Welcome to "52 Weeks to a Healthier You"....


Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Week 4 - Eat your vegetables!

Admittedly, this is going to be a TOUGH one for many people.  If you are one of those lucky souls who loves vegetables and can't seem to get enough of them, this tip will be a breeze for you.  For the rest of us, buckling down and getting those veggies in may seem like a chore at first and it will definitely require determination and sheer will to nail down this tip.  We are going to jump headlong into this one, feet wet, no dipping just one toe in the water here.

Most of us already know that we should be eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  Many of us love fruit and are more than happy to eat a few servings daily.  We top our cereal with berries or bananas, eat an apple or orange as a snack, and feel good about getting in some fresh produce.  In fact, we often justify skipping the vegetables because we already ate some fruit. What's wrong with this approach? While fruit is loaded with antioxidants, fiber and vitamins, it is simply too high in sugar and calories to make it the main source of these vital nutrients.  And fruit only supplies a portion of the many nutrients we need. Many people have never developed a taste for vegetables (or they have never learned to prepare them deliciously!) and so they avoid these important sources of nutrients.

Vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy, balanced diet.  They are the powerful workhorses that help keep our bodies fueled and our metabolisms stoked at a very modest tradeoff in calories.  They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals such as beta carotene and lycopene.  Scientific evidence abounds showing that a diet rich in vegetables is necessary for good health and contributes to lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, as well as reducing the risk of vision problems including cataracts and macular degeneration. With their high fiber content and assortment of enzymes, vegetables assist in digestion and colon health.  They also aid in weight management as they naturally contain a large amount of water which helps keep one feeling full.  For anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and well-being, vegetables are simply too important to skip any longer.

This week, we are going to concentrate on eating a large serving of vegetables with dinner.  In fact, our goal will be to fill half our dinner plate with vegetables!*  This amounts to roughly 1-1/2 cups. Traditionally, Americans take a large serving of meat, an even larger serving of a starchy side dish such as rice, pasta or potatoes, and a modest serving of a vegetable which is often topped with butter or cheese.  With a new mindfulness on improving our health, we are going to rethink the way we assemble our dinner plates.  We will focus on limiting our starchy side dishes and instead choose a wide array of colorful vegetables and learn exciting new ways to prepare them and make them appealing and delectable.

One reason many people don't like vegetables is they have fallen into the trap of preparing them with no additional healthy oils, spices or flavorings.  They pile broccoli or green beans into a steamer basket, put the lid on, cook them WAY too long, and then serve up a mushy offering that is overdone and flavorless.  Alternatively, they open a can of limp veggies which are loaded with sodium and plop those onto their plate. No wonder no one wants to eat this!  Properly prepared vegetables are bursting with flavor and crunch and still retain most of their nutrients because they have not been overcooked.  My favorite method for cooking fresh vegetables (and this method works for almost any veggie you choose) is to place them in a single layer in a 12-inch skillet, add a scant 1/4" of water -- just enough to cover the bottom of the pan -- and drizzle a teaspoon or two of extra virgin olive oil over the veggies.  Season with a few shakes of garlic salt and lemon pepper, or use a sodium-free substitute such as Mrs. Dash if you are watching sodium intake.  You can also tuck a few cloves of fresh garlic in among the veggies for added flavor.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover for a mere 5-6 minutes or less.  Tougher veggies such as green beans or thinly sliced carrots may take slightly longer, but only a minute or two.  Watch the heat on this -- if your heat is too high the water will evaporate.  A gentle simmer will allow the veggies to release their own water and they will steam beautifully while the small amount of oil adds tenderness and a delicious flavor.  The beauty of this method is you can toss almost anything you have in your fridge together and cook it all at the same time.

Another terrific method for preparing vegetables is to roast them in your oven.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, arrange a layer of uniform size vegetables on a large jelly roll pan, drizzle with olive oil and season them with garlic, sea salt, pepper and other seasonings of your choice.  Stir the veggies to coat them all in oil, roast for 30-40 minutes stirring every 10 minutes or so.  Peppers, onions, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, sliced carrots and brussels sprouts all roast beautifully.  Roasting creates a pleasant, slightly-sweet flavor that masks the typical bitterness of many vegetables and also gives them an attractive brown-edge much like the beautiful appearance of grilled vegetables. (1)

How will we accomplish our goal of eating half a dinner plate of vegetables?  For starters, commit to purchasing enough fresh vegetables for weeknight meals (we'll discuss weekends in a moment).  Frozen vegetables are nice to have on hand too, but honestly, in my opinion they can't compete with the versatility and flavor of fresh.  Monday through Friday, no matter what you are serving up for dinner, prepare your pan (or pans-- depending on the size of your family) of vegetables to go along with your entree.  Get into the habit of always having a vegetable with weeknight meals.  Even on the nights when you have pizza or other takeout food, a pan of roasted vegetables elevates the meal to a whole new nutritional level.  Salads are a great option too, but a bowl of plain lettuce drenched in store-bought dressing won't cut it here!  Start with mixed baby greens, add a few handfuls of fresh spinach, and then toss in a load of fresh chopped vegetables and even a handful of broccoli slaw.  Eliminate store-bought dressings which are high in sugar and filled with preservatives and instead make your own with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice, or do a Google search for literally thousands of delicious homemade dressings. If you are eating out, no problem.  Most restaurants have a selection of steamed vegetables available. Just ask your server for double the amount of veggies -- they are usually happy to oblige.

On nights when cooked vegetables just aren't an option, prepare a tray of raw veggies and munch on those before dinner as an appetizer. Think "outside the box" when you are choosing your vegetables.  Don't just settle for the pre-cut trays of predictable vegetables that come with a little container of fat-laden ranch dressing.  Opt instead for more unusual raw veggies such as snow peas, sugar snap peas, cherry or grape tomatoes and mushrooms.  As a general rule, the more colorful the assortment, the more variety you are getting in nutrients. Raw zucchini and squash cut on the diagonal into thin slices, along with hummus, make a wonderful alternative to chips and dip!  My favorite healthy, low calorie and low fat dip is to mix 2-3 Tablespoons of organic salsa with a couple of teaspoons of plain Greek yogurt.  This makes a delicious, creamy southwestern concoction that is a perfect complement to any raw veggie.

If you are eating half a dinner plate of vegetables on weeknights, then give yourself permission to ease up a bit on the weekends.  Most families eat out at least one weekend night anyway.  Sunday nights are a good time to use up any extra veggies that are still in the fridge.  Just toss them all together and come up with your own creative assortment!

Remember what Mother always said.... "Eat your peas!"

*Did you know......

....Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) examine the latest developments in nutritional science and release a new version of their Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Their new guidelines focus on less sodium, added sugar, and solid fat, and filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. “By following the new guidelines and filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal or snack you’ll be eating more of what your body needs to be healthy and at your optimum weight,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), the nonprofit entity in partnership with CDC behind the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters® national public health initiative.

1. http://www.thirdgenerationgourmet.com.au/recipes.html

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