that are “whole grain-rich” grain products or those that have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food. Yet when it comes to fundraisers, you’ll find, “The standards provide a special exemption for infrequent fundraisers that do not meet the nutrition standards.” Moreover, “State agencies may determine the frequency with which fundraising activities take place that allow the sale of food and beverage items” that do not meet those standards. This means that the items sold at these events may be up to the individual state and school specifications.

As parents and those involved in organizing such events, we shouldn’t assume that the only snacks that would attract kids and dollars are those that are laden with sugar, fat, and empty calories or those that resemble the pastries that we grew up eating. (I’ll admit that I was an honorary member of Ring Ding, Yodel, and Twinkie Club but I cancelled that membership long ago; the health cost of the membership were too high!)

The new guidelines could welcome exciting and fun food choices. Fundraisers and bake sales may just need a makeover…or perhaps a bakeover. Even food companies are getting in on the act: Bolthouse Farms, a company that sells fruit and vegetable  juices and dressings, launched aUnbake initiative  to help schools, parents, and kids put their best food forward through creative snacks highlighting fruits and vegetables along with downloadable tools and do-it-yourself instructions that parents and kids can craft together at home.

Unbaked doesn’t have to mean unliked…you’ll be surprised at how these fun snacks will bring smiles to your kids’ faces while fueling their growing bodies. You can jump on the “unbake” bandwagon at school — and at home! — with these simple tricks:

  • Make smart swaps. If you enjoy baking with your kids try swapping out the less healthy ingredients and replace them with better choices. For example, sub in one part mashed avocado or an equal amount of extra light olive oil for butter in most recipes.
  • Get creative with presentation. Make kabobs including your kids’ favorite fruits or veggies. Dip fruit into vanilla or flavored Greek yogurt or dip veggies into hummus or salsa.
  • Give baked goods a boost. Boost value of baked goods by using whole wheat pastry flour in place of white, all-purpose types. Enhance fiber and protein by adding nuts (if allowed in your school) and seeds.
  • Add water to the menu. If permitted, sell water bottles along with snacks to help kids healthfully hydrate. It’s a great way to make money for your school and a lesson in choosing the best beverage.
  • Get kids involved. Most importantly, include your kids in the process of shopping, cooking, or assembling and presenting snack ideas. The more they are involved, the greater chance they will eat and enjoy their own creations.

What’s your favorite way to makeover school snacks?

Image Credit: USDA

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How to Be a Supermarket Sleuth: Picking Produce

Let’s face it: We all need to buy food, but sometimes it feels like an overwhelming task to go and get it. Apps and delivery services are booming because we rely on them to bring the food to us when we can’t or won’t make the time to bring ourselves to the food.

I happen to love going food shopping. Parents who filled their pantry and fridge with “you never know” foods raised me. Those were the extra foods they kept around just in case an army of people stopped by. But if you have limited time and space, you might have to streamline your trip to the store and trim down your shopping list.

Supermarket shopping doesn’t have to be an activity to dread, nor should it take so much time that it would require putting two dollars worth of quarters in the parking meter. This is the first of a series of stories that will take you on a virtual walk down some of my favorite aisles of the store to help show you how to make shopping a breeze.

