Diggin’ into Plant-Based Diets

Following a plant-based diet is very trendy these days. Whether it’s an environmental reason (reduce your carbon footprint) or health goal (decrease the risk of some chronic diseases), many people, including myself are consciously reducing their consumption of animal products.

What does it mean to follow a plant-based diet?  That really depends. Some interpret it is being a vegan or vegetarian. Others view a plant-based diet as being broader, including more plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and also fewer animal foods, like meat, fish and dairy. It’s not necessary to give up all the animal foods you enjoy; however, you can consider decreasing the portion sizes so these foods are no longer the main attraction on your plate. 

Ever since attending a 2019 nutrition conference, I’ve been inspired to consume more plant-based foods. It’s unlikely I will give up my glass of cold, fat-free milk in the evening (with one cookie); however, I do consume at least three meatless meals per week, eat smaller portions of chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork, and I load up half of my plate with vegetables (see my grilled vegetable recipe). This summer, my deck garden provided enough delicious red tomatoes to enjoy almost every day on salads. Since making these changes, I’ve maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure and feeling good about doing something for Mother Earth. 

Are you ready to ‘dig in’ and adopt a more plant-based diet? Here are some tips that helped me get started.

1. Go meatless one day a week. Beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of plant-proteins and add fiber to your diet, which makes you feel full. Instead of adding meat to my pasta, I toss it with grilled vegetables. If you like chili, peruse recipe websites for a bean-based chili that appeals to your taste buds.

2. Combine vegetable proteins. Quinoa, is a perfect protein, meaning it contains the 9 essential amino acids your body needs daily. You can also combine other plant foods to get that perfect protein. Some of my favorite combos are black beans and rice, chick peas and pasta, and whole what bread and peanut butter (with some jelly).

3. Re-think your meat portions. You can still have meat at your meals, but in smaller amounts, like 3 cooked ounces (the size and thickness of a deck of cards). Many of meals like soups (winter) and salads (summer) are full of vegetables and whole grains, but I add a small piece of protein, like a leftover grilled and shredded chicken breast or a few slices of pork tenderloin.


Try this recipe for Easy Grilled Vegetables!

Selection of vegetables:

  • Red, yellow or green peppers – cut in half and seeded
  • Yellow and green squash – sliced length-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Eggplant – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Mushrooms – whole cleaned
  • Onion – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick

Additional ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons, minced garlic
  • Fresh chopped or dried herb (parsley, thyme, basil, etc.) for garnish

Instructions:

1. Mix oil, salt, pepper, vinegar and garlic together.

2. Arrange vegetables on grill or in a grill pan (medium heat).

    Note: depending on the size of your pan you may need to work in batches.

3. Grill vegetables 6-8 minutes, brushing with oil, and vinegar mixture.

4. Remove vegetables from grill or grill pan and place on a platter. Drizzle remaining oil and

    vinegar mixture on vegetables. Sprinkle herbs over vegetables and serve.

Grow and Capture the Flavor of Fresh Herbs

Early this spring, I checked my outdoor herb garden to see what survived the winter. Many herbs are perennial and come back each spring. To my surprise, my kitchen garden was alive and growing! Parsley, rosemary, chive, sage, and mint all came back!

Herbs are easy to grow and do well in pots if you don’t have a space for planting. If you relish DIY projects you can build your own raised garden box. Many of my friends start growing herbs from seeds, which is less expensive and takes longer. I like to purchase small herb plants from my local gardening store, so I can reap the benefits from these tasty and nutritious greens sooner.       

After expanding my herb garden, the last few seasons I learned a few tips to share from my more experienced herb-gardening friends. Most herbs love full sun (at minimum 6-7 hours a day). Find a sunny spot in your yard to plant your garden or position your raised bed or pots. Also, add a soil or potting mix to your soil, which will help keep the soil well drained. Don’t forget to water your herbs daily, especially if your herbs are in pots. Potted soil tends to dry up quickly and you don’t want to pre-maturely ‘dry’ your herbs. Last but not least, remove flowers forming on your herbs. Flowers use up the herb’s energy and removing gives the energy back to the leaves; the part of the herb we use most often. Also, flowering herbs may lose some of their flavor and taste bitter.

