The Anatomy of a Healthy Salad

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How many times have you been in a restaurant with a friend and heard her  say, “Oh, I’ll just have a salad,” with a satisfied look on her face?  When looking for a healthy option,  it’s not uncommon for people to immediately rely on salad as their  go-to meal. Often associated with being low in calories and high in  nutrients, salads seem to make sense. The truth is, sometimes opting for  a salad can be one of your worst dieting downfalls. On the other hand,  salads don’t have to equate to a wider waistline. Research shows people  who eat salads are more likely to have higher levels of key nutrients  that prevent cancer and heart disease, and may consume 12 percent less  calories throughout the meal. It’s all about preparing them correctly  and knowing what to add in and what to take out. Below are my five top  tips on how to slim down your salad, without sacrificing flavor or  nutrition.

Throw Some Fat Into the Mix

Salads can fall on complete opposite ends of the spectrum if you’re not careful. Eating a bowl full of green leaves  and raw veggies with a splash of lemon juice or vinegar is one of the  biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight. Sure, it’s low  in calories, but in order for your body to effectively use the abundant  nutrients in the vegetables, some type of fat needs to be added. Choose  an unsaturated one, and remember, a little goes a long way. Your body  only requires a small amount of fat in a meal to absorb the nutrients.  Consider using two to three thin slices of avocado to not only add in  heart-healthy fats, but also potassium, fiber, and vitamin E. At 50  calories, you can’t go wrong!

Remember, It’s a Salad, Not a Sandwich

Often,  devoted salad eaters choose to add in items like bacon, chicken, or  steak to make their salads more fulfilling. While it may do just that,  it can potentially add too many calories. If you must, pick one meat or  poultry option, but make sure to skip the cheese to avoid calorie  overload. Another idea is to garnish your greens with two egg whites  instead. This adds approximately 8 grams of protein for less than 50  calories. Or choose a legume, such as navy or kidney beans, to pack in  protein as well as fiber. An optimal serving for navy beans is ¼ cup,  which contains about 4 grams of both protein and fiber for 65 calories.  Just because your sandwich comes with bread doesn’t mean your salad has  to. Skip the breadsticks or pita typically offered on the side. They only add empty calories.

Swap Croutons for Crunchy Snack Mix

Ever  notice that most croutons don’t even crunch when you bite into them?  That’s because they’re drenched in either oil or butter to make up for  their lack of flavor and freshness. Regardless, a small serving of  croutons can contain anywhere from 50 to 90 calories without adding much  satisfaction. Instead, sprinkle your salad with Sheffa Zesty Snack Mix.  Made with ground chickpeas, the noodles are a great source of vegetable  protein that fall low on the glycemic index, which allows for a slower  release of sugar in the bloodstream, stabilizing appetite. One serving  will give your salad added crunch, taste, fiber, and protein to keep you  satiated for a longer period of time. Or crumble a high-fiber cracker  like GG Scandinavian Bran Crispbreads on top for some crunchy flavor.

The Darker the Better

When  it comes to being savvy about your salad, use your eyes! Swap pale  greens such as iceberg lettuce for leaves like kale, arugula, and  romaine lettuce. Dark green leafy vegetables rank high on the  nutritional scale, and are packed with fiber, phytochemicals,  antioxidants, and vitamins. Most people think of dairy foods as the  ultimate way to ensure enough calcium in their diet.  But leafy veggies such as mustard greens, kale, and bok choy all  contain considerable amounts of this bone-building nutrient for fewer  calories than dairy products. For example, adding 1 cup of kale to your  mix can amp up your salad by providing well over 100 percent of your  daily value for nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and K.

Opt for Homemade Dressings

Have  you ever looked at how many ingredients are in most store-bought salad  dressings? And can you even pronounce half of them? Homemade salad  dressings are pretty simple. Start with an oil base (I prefer olive  oil), which acts as the emulsifier. Then, add in your favorite type of  vinegar. Although balsamic is popular, it’s fun to play around with  other flavors such as pear, raspberry, or even pomegranate! Next, chop  up some fresh herbs, which add flavor but not sodium.  The best varieties for salad include basil, thyme, marjoram, and  chives. Fresh is always best, but dried herbs can suffice in a pinch.  Ground pepper is also a must. Lastly, add in a pinch of sea salt to  taste. You can also experiment by adding different types of mustard to  provide another depth of flavor. Varieties like Dijon, whole-grain, or  sweet mustards all pack in flavor without tons of calories.

Depression-Proof your Diet

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By now, it’s possible that you’ve adjusted to the time change and reveled in that extra hour of sleep we got on Sunday. Don’t forget that it comes with a heavy price tag. As the days get shorter and the sky turns darker your mood might take a devastating dip.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the ever so appropriate acronym SAD) tends to present itself in the fall and winter. But have no fear; depression proof nutrition is here!