The Produce Aisle

 There is no aisle more colorful in the supermarket than the vivid display of Mother Nature’s artwork in the produce department. During the thirty-something years I’ve been in the nutrition business, I’ve never had a patient come to me overweight because her or she was eating too many fruits and vegetables. These foods should be at the top of your list to help you prevent heart disease, thwart cancer, aid digestion, ease inflammation and promote weight loss. These are feel-good foods – they make you feel good physically because of the wealth of rich nutrients they supply, and they make you feel good emotionally because they help fuel the peace of mind of knowing you are feeding yourself and your loved ones foods that are clean and healthy. Let’s take a look at how to pick produce:
  •  Fresh fruits and veggies are some of the only foods in the store that don’t have to wear ingredient labels. You can tell what’s in them by just looking at them. They come in different shapes, sizes and colors in their natural states sans processing. Although fresh fruits and veggies have a shorter shelf life than canned, frozen or dried types, some people prefer the texture of fresh foods to the other forms.
  •  Frozen fruits and vegetables are blanched before they’re frozen. This process involves quickly dipping the fresh produce into boiling water and then immediately freezing it. In most cases, produce that’s frozen in this method retains its nutritional value and can often be offered to you at a lower price point. Remember to check the nutrient label to see what else might be included in your bag or box. Be on the lookout for sugar and sodium, and pay attention to calories. Items packed with a salty butter sauce will cover up some of the health benefits of the produce it’s nestled between.
  •  Canned produce is easy to store, is often less expensive than other forms of fruits and veggies, and has a long shelf life. You can stock up when you see sales or special deals on canned goods. There’s often a misconception about canned food, but basically, canned food is cooked food. Some studies have shown that the fiber in canned fruits and veggies may be easier to digest than fresh. Proceed with caution, though, and be sure to check the sodium and sugar contents of those cans. Rinsing canned produce can reduce sodium content by 20 to 40 percent or, if you’re watching your salt intake, you can opt for “low sodium” (140 milligrams or less per serving) or “sodium-free” types. Check the kind of liquid your canned fruit is packed in – syrups can add more sugar than you bargained for. Our new food labels will make up for the deficiencies in our present system that doesn’t differentiate between natural and added sugars. Look for those types that say “no added sugar,” “packed in its own juice” or “water-packed.”
  •  Dried fruits are chewy, high in fiber and, in some cases, higher in iron than their fresh counterparts. Dried food is created through the removal of the product’s water content. While dried fruit may be more concentrated in nutrients, it may also contain some extra calories. Check ingredient lists to see whether your product contains added sugar beyond the natural amount supplied by the fruit. Dried veggies are less common than dried fruit, and no – veggie chips are not the same as eating other sources of vegetables.

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New Study About Sodium: Should You Be Shaking?

Salt is one of those ingredients that we all love to hate. There is no ingredient that is so inexpensive, yet provides so much flavor. Perhaps that’s why it is used inordinately in restaurants and it’s sprinkled on food on cooking shows the way farmers throw feed to their chickens.

Although there have been countless studies showing a link between a high sodium intake and an increase in vascular risks, in a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, it was found that increased sodium intake was not associated with higher risk of mortality over the course of 10 years in healthy Medicare patients. In fact, it was shown that a low sodium diet might elevate neurohormones that could contribute to cardiovascular damage.

So what should you do — ditch or shake your salt shaker? The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults consume 2,300 mg/d of sodium (about 1 teaspoon) or less, and then to reduce that number to 1,500 mg/d for all adults over 50, and African Americans over the age of 2. Considering a slice of bread contains around 170 mg of sodium and a can of soup can have more than 1,000 mg of sodium, plus keep in mind that 58 percent of Americans dine out at least once a week, it would seem that a limit of 1,500 mg/day may be an unrealistic goal to shoot for. Although this is not the first study to report the risks associated with a low sodium diet, health issues linked to an excessive intake, including high blood pressure and stroke, are well documented. In other words, if you have a history of hypertension or cardiovasular disease, this study doesn’t mean you should start pouring on the salt any time soon.

So before you pick up the phone and order in that pastrami sandwich with a pickle of the side (dishing out a whopping 3,000 mg of sodium) be sure to learn about your particular needs, read food labels and speak with your health care provider or dietitian to uncover where sodium is hidden within the foods you eat everyday. It’s easy to boost flavor without adding salt with these simple tips. 

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Snack Smarter for a Healthy 2015

Today’s between-meal bites are not your grandmother’s snacks. Current practices and trendy foods we call snacks have gotten an overhaul over the past few years. Gone are the days of traditional “snack foods,” such as a couple of cookies after school or a handful of potato chips while watching TV. Surveys show that snacking is more popular than ever, focusing on taste, convenience, portability and ease – just what American consumers crave.

As highlighted in Food Navigator, market researchers at Dupont found that “more than 86 percent of Americans snack daily and 51 percent of snacking consumers eat three or more snacks per day.” Food markets report a climb in portable snacks, hefty portions and personalization. Individually-packaged hummus and pretzels, name-adorned Coke cans and seemingly endless flavors of chips are all current examples of bites you’ll be seeing more of in 2015.

The right snacks bring to mind the words “satisfaction” and “svelte,” while poor choices could welcome mindless munching and expanded waistlines.

