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:

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.

Staying Healthy Through Winter

Is it harder for you to get out of bed on winter mornings when the temperature is low and it’s darker outside? You’re not alone. 

A sleepy Caucasian man turning an alarm offCold weather and fewer daylight hours create challenges in getting motivated to eat healthy and be physically active. When healthy habits are ebbing, your immune system weakens, increasing your risk of getting sick with a cold or the flu. About 20% of Americans get the cold or flu each year.

Despite the changes in weather, winter doesn’t have to be an unhealthy time for hibernation — you can use this time to take charge and refocus on your health. 

To get started, I’ll share some wellness tips I’m following to maintain good health and fitness this winter.

Curb the Carbs

Cold weather can increase carb and comfort food cravings (for me, it’s pre- and post-holiday cookies). After carb-filled foods are consumed, the brain hormone serotonin increases, causing cravings to continue throughout the day. Translation: The more carb-filled foods you consume, the more you crave. To break this cycle, eat protein-rich foods at breakfast (eggs, yogurt, hummus, low-fat cheese, etc.) for high energy throughout the day. To avoid afternoon carb cravings, I keep healthy snacks available like whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, and trail mix with nuts.

Up Your Fiber   

Foods with soluble fiber decrease inflammation and boost your immune system. Fiber stimulates infection-fighting T-cells which help you recover from infections faster. Apples, oats, nuts, avocados, citrus fruits, berries, and flaxseed are good sources of soluble fiber. Try adding two tablespoons of flaxseed to oatmeal or soups, or tossing sliced oranges or strawberries into salads or plain Greek yogurt.

Spice It Up

spicesFood-flavoring garlic, onion, ginger and cilantro have immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, used in Indian foods, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. You can sprinkle turmeric on food, however when I’m feeling sluggish, I make a ‘turmeric tea’ (recipe below). Turmeric tea bags are also available at most stores.                                                           

Get Active: Outdoors or Indoors

Plenty of outdoor activities like ice skating, playing hockey, winter walks or runs in local parks are fun and can help you stay fit during the colder months. If you don’t want to be outdoors, check out your local library for online workout videos ranging from yoga, strength training, and aerobics you can do at home. Don’t like to work out alone?  Take a group fitness class at your local gym or community center where you can socialize and meet new people.  Bowling, swimming, and dancing are also great indoor activities.

Catch some sleep

Did you know, lack of sleep can make you sick? People who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after exposure to common cold viruses. Lack of sleep prevents your body from fighting infections and impacts how fast you recover. To boost your immune system get 7-8 hours of sleep for adults, 9-10 for teens and over 10 for school-aged children. Sleep routines are important too. Go to bed the same time each night, avoid caffeine 6 hours and smoking 2 hours before bedtime.

Turmeric TeaCloseup of tumeric powder spice on a spoon

  1. Boil 3 to 4 cups of water on the stove.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric and stir.
  3. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Strain the tea into another container.
  5. Add in honey, fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice, and milk to taste.

Plant-based Protein: The Newest Trending Nutrient

I recently attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo to hear about emerging nutrition research and trends in foods. Dozens of vendors promoted plant-based protein products, which came in the form of shakes, bars, powders, pastas, and more. When walking through the massive exhibit hall, it was clear that protein was the trending nutrient!

Protein food sources are either animal-based or plant-based. All animal proteins and some plant proteins, like quinoa and soy, are “complete proteins” and contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health. Plant proteins that are missing amino acids can be combined together—like rice and beans, or hummus and pita—to become “complete” and provide all nine essential amino acids.

It’s no surprise that the food industry is responding to consumer’s desires for more protein, especially in plant form. Consumers are eating more plant-based proteins to reduce their carbon footprint and intake of animal foods. Consuming more plant-based foods is linked with longevity and reducing chronic conditions like, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Protein is an essential nutrient. Consuming the daily recommended protein amount in your diet can help maintain weight loss.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 150-pound woman requires a minimum of 54 grams(about 8 ounces) of protein daily. To calculate your personal protein needs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 then multiply by 0.8 grams. Pregnant and breastfeeding woman need slightly more protein, at 1.1 or 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram, respectively. Athletes and very active adults also need more protein.

To calculate your RDA for protein, enter your weight into the following equation:

[weight, in pounds] ÷ 2.2 × 0.8 = grams of protein

Many plant-based foods provide high-protein content. Soy products like tofu, take on flavors of the dish it’s prepared in. Edamame is a great snack or addition in stir fry Slide1 (2)dishes. Lentils add crunch to stews, salads or rice. Chickpeas, the key ingredient in hummus, is a healthy sandwich spread alternative. Peanuts (really a legume) and almonds, two of the “Heart-Healthy 7” nuts, are great additions to salads or trail mixes. Quinoa, an alternative for pasta or rice, is terrific in salads. One tablespoon of chia seeds boosts the protein in smoothies, yogurt, and puddings. Beans eaten separately are incomplete proteins, but become “complete” when eaten with grains.

One of my favorite protein-packed snacks is this recipe for roasted chickpeas. It’s delicious and filling.