Fats are where it’s at

Consider fats the stars of the show when it comes to regulating moods. Hydrogenated oils, better know as trans fat, have been under scrutiny for years because of their ability to increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL levels (good cholesterol). That’s barely half the story of these evil fats. In 2011, for the first time ever, researchers in Spain identified a link between trans fat and depression. Trans fat in the diet increased the risk of depression by almost 50 percent! Those who only ate “good fats” had a 35 percent reduction in mood disorders. For a quick refresher course in fats, my previous post, The Skinny on Fats can clear things up. In the meantime here are some brief guidelines:

  • Nuts and seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that can halt unhappiness in its tracks. Try sprinkling sunflower seeds on your salad, chopped walnuts in your oatmeal or sesame seeds as a topping for any type of protein.
  • Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, contains polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which basically act as an antidepressant in the body. Combine with flavored vinegar (Martin Pouret found at the Williams-Sonoma store makes delicious ones) and use for salad dressing instead of store bought brands. Lightly brush olive oil on fresh veggies, top with salt and pepper, and broil in the oven.
  • The main purpose of trans fat is to extend the shelf life of a product. You will find it in most processed foods, packaged baked goods and fried foods. Think about what the appropriate shelf life of a food item should be before you buy it. If that muffin your about to eat can stay “fresh” for over a week, it probably has trans fat in it.

Beef up on B vitamins

Although there are eight B vitamins, the ones that may determine the status of your mood are folate, B6 and B12. They all work together in the body, so if you are lacking in one, chances are you’re lacking in a few.

Thanks to grain fortification, folate deficiency is pretty rare in the United States. When choosing foods naturally high in folate, think beans and greens! Spinach, asparagus and collard greens all score high in levels of folate, along with pinto, kidney and navy beans. Steam any deep green leafy vegetable, mix with cooked lentils and flavor with lemon juice for a meal that’s sure to boost your folate level.

B6 acts as a precursor for numerous cognitive reactions in the body, so it’s essential to make sure that you have enough. Garbanzo beans, chicken and tuna are some traditional sources, yet you’ll also find it in bulgur wheat, cottage cheese and winter squash.

Sub-par levels of B12 can cause restlessness, anxiety and irritability. Animal products such as beef and liver are terrific sources, but it’s also found in fortified cereal, milk and yogurt. Surprisingly, clams have one of the highest levels of B12 of any food. Try them steamed over a serving of whole-wheat pasta tossed lightly with olive oil. For fish fans, opt for salmon, rainbow trout or haddock to increase daily levels. Keep in mind as you get older your ability to absorb B12 decreases. Checking in on your status with a blood test never hurts.

Vitamin of the Year

If you listened to everything you read and saw in the media you would think Vitamin D cured everything. Maybe not, but low levels in the body have been directly linked to depression in adolescents, healthy adults, and the elderly population. Of course, short winter days and cold nights makes it a bit tricky to get an adequate amount from sunlight. Besides dairy products, copious amounts of Vitamin D are found in ocean products such as herring, salmon, halibut and oysters.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps, don’t fill up on carb-laden foods. Eating processed foods with simple carbohydrates will only cause severe dips in sugar levels and mood. Choose some of the foods listed above to get through the dreary, winter months.

Color me Healthy!

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March is National Nutrition Month (NNM). While we need to be nutri-aware all twelve months of the year, this month hands us a magnifying glass to bring everything into focus. For all encompassing purposes, I want to claim NNM the first month of your new nutrition year, making March 1st Nutrition New Years Day! (Happy belated nutrition new years day!) As we all literally or mentally scribbled down our New Years resolutions on January 1st, we also have a resolution for NNM. Good thing I can’t hear what you’re saying as you read this post because I’m sure that there were plenty of “Ugh, more resolutions? I can barely keep the original ones.” Well, before you jump ship there is something you should know, the American Dietetics Association has already come up with the resolution for you (drum roll please)… “Eat Right with Color.”

So look, the hardest part is over and the resolution is out there for everyone to know, but how do we do it? First, let’s interpret it. Just as peacocks fan out their beautiful feathers to attract their mates, whole fruits and vegetables wear their colors proudly as indicators of their nutrient density. Thankfully, fruits and vegetable are peacocking all of time, not just when they want you to eat them! Each color specifically represents different vitamins and minerals they contain; the list of all of the color associations could literally stretch from New York to California so here is a great cheat sheet of the most common ones.

Food-Color Chart

Now that you have the information, let’s figure out what to do with it. Some people can’t get enough of fruits and vegetables; it’s like candy from the earth! But those people aren’t a dime a dozen and were probably the only 4 year old who begged for more brussles sprouts, opposed to the majority of people who are now thinking that those Firecracker® popsicles are pretty colorful which means you can start eating more of those (this just in… those unfortunately don’t count).