Though your New Year’s resolution may have involved a diet overhaul, you may have come up against a barrage of temptation in your workplace. Even if you’re consuming three nutritionally-sound meals daily, mindless snacking in between can be the culprit of those last stubborn pounds that seem to be clinging to your body. Many workplaces dish out food at every meeting or birthday, and some coworkers’ desks look like candy shops.

If your workplace environment is to blame for snacks that distract you from work and derail dieting efforts, then it might be time to clean up your act at work by removing tempting treats in clear jars and BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks), so it’s easier to take charge of your choices. Here’s your healthy snacking how-to guide for a nutritious 2015:

1. Pair proper nutrients. A nutritionally-balanced snack will help stave off hunger and hold you over between meals. Be sure to include whole-grain carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats for a winning combination.

2. Plan ahead. Prior planning is a surefire way to get the components of a decent snack at your fingertips. You may not feel the need to eat your planned snack daily, but having it in your office desk or fridge is insurance in case you’re struck with a snacking emergency.

3. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber. Whether it’s a cup of blackberries or whole-grain crackers, consuming sufficient fiber will help keep you full, prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and keep you, ahem, moving!

4. Include protein. Protein aids in satiety and satisfaction, but you may not need to include as much as you might think. Look for about 5 to 10 grams of protein per snack. Some great sources include nut butters, a few slices of leftover turkey, dried chick peas or Greek yogurt.

5. Stock your desk properly. Choose easy-to-store, non-perishable snacks to keep in your desk at work so you have a nutritious option when a hunger pang hits. Almonds are an excellent choice for their heart-healthy benefits. In fact, a recent study from the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that snacking on the same caloric quantity of almonds versus a muffin led to lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol values and waist circumference.

6. Be mindful. Daily mindless munching packs on pounds faster than you can say 2016! Don’t eat while looking at a screen including TV, your computer or your smartphone so that you can eat with your stomach and assess fullness, and eat with your mouth to appreciate flavor.

7. Get a makeover. You may not even realize that your “healthy” snack contains hidden sources of sugar or salt. Be sure to read the ingredient label to find stealthy ingredients. Sugar is the master of disguise, appearing in the form of synonyms including sucrose, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, malt and cane juice. And don’t fall for the word “natural.” At this point, it has no standard definition and it says nothing about calories. Sugar, fat and salt are all natural.

8. Skip store-bought smoothies. You may think you’re doing your body good by snacking on a fruit smoothie, but you may be consuming way more fruit and concealed ingredients, such as cream and syrups, than you may have realized. Make your own smoothie at home for a lighter take. Try my sweet potato smoothie today!

While it’s said that it can take at least 21 days, and up to six months, to change a habit, giving your snacking routine a makeover will have lifelong benefits that you can start today. What’s in your snack drawer?

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5 Delicious Ways to Slash Sodium

No matter how hard you try to prevent them, some diseases just seem to happen. A recent study even highlighted a gloomy statistic that showed two-thirds of the risk of getting many types of cancer are random. Random. That means that they didn’t happen because of our diets, our parents, our Styrofoam cups, or our choice of deodorants.They just happen to choose some people over others.

There are, however, certain health conditions that we may be able to keep at bay. In other words, some conditions may be born out of environmental circumstances that we can take control of, like smoking, exposure to pollutants, infection, and the foods we eat. Countless reports have shown that lifestyle behaviors can surely help you prevent the development of heart disease. Moving more, eating more fruits and vegetables, and lowering your intake of highly processed foods are three steps to help prevent high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.  One factor in particular, namely an excessive intake of sodium, plays a key role in the development of cardiovascular illnesses by increasing blood volume and pressure within the arteries and by making your heart work harder.

Eating food from restaurants and choosing highly processed foods are two main sources of sodium in the average Americans diet, contributing almost three-quarters of total sodium intake. Although you can’t go into the kitchen when dining out to help control how much salt is added to your food, don’t be shy about requesting that they go lightly on salting or not add any at all. Salt is one of the least expensive yet most flavorful ingredients used in eating establishments so you can be sure that, unless you instruct them otherwise, they will use plenty.