I love using herbs when preparing my favorite foods and beverages. Herbs add flavor and eye appeal to my meals and fill my kitchen with mouth-watering aromas. Nutritionally, herbs contain similar nutrients found in green leafy vegetables like vitamins A, C, and K and polyphenols; which are plant substances that provide antioxidants and reduce inflammation in our bodies. Using flavorful herbs can also cut down the amount of salt and fat, making your meals healthier. Below, are some of my ‘go to’ herb parings:

  • Stuff  a chicken cavity with lemon and a combination of sage, rosemary, and thyme sprigs. Make a mixture of olive oil, pepper, and a dash of salt and brush it on the outside of the chicken. Bake it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Make a rub of finely chopped rosemary, chopped garlic (fresh or in the jar), and pepper. Mix it with olive oil, enough to form a paste and rub it on all sides of a pork tenderloin. Bake or grill to an internal temperature of 155 degrees.
  • For refreshing botanical-infused beverages, add a rosemary sprig and a lime wedge,  fresh mint and strawberry slices, or basil and a watermelon wedge to tap or sparkling water served over crushed ice.
  • For an extra flavor punch in salads, toss snipped lemon thyme or lemon balm, chopped chives, parsley, basil or oregano.

Speaking of snipping, one of my most used kitchen tool in the summer is my herb scissors. You can purchase herb scissors at kitchen stores or online. A pair of craft scissors designate as ‘herb scissors’ also works well. Keep them sharp and wash with soap and water after each use. 

I have an abundance of herbs and found another use for them. I filled mason jars with water and a variety of fresh herbs and placed them around my house, including my bathrooms. What an amazing aroma to smell when I walked into my house!

Stay tuned for part two of this blog, Capture the Flavor with Spices!

Celebrating a World of Flavors!

March is here and spring is just around the corner. It’s also National Nutrition Month (NNM) and this year’s theme “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” is exciting as it embraces global cultures and cuisines, giving every culture a place at the table. My husband and I love to travel and this theme made me think about our pre-pandemic trips and all the delicious foods we had on our table. 

In Greece we dined on Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Galaktoboureko (custard pie) and in Norway, we enjoyed Vaffles and Brunost (waffles and brown cheese). Some of our favorite experiences; however, were when we prepared local cuisine with local chefs. In Poland we rolled the dough and ‘pinched’ meat-filled perogies and in Spain we made seafood paella in the largest frying pan I ever saw! These experiences not only broadened our palate, but also provided us with insight into and appreciation of other cultures. 

Making seafood paella in Spain.
Making seafood paella in Spain.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own Ukrainian heritage and the meal traditions and recipes we observed especially around the holidays. Growing up,  I remember making paska or Easter Bread in coffee cans with my mother a few days before Easter, and the debate about which kind of raisins to add – brown or golden yellow raisins (yellow seemed to win out more often). Then I would watch my mother assemble her big wicker basket with an Ukrainian embroidered basket liner which held the paska, hard-cooked and brilliantly colored eggs called krashanky, salt, butter, grated horseradish, kielbasa, and poppyseed bread, which she took to her church to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. 

Though my mother has passed, she remains in spirit and inspired me this past Christmas to dust off her old Ukrainian cookbooks and make homemade pierogies, a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dish. With the assistance of my husband and daughter (pierogi maker-in-training),  we made potato and cheese filled perogies smothered in onions that would make my mother proud! 

In celebration of this year’s NNM’s theme, Why not commit to trying a new food from another cultural cuisine? Below are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Host a ‘Heritage Day’ and have your friends or coworkers prepare and share their favorite cultural foods.
  • When eating out, try a restaurant that serves a cuisine that is new to you.
  • Each week, during this month, explore a different international culture and prepare one new food from a different culture.