Whether you eat a traditional or plant-based diet, most Americans consume enough protein. The key is balancing nutritious choices by including more plant-based, nutrient-rich foods and keeping unhealthy, highly processed foods to a minimum.


Healthy Steps To Prevent Cancer

More than one third of adults (38.4%) will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes. Children are at risk for developing cancer, too. Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and consuming healthy foods and moderate amounts of alcohol can prevent nearly half of all cancer diagnoses. As we celebrate National Cancer Prevention Month, now is a perfect time to make positive changes to reduce your risk of cancer. But do you know what actions to take?

The American Institute for Cancer Research’s campaign, Cancer Prevention: Together We Can, includes 10 cancer prevention recommendations.

  • Be a healthy weight. Next to not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing that reduces your risk of cancer.
  • Be physically active. Walk more and sit less! Aim for 150 minutes weekly of moderate activity and walk a few minutes every hour.
  • Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. Aim to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
  • Limit “fast foods” and processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars. Consuming “fast-foods” and a “Western-type” diet causes weight gain and obesity; both linked to 12 different cancers.
  • Limiting red and processed meats to 12 to 18 cooked ounces per week decreases risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened drinks. Excessive amounts of sugary drinks causes weight gain and obesity, and increases cancer risk. Drink more water!

fruit infused water_Pexels-1328887
If you have a soda habit, try weaning yourself off with fruit-infused waters.

  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol in any form is a linked to six different cancers. If you choose to drink, limit 1 drink for women and 2 for men per day.
  • Don’t use supplements for cancer prevention. Most people can get the nutrients they need to reduce their risk of cancer by consuming a healthy diet.
  • Breastfeed your baby, if you can. For mothers, breastfeeding lowers cancer-related hormone levels in the body and babies are less likely to become overweight and obese, a risk for some cancers.
  • After a cancer diagnosis, follow all these recommendations as much as possible.

Ready to take action? Get AICR’s 30-Day Cancer Prevention Checklist for eating smarter and being more active and recipes for cancer prevention. Then kick start your diet with a Winter Berry Smoothie Bowl recipe, one of my favorite snacks all year long.

Kick Off Your Super Bowl Party With Healthy Options

The biggest football game of the year is only days away. It doesn’t matter if you are a football fan or not. People don’t just go to Super Bowl parties for the football—they go to watch the commercials and half-time show, and most importantly, enjoy the food. From appetizers to main dishes to desserts, super bowl parties usually include a wide variety of foods. Some of the most popular Super Bowl foods are chicken wings, sliders, pizza, dips, meatballs, potato skins, cheese balls and cakes. People can consume as much as 2400 calories during the four-hour game. If you want to offer your guests choices, there are plenty of ways to offer delicious and healthy options alongside the traditional “super bowl” foods.

If you have a favorite recipe but want to “lighten” it up, there are easy substitutions to make without sacrificing the flavor.

  • When making dips, substitute low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt for regular sour cream to reduce saturated fat and calories.
  • Try reduced-fat cheese in recipes or choose a sharp cheese so you can use a smaller amount but still get the flavor.
  • For those Buffalo chicken dip fans, there are easy ways to cut the calories and saturated fat. Use low-fat cream cheese and lite Ranch dressing (or plain yogurt with Ranch dip seasoning packet) and serve with veggies as a healthy option. Another option is to cut out the cheese, and uses low-sodium chicken broth, chicken, cauliflower, Buffalo sauce and cream cheese.

People like to snack during the game. For those fans who want healthy choices:

  • Offer a vegetable tray with lite dip or hummus.
  • Make meatballs and chili using extra lean ground beef or low fat ground turkey in place of regular ground beef. Another great option is White Chicken Chili. These foods are easy foods to make the day before the game and serve in a slow cooker.

Chili provides a healthy and hearty option for Super Bowl fans. The best part is it’s super easy to make with a slow cooker!

A party is not complete without desserts.

  • Fruit trays are always a popular and healthy choice. If you are more creative, try carving a small watermelon into a football helmet and fill it with a mixed fruit salad.
  • Add more themed treats with chocolate-dipped strawberry footballs, which use white chocolate “strings” to transform this favorite Valentine treat into a perfect Super Bowl menu option.
  • Another unique and low-fat dessert is a chocolate Rice Krispies football. Make them with Cocoa Krispies instead, add unsweetened cocoa powder to the melted margarine and marshmallow mixture and shape them to look like one big football or several small footballs. Decorate with melted white chocolate for the strings and stripes on the football.

Enjoy the Super Bowl without feeling super stuffed by offering healthy options along with some of your traditional foods.  For more recipe ideas, visit Cooking Light or Taste of Home.

Start Your Day (And Year) With Oatmeal

With winter finally arriving, you can warm up your chilly mornings with a hearty bowl of oatmeal. And if you’re thinking about ways to tweak your diet, oatmeal is a great start. Not only does it provide a feeling of fullness that keeps you from overeating, it is also heart-healthy. Soluble fiber in the oatmeal helps to lower cholesterol (especially the bad LDL cholesterol), and prevent or help control high blood pressure. When paired with vitamin C, the cardiovascular benefits of oatmeal are enhanced, so eat some citrus, strawberries or kiwi with your oatmeal.

