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3 Ways to Lighten Up Holiday Meals

Lighten Up Holiday Meals

The holidays are meant to be celebrated with delicious foods, but too much celebrating can deter you from your fitness goals. Make the season more nutritious with a few simple steps that will lighten up holiday meals.

Go Heavy on the Herbs and Spices

It’s easy to turn to butter, cream, and salt to flavor food. While these ingredients in moderation can fit into a healthy diet, you can save yourself hundreds of calories by turning to herbs and spices for flavor. Fresh thyme, rosemary and a little garlic mixed into mashed potatoes can help you reduce the salt and butter while still keeping it delicious. For sweeter dishes, like sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. The more flavorful the dish, the less sugar or butter you will need to add to make it satisfying.

Keep Things Simple

The more options that are available, the more foods you are going to want to try, whether you are truly hungry or not. Pick a few favorites and keep it simple. Despite the fact that these foods may be higher in calories, you can still follow a healthy eating plan when it comes to nutrients and food groups. Make sure you have protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fat and plenty of vegetables. Serve appropriate portion sizes to limit calories. Also cut fat and calories by keeping preparations simple. Roasted root vegetables and dark leafy greens are the perfect side dishes for a holiday meal. Balance healthy, simple recipes with the heavier holiday favorites.

Make Easy Swaps

There are simple swaps you can make that will save calories, sodium, and saturated fat. If you snack on nuts with pre-dinner cocktails, add in some unsalted, raw varieties. For recipes that call for butter when sautéing, try substituting half or all of it with olive oil. Add pureed fruits like banana, applesauce, or fresh pineapple to naturally sweeten recipes like sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, or baked goods like muffins. Use whole grain bread in stuffing and choose whole grain rolls. When making cream sauces, try substituting some of the cream with unsalted chicken or vegetable stock. They will thicken in a similar way and once it’s mixed into casseroles, it’s difficult to tell the difference.

Healthy Cooking Mistakes

Cooking more of your own food is one way to control what you eat. When you know how much salt, fat, and other ingredients are added, you can better track your intake to meet your fitness goals. While healthy cooking isn’t as complicated as it may seem, it is easy to fall into a few traps. These cooking mistakes may affect your view of healthy foods and prevent you from maximizing the nutritional value of your meals.

You salt before you taste.

Many recipes save adding the salt for the final step, after the food is fully cooked. Do you toss in all the salt before giving it a taste? Everyone’s preferences for salt are different and as you decrease your sodium intake, it’s likely that your taste buds will be happier with much less. Try adding half the salt suggested by the recipe, and then taste the food. You may find that extra salt isn’t necessary.

Your oven over-bakes.

Sometimes the reason you don’t like a food is simply because it hasn’t been prepared correctly. Fish can easily over bake and become tough, roasted vegetables can cook unevenly, and cakes using fruit purees in place of fat or alternative flours can dry out. By getting to know your oven, you can work around these obstacles to make healthy foods that taste delicious. Calibrate your oven temperature and identify hot spots that tend to overcook food. You can learn to lower temperatures when necessary and rotate pans to always get the best results.

You don’t experiment with reducing cooking oil.

The first time you make a recipe, stick to the book and follow the instructions. If it becomes a favorite, try experimenting. Many stovetop recipes that use sautéed vegetables call for two tablespoons or more of olive oil. While sometimes this is necessary, other recipes cook just fine with less, saving you 120 calories for each tablespoon you can reduce. First cut the amount by just a quarter, then try half. You may find that you don’t need all the oil suggested by the recipe.

You don’t weigh and measure.

Unlike baking, cooking doesn’t always require an exact balance of ingredients, but a little too much freedom in your technique could mean extra calories. Adding oils and sauces to pans without measuring, not portioning out an appropriate serving of pasta, and tossing in extra toppings like nuts and seeds can cause your final dish to contain more calories than listed by your recipe. Use your measuring tools to ensure you don’t turn an otherwise healthy dish into a high-calorie meal.

Hidden Artificial Sweeteners

Hidden Artificial SweetenersThere is evidence that loading up on artificial sweeteners may not be the healthiest way to reduce calories. While research is ongoing, some studies show that due to their intensely sweet flavor, these additives can change the way you taste food. Over time this could influence the ability of fruits to satisfy sweet cravings and make other healthy foods taste less appealing. If you want to reduce your intake, read ingredient labels closely, and beware of foods that contain hidden artificial sweeteners.

Types of Artificial Sweeteners

The first step to identifying artificial sweeteners is to know the many names that they go by. There are five approved for use in the U.S. Keep your eye out for acesulfame potassium (K), aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.

Where to Look for Artificial Sweeteners

As these sweeteners became more popular, they were added to a variety of foods. Even foods that are not labeled “diet” or “sugar free” may contain artificial sweeteners. Though many consumers seek to reduce intake, they still remain in some unexpected places.