As for me, I’m off to Costa Rica to attend a wedding and send-off brunch. I can’t wait to try Gallo Pinto (traditional rice and bean breakfast)!

Holiday Dining Tips for Diabetes-Friendly Meals

November is American Diabetes Month. According to the 2020 Center for Disease and Prevention Report, over 1 in 10 people have diabetes and approximately 1 in 3 have prediabetes. Managing diabetes through diet, physical activity, and medication can be challenging anytime, but it can be even more difficult during the holidays.

November also begins the ‘holiday eating’ season as tempting foods are everywhere through December. Whether it’s a neighborhood party, work function, or family gathering, following a meal plan that limits the sugars and fat found in our favorite holiday foods can be overwhelming. Check out these healthy holiday eating ideas that will help you maintain good control of your blood sugar levels and allow you to still enjoy your favorite dishes.

1. It’s all about the carbs. Some holiday foods may be too tempting to resist. But you can still savor the flavor of these foods by consuming them in portions based on your diabetes meal pattern and by keeping track of the number of grams of carbohydrates you consume. Below are foods found on the USDA MyPlate and the number of grams of carbohydrates they contain:

  • Starches:(potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, cereal, beans, corn, etc.) 15 grams per serving
  • Non-starchy vegetables:(carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, etc.) 5 grams per serving
  • Fruits: 15 grams per serving
  • Milk and yogurt: 15 grams per serving
  • Meat and other protein: 0 grams per serving except for foods like beans

Note, beans (kidney, black, red, white, etc.) are starches and contain 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving You can find out more about serving sizes by visiting the USDA MyPlate website https://www.myplate.gov/

2. Choose carbohydrates wisely. Limit the amount of starches you eat, and try consuming non-starchy vegetables. They contain 1/3 of the carbohydrates and calories in starches and do not cause big spikes in your blood sugar. Consuming whole fruits with skins are better than canned fruit or juices because they contain fiber, which prevent spikes in blood sugar. Include low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt in your holiday meals. Milk and Greek yogurt are excellent sources of protein, calcium, and other nutrients and can be substituted in some of your favorite dishes. For example, use fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in your favorite dips and low-fat milk in your eggnog recipe.

3. The scoop on alcohol and diabetes. If you don’t currently drink alcohol, then don’t start. However, if you plan to indulge in some alcohol, consult with your healthcare team first. Whether you can consume alcohol if your diabetic is very personalized and may be based on your medications and other health conditions.

4. Work it out. Make time to be physically active. The more you stick with your year- long routine during the holidays, the more likely you will keep focused on your fitness and blood sugar goals too. 

5. Host your own holiday event! Take control of the ‘party foods’ you serve by providing your guests a list of healthy holiday foods they can bring. It reduces time you  spend preparing multiple dishes and provides your guests the opportunity to create festive healthy options that all can enjoy. For example, instead of cheesy dips, ask someone to bring a festive vegetable plate with hummus dip and red vegetables and green vegetables. You can also add a red and green fruit platter to the list too. 

Try this fruit tart recipe from the Dining with Diabetes program. It’s easy to make and one of my favorites. Wontons sheets are available in the produce section of the grocery store. To learn more about upcoming Dining with Diabetes program I’m teaching at the University of Maryland Extension, feel free to reach out to me at: bjackey@umd.edu

Happy holidays!

Fresh Fruit Tarts

Serving Information: Serves 12 (1 serving = 1 tart)

Ingredients:

  • 12 wonton skins
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar-free jelly or fruit spread
  • 1 1/2 c. diced fresh fruit*
  • 1 c. non-fat yogurt, any flavor
  • Cooking spray

*Select fruit combinations based on what is in season. Any of the following could be used: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, raspberries, peaches, orange sections, etc.