The soluble fiber also helps stabilize your blood sugar levels, so you don’t have the mid-morning slumps, which can occur if you eat too many carbs and sugar in the morning.  By eating oatmeal, you can also take in important nutrients, like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, and antioxidants. The magnesium, for example, helps regulate your insulin and glucose levels, which may prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. And the antioxidants protect against heart disease and cancer.

There are different types of oatmeal available in the grocery store. Some of the most popular types include steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oatmeal. Steel-cut oats, also called Scotch oats or Irish oats, are natural, unrefined oats that are cut into pieces by steel blades. They take longer to cook than rolled oats and have a nutty, more robust flavor. Rolled oats are steamed and then rolled flat. This process stabilizes the healthy oils in the oats, so they stay fresh longer and cook faster. Rolled oats are found in old-fashioned and quick-cooking oatmeal. Instant oatmeal is more processed because the oats have been rolled out thinner and steamed longer so they take less time to cook. Instant oatmeal usually has added salt, sugar and flavors, so read the labels carefully. Store your oatmeal in a cool, dry place in a covered container and use it within one year.

Oatmeal is most commonly eaten as a hot cereal, but it’s still delicious eaten cold. Prepare and store overnight oats in small jars to grab for a quick breakfast or snack on the go. (Photo by Alisa Anton)

You can put your own twist on this healthy cereal by adding your favorite fruits, like bananas, raisins, strawberries, frozen blueberries, or peaches. You can also add some healthy protein by topping it with chopped nuts or drizzling on some peanut butter. If you have any cans of pumpkin left from the holidays, make a pumpkin pie oatmeal.

Oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast either. Oatmeal protein bars make great snacks for adults and kids. You can also add oats to cookies, muffins, breads, and desserts, and use them to replace breadcrumbs in meatloaf. Oats are a versatile whole grain that can be a healthy addition to your diet in a variety of ways.


Oatmeal Pancakes

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg
Cooking spray

  1. Spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.
  2. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  3. Combine buttermilk, butter, and egg in a small bowl. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.
  4. Heat a nonstick griddle over medium heat.
  5. Coat pan with cooking spray.
  6. Spoon about 2-1/2 tablespoons batter per pancake onto griddle.
  7. Turn pancakes over when tops are covered with bubbles; cook until bottoms are lightly browned.


Food For Thought: Eat For A Healthy Brain

Did you know there are some foods that can maintain a healthy brain? You may already have some of these foods in your kitchen or can easily find them in your grocery store. Here are five of my favorite “healthy brain foods”.

Fatty fish like salmon, trout, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Brain Fact: about 60% of your brain is made of fat and half of that is omega-3s. These brain-healthy fats can improve memory and mood AND keep your heart healthy too. To get the brain benefits of fish, you should eat about eight ounces a week. I grill fish—fresh or frozen—and add it to a salad, or I make salmon cakes with canned salmon, which are a healthy, inexpensive alternative to crab cakes.

Blueberries are my go-to fruit. I “u-pick” them in season and also stock up on them from the store when they are on sale and freeze them to enjoy all year. They are full of antioxidants (found in plants) that prevent cell damage and may increase communication between “brain cells”, improving memory, and keeping your brain from “aging”. I sprinkle blueberries on my morning oatmeal, add them to smoothies and just enjoy them frozen as a sweet, healthy treat.

Turmeric has gotten a lot of attention lately. This spice comes from the turmeric plant and is the main ingredient in curry. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which studies have shown benefits the brain. I add ground turmeric in soups, stews and mashed potatoes which gives them a nice, golden color.

Green tea is an exceptional beverage that supports your brain. Full disclosure I LOVE tea and have never drank a cup of coffee in my life! I’ve had tea in an authentic tea shop in Beijing, China; sipped afternoon tea in Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel; and, enjoyed a cup of British tea in Highclere Castle (setting for Downtown Abbey) in the UK. Green tea is my favorite. The caffeine content in tea (about 1/3 of coffee) boosts alertness, its antioxidants protect the brain, and the amino acid, L-theanine, helps you relax. Just make sure not to add too much sugar.

Tea_Pexels 814264_Maria Tyutina
If you’re not an avid tea drinker, it may take some testing to get the right cup for you. You may have to try a few different flavors to find one that you enjoy. Water temperature and steeping time will also change the flavor of your tea. Follow the directions on the box or check the manufacturer’s website. Brewing a perfect cup doesn’t need to be rocket science, but it helps to follow some general guidelines to avoid a bitter experience. (Photo by Maria Tyutina)

Dark chocolate (another favorite) and cocoa powder are full of flavonoids, an antioxidant that protects brain cells. Studies have shown that people who frequently eat small amounts of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa powder perform better on mental memory tasks, as compared to those who never eat it. Also, chocolate can be a really good mood booster. Just like with green tea, you don’t want to go overboard with the sugar. So limit your daily intake to 1.0 to 1.6 oz per day.

Other foods, such as nuts, eggs and avocados, also contain nutrients that support memory and brain development. So give your brain health a boost and don’t forget to include some of these foods in your diet.