Not only has the USDA and HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) told us to increase our fruits and vegetables in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, but now the ADA is also telling us we have to broaden our horizons. The easiest way to increase your fruit and veggie intake is by adding them in small quantities to each meal. Most individuals don’t buy fresh produce that often in fear of them spoiling, but I’m going to let you in on a secret, if you eat them they won’t spoil! But be realistic; don’t buy a pound of green beans for just you (especially if you hate green beans). It’s always a great idea to buy the loose produce opposed to the pre-packaged versions so you are able to control the quantity.  The complaint associated with the cost of produce (especially if they rot) is usually what follows, and the answer to that is even simpler, buy frozen! Not only does it last longer but you can buy them in larger quantities and not use it all at one time. Lastly, I don’t usually promote canned vegetables due to the mounds of salt and unidentifiable preservatives, but if you drain and rinse them well before use I am not entirely opposed.

After buying the fruits and vegetables, the next step would be integrating them into your meals, since it is recommended to eat anywhere between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Some easy ways to accomplish this are—starting at least one meal with a small salad, choose an apple (or apple slices) for a snack instead of a bag of chips, throw in a handful of mixed greens onto your sandwich or wrap, and trade in your chocolaty dessert for mixed berries. These are just a few ideas, and since NNM declared March 9th Registered Dietician day, speak with your dietician on ways to up your fruit and veggie count in your diet.

Produce purchased? Check. Integrating them into your diet? Check. Now, you’re telling me I have to hit every color on the spectrum in my fruit and vegetable choices? Yes! And here’s why. As I mentioned earlier, color is extremely important when it comes to food because, as a general rule, the brighter the color of food, the higher concentration of nutrients it contains. Not all fruits and vegetables are created nutritionally equal. Some vegetables, such as corn and potatoes are loaded with starch placing them in the starch column instead of the vegetable one, when it comes to health benefits. Such vegetables so happen to part of the popular crowd and get eaten a lot, so consider having on starchy vegetable and swapping the rest for a dark-green, red or orange vegetables.

So it doesn’t matter which slogan you adopt, whether you eat right with color, taste the rainbow, color yourself healthy, or circle around the color wheel, adopting this thought into your diet will bring about a healthier you.

Vitamin D-ependent!

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Snow days, ski trips, ice skating and hot chocolate with marshmallows aside, there is one thing about winter that I don’t love… being pale! This isn’t because I look and feel better with a little color, but rather there is a lack of moderate, natural sun exposure that normally keeps my vitamin D levels in check. In the winter, it is imperative that we make up for the lack of vitamin D our skin produces via the sun through our own diet. A well rounded, healthful diet is one that should fulfill our daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. However, during the winter in colder regions, it is difficult to fulfill our requirement for vitamin D.  This may seem alarming, but the majority of American’s aren’t receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D, actually 40% of the US’s population is Vitamin D deficient!

Vitamin D is not truly a vitamin but actually a hormone that is fat soluble and is integral for bone health. Since it is fat soluble, it can be stored in the body for later use. Its function may help prevent bone disease, breast and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and help prevent pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. There are also studies showing a possible correlation with lack of vitamin D and type I and type II diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal health and fertility. The active form of Vitamin D directly or indirectly controls over 200 genes in your body (talk about a hard worker!).

Moderate sun exposure is one of the best ways to get vitamin D because the skin has the capacity to synthesize it. 15-20 minutes of moderate sun exposure in the summer months (or vacationing to warmer climates during the winter) is equivalent to taking up to 20,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D. Unfortunately, when the winter months hit, sun exposure rapidly declines and we have to make up for our lack of vitamin D. The best way to do this is through your diet, although if you are having extreme difficulty vitamin supplementation is also adequate. The daily recommended intake for vitamin D is 600 IU with the upper limit being 2,000 IU per day; and in the absence of sun exposure, 1,000 IU daily of vitamin D may be necessary. Nutritionally speaking, when you begin to drop below the required amounts of vitamin D your body will not absorb as much calcium either, because vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium and phosphorus which are vital for metabolic functions, bone health and neuromuscular functions. So it is important to keep up your vitamin D levels to maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in your body.

When people think of sources of vitamin D, most shop in the dairy aisle of their supermarket, but there are actually other non-dairy food sources that have higher amounts of vitamin D. Nowadays, many products such as cereals and juices are fortified with vitamin D so you can find it there as well. If you are interested in maximizing your diet with vitamin D here are some natural and fortified foods that can help you achieve adequate vitamin D levels, even when the sun is shining!

Food Sources:

-Wild Salmon (3.5 oz) = 650 IU

-Tuna, canned (3.5 oz) = 230 IU

-Sundried Shitake Mushrooms (8) = 500 IU

-Egg (1 whole) = 20 IU

-Fortified Sources:

oMilk/Orange Juice/Yogurt (8 oz) = 100 IU

oCereal (3/4 – 1 cup) = 40 IU