(The following article first appeared in the February 14, 2018 issue of Get Healthy, a publication of The Northwest Indiana Times. Online version)
There’s a video on the Internet that depicts why eating healthy can be a challenge. The setting is a 1970’s kitchen, complete with lime green cabinets. The wife has made her husband a beautiful breakfast of steak, eggs, toast, coffee and juice. As he sits down to peacefully enjoy this typical American meal, a man from the future continuously darts in with healthy food bulletins. Don’t eat the eggs; eat the eggs, but not the yolks; the entire egg is okay, but toss the red meat; no more toast; and so on. When did eating become so complicated?
Today I will give you a few tips so you may calmly enjoy your food as we did back in the day of lime green kitchens. Here are some simple ideas to get you started.
Avoid trans fats. These are “bad” fats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled in 2015 that these artificial fats are not safe for consumption and gave restaurants and food companies three years to eradicate this health hazard. We’re not quite there and they are still in many fried, baked, and packaged foods. Be sure to scan anything you buy that has an ingredient label. These are commonly listed as “partially hydrogenated” and “hydrogenated” oils. Legally, a food can claim zero trans fat and have up to 0.49 grams per serving. Even small amounts play a significant role in cardiovascular disease. Beware of biscuits, cookies, crackers, non-dairy coffee creamer, fried fast foods, microwave and theater popcorn, margarine, to name a few. Choosing to minimize trans fats and all processed fats is a great way to love your heart.
The good news. As you seek out foods in the aforementioned categories that are made with real fat (such as butter, olive oil) instead of made-in-a-lab fat, you will begin to taste the difference. What about butter and oils for a healthy heart? Moderation and balance are key. The enjoyment and satisfaction level with real fat is much higher. Less is more.
Consume less sugar. Most Americans eat too much sugar. It is highly addictive and tastes delicious. From a health perspective, it’s a slippery slope. Increased blood sugar levels lead to poor heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men limit their intake of added sugar to 9 teaspoons (36grams) and women limit their intake to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day. For reference, a 12-ounce can of soda contains about 9 teaspoons. Added sugars include any type of sweetener, whether it’s honey, agave, maple syrup, cane sugar, etc., that is added by the food manufacturer or you. Artificial sweeteners are not the answer, as they are chemicals and introduce health concerns of their own.
The good news. Many fruits satisfy a sweet tooth and add fiber and nutrients as a bonus. Eating a sweet treat when the ingredients are real, (see recipe), along with a meal or snack that includes lean protein, vegetables and real grains, is not as tough on the body as having a donut and coffee in the morning on an empty stomach.
Minimize intake of processed foods. These typically contain preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, excessive sodium, and other chemicals that aren’t boosting us toward stellar health. Deli meats, bacon, pre-packaged and frozen meals and any food that is not in its natural form could be included here.
The good news. There are many foods that will boost heart health: fish (wild-caught) rich in omega-3 fats, such as Alaskan salmon, albacore tuna, Atlantic mackerel, sardines; one to two ounces of dark chocolate that has a cacao (or cocoa) content of at least 70%; a handful of raw nuts; avocados and avocado oil (good fats); a variety of fruits (especially berries) and vegetables in all colors; a glass of red wine (the best option for an alcoholic beverage). Consider following the Mediterranean diet guidelines, which is mostly plant-based (fruits and vegetables), includes whole grains, legumes, extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil, fish, poultry, and limits red meat and sugar.
Tasty and healthy snacks. Homemade protein bars, hummus and guacamole with raw vegetables; almond or other nut butters with apples or pears; fresh berries with a drizzle of flavored balsamic vinegar.
As for the breakfast from the 70’s? The entire egg is full of nutrients. Skip the juice and eat a piece of fruit–more fiber, more filling. I’d put a splash of real cream in the coffee. Red meat on occasion and true whole grain bread would not upset future man.
In Conclusion. Make one change at a time, eat more food that is simple and real, and keep the balance. For those times when you are choosing a treat, here’s a recipe that is a big hit with my family. These are gluten-free, dairy-free (if you use non-dairy chocolate chips) and vegan. You don’t even need a mixer. Deliciously simple.
Quick and Easy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites
- 2 cups blanched almond flour*
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ cup Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Sticks** (melted)
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- 1/3 to ½ cup dairy-free semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine almond flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl, using a pastry blender to break up any clumps of flour. Stir in melted Earth Balance, honey and vanilla with a large spoon until dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips. If the dough seems dry and crumbly, add more honey or melted Earth Balance, a little at a time, until it is moist enough to stick together. (You may need an additional 1-2 Tbsp.) Drop by teaspoonful or small cookie scoop onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently press the dough flat.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until slightly brown. Be careful not to overbake. Leave them alone to set and cool for about 15 minutes so they don’t crumble and break. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator or freezer.
*Benefits of using almond flour: lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein, fiber and healthy fat than some other flour options.
**Earth Balance is a blend of good oils. Butter may also be used.