Equipment:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Small saucepan
  • Muffin tin

Directions:

  • Preheat over to 375 degrees F and spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
  • Press wonton skins into muffin tins allowing the corners to stand up over the edges.
  • Bake wontons until lightly brown, approximately 4-6 minutes. Watch carefully, as wonton skins bake very quickly.
  • Remove from oven; carefully take each wonton out of the muffin tin and allow time for cooling.
  • Warm jelly or fruit spread and lightly coat bottom of each wonton.
  • Fill each wonton with fruit and a rounded dollop of yogurt on top.
  • Garnish with small piece of fruit or a dab of jelly/spread and serve immediately.

Women’s Health: Putting a Halt on Gaining Weight Over 40

Recently, several of my female friends who are over 40 noticed they gained weight in the last few years. After a visit to their healthcare provider and finding out that the weight gain was probably not just related to hormones, I was the next one they called, their friend, the Registered Dietitian. My friends assumed I could provide them with a ‘magic bullet diet’ that could melt away 10 pounds quickly. 

Instead, I deliver the news that as we mature our metabolism decreases and how our body stores fat changes. Also, there is no ‘magic bullet diet’ for losing weight quickly that is healthy and can be maintained. In fact, diets in general don’t work; however, having healthy behaviors (diet and physical activity) can promote weight loss, and are easier to maintain than restrictive diets. 

Here are some of the tips I shared with my friends for slimming down after 40.

1. Eat more plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. These colorful powerhouse foods are low in calories, full of nutrients, and high in fiber which provides satiety or ‘a feeling of being full’, and therefore, you will eat less calories. Add some whole grain-rich foods for an added boost of fiber.

2. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. ‘Breaking the fast’ with a morning meal will jump start your metabolism and burn more calories. Eating breakfast will also prevent that mid-morning hunger which may cause you to eat something that is high in calories. Eating small meals frequently is also a good option for keeping your appetite in check throughout the day.

3. Consider the timing of your meals. There is some evidence that consuming most of your calories by mid-afternoon (before 3 p.m.), may help drop some pounds as opposed to eating a big dinner meal or heavy snacks in the evening. Regardless, it matters what you eat. To reduce calories, make it a habit to choose lower calorie options of the foods you enjoy. 

4. Cooking methods matter. Pay attention to the way you prepare food. Instead of frying food or cooking it in butter or oil, try grilling, baking, or broiling. Do the same at good restaurants too; skip foods that are fried or that come in creamy sauces. 

5. Get moving! Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week and schedule it! Make sure it’s on your weekly calendar, and ask a friend to join you. Having an ‘activity partner’ will keep you both motivated.  Also, mix up the activities and your partners. I run with one friend, bike with another and take a fitness class with yet another friend. It’s a great way to socialize and get those weekly minutes in. 

Don’t be hard on yourself. Accept that your body and metabolism is changing and embrace your ‘maturity’. This could be a great opportunity to revisit your health behaviors and really focus on your health for the next 40 years (or more).

For more weight loss tips and information about women’s health issues, check out these websites:

Hot off the Grill: Healthy Grillin’ ideas!

Some of my fondest summer memories include weekend barbeques at the Jersey shore. Eating outdoors and the smell of food cooking on our grill still makes my mouth water. Grilling isn’t only a summer activity. In fact, during the recent pandemic many people, myself included, found grilling to be a great alternative to using a stove or oven. Seeing grill marks on foods and eating outdoors just makes things taste better. 

Grilling is easy and can be a healthy cooking method, especially if you use lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken, or fish. Marinating foods in juices, vinegars, and wine along with your favorite herbs and spices adds a calorie-free flavor punch. If you prefer bottled marinades, choose one that contains a small amount of oil (preferably olive or canola).  

Grilling can also have a downside regarding our health. When high-fat meats are cooked at high temperatures, two cancer-causing compounds are formed — heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAH). When I first read the science behind this I thought, does this mean no more burgers on the grill? The answer is no. The good news is there are things you can do to reduce the health risk from these compounds.  