The good news is that you don’t have to compromise flavor for a healthier plate. Here are some tips to help you shake the salt habit:

  • Add citrus to your meal for a pungent punch of flavor! Swapping in lemon or orange flavor instead of salt will brighten your meal without contributing to heart disease risk. Orange or grapefruit sections in salad or fresh lemon squeezed onto fish will add a tart, yet healthy spunk to your meals. I’m salivating just thinking about the salad recipe I’m making tonight (pictured above.)
  • Swap salt for spices. Oregano, black pepper, chili powder, red chili flakes, cinnamon, and cloves add tons of flavor to your meal without any salt, along with a hefty side of health benefits!
  • Add fresh herbs to your meals. Aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme, chives, and basil are nearly calorie-free, yet flavorful enough to help you pass on the salt shaker! You can enjoy fresh herb all year by planting a countertop herb garden. Growing an indoor garden is a great way to help your kids grow to learn about where food flavors come from.
  • Zest your plate to life! Cutting back on sodium, but adding lemon zest to your meal can reduce your sodium intake by 50 percent! Try adding lemon zest to a marinade or rub for meats and chicken, salad dressings, or fish.
  • Fill your salt shaker with a no-salt spice blend. Instead of leaving a salt shaker on your kitchen or dining room table, ditch the salt and create your own array of seasonings and spices or try one of the no-salt blends on supermarket shelves. Your family can have fun creating their personal favorite hot mixes.

These simple tips will provide a deliciously satisfying way to help reduce sodium without feeling deprived. Please leave a comment or tweet to me if you have ideas about slashing sodium.

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5 Delicious Ways to Find Winter Comfort in your Kitchen

Spices.McCormick

Especially in winter, meals that make us feel toasty and cared for may be the perfect solution to a chilly, hectic day. With just a few simple swaps, it’s easy to slash fat and sodium while still maintaining the delicious flavor you crave. One recent study shows spices and herbs may be an effective way to cut calories and fat, but making the meal just as enjoyable. The study showed  ”a spiced meal with 68 percent less fat and 35 percent fewer calories was equally liked compared to the full-fat meal.”1 Another study demonstrated that through the use of cooking with spices and herbs, a decrease in 966 mg sodium per day was observed.2 A regular habit of these meal preparation practices could lead to a substantial reduction in calories, fat and sodium without sacrificing flavor.

Here are some of my favorite ways to warm up while you chill out with McCormick seasonings and spices:

-Creamy soup is always a comforting dinner to come home to, but soup can be salty. Craft an explosion of flavor by ditching the salt instead of shaking it and alternatively, using fresh herbs and spices. For a creamy texture try adding puréed cauliflower or simply letting it reduce down over low heat on the stove.

-Looking for a crunch? Roast almonds with chipotle for a hot snack or mix them with dried cranberries and cocoa powder for a sweet treat.

-If you crave carbs, lighten your favorite pasta dishes my subbing half-veggie noodles made from zucchini or butternut squash. Combine zucchini with your favorite pasta sauce and Italian seasoning for a decadent dish without the guilt. As one of the most popular holiday gifts I’ve seen this season, spiralizers, can make noodles out of nearly any veggie!

-You can have your cheese and melt it too by using part-skim varieties or use a more potent cheese, like Parmesan or Gouda, so that you know it’s there without adding a lot. I know it sounds like a strange combo, but my kids always enjoyed a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar atop mozzarella melted on whole grain toast. (You’ll even love the aroma!)

-Chocolate is the king of comfort especially nestled within a steamy mug of hot cocoa. To reduce sugar and slash calories, try adding just a teaspoon of cocoa mixed with cinnamon to a cup of coffee. Keep fat calories in check by using skim or low-fat milk. 

This winter, you don’t have to postpone your New Year’s resolutions by loading up on unsatisfying calories. It’s so easy to add an array of seasoning and spices to your meals to boost flavor, and enjoy lower-fat versions of your favorite winter meals.

 

1 Anderson C, Cobb LK, Miller ER, Woodward M, Chang A, Mongraw-Chaffin M, Appel LJ. Spices and herbs intervention helps adults reduce salt intake. American Heart Association’s Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions, Abstract #MP37. March 2014.

2 Peters JC, Polsky S, Stark R, Zhaoxing P, Hill JO. The influence of herbs and spices on overall liking of reduced fat food. Appetite. 2014;79:183-188.

 

Disclosure: McCormick is a client.