1. Choose lean meats, cut them in small pieces, and grill them at a lower temperature longer. For example, instead of a one big burger or chicken breast, I grill burger sliders and chicken kabobs with fruits and vegetables. Plant foods add color and nutrients and don’t form HCAs and PAHs.

2. Marinating meats and poultry 1-2 hours before grilling can reduce these cancer-causing compounds, especially if marinades contain olive-oil and herbs and spices high in antioxidants (oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, cinnamon). My favorite marinade for poultry and vegetables is a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and one-two drops of lemon juice.

3. Trimming excess fat will limit the fat drippings and PAHs.

4. Flipping meats often prevents them from charring, limiting HCAs from forming.

Recently I discovered many foods you can grill besides meat, poultry, and fish. My new favorites include grilled Cesar salad and an array of fresh vegetables and fruits. Grilled watermelon wedges and pineapple slices (great on chicken or a burger) are delicious and nutrient-rich, and grilled peach halves with shortbread crumbles and strawberries with grilled pound cake drizzled with balsamic glaze are my two new favorite summer desserts. 

Summer is quickly approaching. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get out the grill, clean and fire it up, and have fun with friends and family over a great meal! For hot tips for grilling safely, visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education:  https://www.fightbac.org/?s=grilling+tips&id=12049.

Try this great grilling recipe!

Grilled peaches with shortbread cookie crumbles

  • 4 peaches, preferable Freestone
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shortbread cookies, finely crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
  • Low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt
  • Amaretto liqueur (optional)
  1. Heat a gas grill to medium.
  2. Cut peaches in half, all the way around. Twist halves off their pits. Remove pits. Brush the cut sides of the peaches lightly with olive oil. Grill, cut side down until grill marks form and flesh softens, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Combine crumbled shortbread cookies with brown sugar and melted butter or margarine. Scoop small amount of mixture into the pit hole of each peach half.
  4. Put peach halves in an aluminum foil pan and move to the side of the grill to continue cooking over indirect heat, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Optional: Drizzle with amaretto liqueur.

What’s in Your Pantry?

Lately, it’s been a challenge getting groceries from supermarkets, but many of us already have a mini grocery store in our home…our pantry!  

Having a well-stocked pantry makes it easier to cook meals at home, especially when we’re out of fresh ingredients. There is no magic number of items you should have in your pantry, however, it’s important to stock foods and beverages you will actually consume. Here are my suggestions for ‘must-have’ pantry foods:

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com
  • Protein Sources: canned fish or poultry, beans, seeds and nuts, peanut or other nut butters, powdered or evaporated milk, grated cheese.
  • Canned Goods: fruit (in 100% juice), vegetables, beans (black, kidney beans, etc.). When available, buy low sodium canned vegetables, soups, and sauces. Drain beans well (removes starch) and vegetables (removes salt).
  • Grain Products: pasta (preferably whole wheat), rice (choose brown), oatmeal, flour, bread crumbs, mac and cheese, biscuit mix.                                      
  • Dried fruits: raisins, apricots, apples.
  • Flavorings-Spices & Condiments: salt & pepper, Italian seasoning, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, ketchup, mustard & mayo. 

If you’re missing some of these items, use this list to stock your pantry. Remember to replenish pantry items. Practice the FIFO rule or ‘First In, First Out’ meaning use the older items first.    

You may be wondering how to combine ‘pantry’ foods to make a tasty meal. With a little practice and a ‘trial and error’ approach, you can create delicious and easy meals. Here’s my five-step approach for creating pantry meals without recipes.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com
  • First, start with a base such as rice, pasta or baked potatoes. 
  • Second, add a protein such as canned chicken or fish or choose one from the list I provided above. If you prefer a more plant-based diet, beans, nuts and seeds, soy-based foods or quinoa are great protein options. 
  • Third, choose one or two vegetables with different colors, textures and nutritional value. Carrots and spinach, peas and mushrooms, or tomatoes and green beans are great combinations.
  • Fourth, to pull it all together, add a sauce or gravy, broth, canned milk or salad dressing. These foods add moisture too. 
  • Fifth, add a punch of flavor with some herbs or spices.

As a Registered Dietitian, I’m always thinking about nutrition, so I finish off my meal by combining fruit and dairy for a delicious Greek yogurt parfait. By following this five-step approach, you can create a delicious and nutritious meal that meets the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations. 

If you prefer creating ‘pantry meals’ using recipes, try Meal Hero, a website tool that allows you to enter food items you want to use and then provides easy meal recipes. You can also filter recipes by the number of ingredients and cook time.

Use these tips and resources and get creative in the kitchen by finding ways to use foods you already have. You’ll cut back on food waste and save money too!

Bon Appetit! 

Resources: 

Master Pantry list: https://www.myfrugalhome.com/free-printable-pantry-master-list/

Meal Hero: https://fridgetotable.com/

Healthy Holiday Swaps

‘Tis the season when many look forward to enjoying favorite ‘once a year’ holiday foods. Here are some tips and healthy swaps you can follow for reducing sugar, fat and calories that will not deprive you of the foods you’ve been longing for all year. 

Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

Appetizer Swaps 

  • Swap out cheesy dips for vegetable-based dips like hummus. 
  • Plain Greek, fat-free yogurt is a fantastic swap for dips that use sour cream. 
    • Greek yogurt contains protein, which can boost your metabolism and reduce appetite, helping you lose weight.

Side Swaps 

  • Swap out higher calorie starchy sides like potatoes, pasta, and rice for vegetable sides like broccoli, carrots, Brussel sprouts, green beans, spinach, or kale. 
    • A cup of these vegetables has 2/3 fewer calories of starchy sides when steamed and served without butter or sauces. 
  • Add an additional ‘pop’ of flavor with herbs, spices, and citrus juices.

Main Dish Swaps

  • Casseroles are a holiday favorite and easy to make, but many contain high calorie and high-fat ingredients like cream, butter and cheese. 
  • Instead, swap out casseroles for baked ham, loin of pork, roasted turkey, or chicken, which are excellent sources of protein. 

Dessert Swaps 

So many desserts, so little time! Try some of these swaps to reduce sugar, fat and calories. 

  • Single or ‘crustless’ pies (pumpkin) instead of nut-based (pecan pie) or double-crust pies (apple pie)                                                                                                                       
  • Fruit and yogurt (low-fat) parfaits instead of ice cream or other frozen desserts             
  • Ginger snaps or meringue cookies instead of peanut butter, sandwich or cookies with filling.                 
  • Baked fruit (apples and pears) or chocolate-dipped (strawberries and oranges) instead of fruit pies or strudel
  • Puddings and mousse instead of Crème Brulee. 
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Baking Swaps 

Try these easy swaps in your favorite quick bread, cookies and cakes: 

  • One egg for 2 egg whites or ¼ cup of egg substitute to reduce calories, fat and cholesterol (by about 213 mg).
  • Plain fat-free (FF) Greek yogurt for sour cream. One cup contains fewer calories (132) than regular sour cream (445) or fat-free sour cream (170) and adds 23 grams of protein. Use a 1:1 ratio; for example, ½ cup of FF Greek yogurt for ½ cup sour cream
  • Unsweetened applesauce for oils keeps baked goods moist and reduces the fat and calories and even the amount of sugar. For oils, use a 1:1 ratio. 

Finally, portion sizes are key. By cutting portions in half and eating slowly, you can still ‘savor the flavor’ of your favorite holiday foods. Stay active and include walks, hikes, runs or bike rides to burn those extra holiday food calories, which will lessen the guilt of facing the scale in January.

Happy Holidays!