Chewing gum. While a “sugar-free” label often indicates that a product contains an artificial sweetener, it is easy to overlook with all of the sweet, fruit flavors available. If you often use gum to curb your appetite, but also want to reduce sweeteners, chewing sugar-free gum may not be the best option.

No-calorie waters. There are many sparkling and non-sparkling waters that are calorie free with natural fruit flavors, but read labels closely. Many use artificial sweeteners similar to diet sodas to sweeten the drink without adding calories.

Salad dressings. It’s easy to check the ingredient lists on salad dressing bottles at the supermarket, but when you order a salad at a restaurant, the ingredients are less clear. Some dressings contain artificial sweeteners, even if they don’t taste overly sweet. Ask about ingredients when dining out or look them up online before you go.

Fruit juice. When drinking juice, choose 100 percent fruit juice without added sugar. It’s tempting to try to save calories with “light” versions of juices, but many contain artificial sweeteners. Try mixing half a serving of juice with sparkling water for a refreshing, lower calorie spritzer.

Frozen yogurt. Many frozen yogurts and ice cream bars contain artificial sweeteners so take a close look at food labels. When you swing into a shop for a treat, keep an eye out for no-sugar-added varieties, which often means that artificial sweeteners have been added.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Research shows that chocolate may improve heart health, but not all varieties are equally nutritious. Find out what type to pick and how it can promote good health.

Why is chocolate healthy?

The cacao bean used to make chocolate is rich in flavanols that act as antioxidants, which protect against disease. While these findings have been supported in numerous studies, researchers continue to find more reasons chocolate has a positive impact on health. A recent study showed that good bacteria in the gut convert chocolate to compounds that combat inflammation, a major factor in chronic disease.

The antioxidants in dark chocolate may help reduce risk factors for heart disease and stroke. They have been found to protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from being oxidized, which causes plaque build-up leading to blood clots. There is also evidence that chocolate may lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and through the arteries.

What type of chocolate should I choose?

The darker and less processed a chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains. Milk chocolates are often heavily processed with added fat and sugar. According to University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, the milk in milk chocolate also binds to the antioxidants making them unavailable to the body. Choose bittersweet and semi-sweet dark chocolates that are at least 60 percent cocoa solids. Some health experts recommend 65 percent and higher.

How much chocolate should I eat?

The Cleveland Clinic suggests incorporating 1 ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week, but the Mayo Clinic also notes that 3 ounces of dark chocolate is the dose that some studies have found to provide health benefits. The problem is that this amount of chocolate can contain up to 450 calories, so keep this in mind when choosing a serving. Also, stick with solid dark chocolate. Extras, like caramel fillings, increase the calories and may reduce the overall health benefit.

3 Healthy Ways to Preserve Produce

Ways to Preserve Produce

The fear of fruits and vegetables going to waste makes it challenging to keep the kitchen full of produce. Don’t be afraid to stock up during the next sale. There are many ways to preserve produce that will keep you eating nutritious fruits and vegetables year round.

Dry and Dehydrate

Drying and dehydrating removes the moisture from produce to prevent the food from spoiling. It provides a healthy way to turn fruits and vegetables into shelf-stable treats without added sugar and sodium. Electric food dehydrators dry foods quickly with circulating air at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Fruits and vegetables can also be dried in the oven on it’s lowest temperature setting.

  • It may take some trial and error to successfully dry produce in the oven. Keep the oven door open, rotate pans occasionally, and watch the food closely to prevent scorching.

  • Fruits like apples, apricots, berries, and pears, and vegetables such as carrots, beets, greens, pumpkins, and tomatoes are all good options for drying and dehydrating.

  • Fruits and vegetables can be blended into purees and dried on sheet pans to make leathers that can can be sliced and rolled for an easy snack.

  • Small whole fruits or fruits cut into thin slices dry more evenly. Toss the fruit in lemon juice to help prevent color changes during drying.

  • Vegetables dry well when cut into thin slices or small strips. Blanching (cooking vegetables in boiling water for two to five minutes and then submerging them in an ice bath until cool) before dehydrating will help soften vegetables to promote faster drying.

  • Foods must be completely dry to prevent spoilage during storage. Properly dried fruits and vegetables can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for 6 months to 1 year.

Freeze

Freezing is a healthy and convenient way to preserve your produce, but there are some things to keep in mind to ensure you end up with a healthy and appealing product when it is defrosted.

  • Fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that change the flavor, color and nutrients of produce. These enzymes can remain active even while the food is frozen. Blanching before freezing preserves quality by stalling the action of these enzymes while also killing any bacteria on the surface.

  • Remove all of the air from freezer bags to prevent oxidation and the development of off flavors.

  • Freeze produce soon after purchase. The more quickly a food freezes, the better the quality once it defrosts. Don’t overload your freezer with room temperature foods as this can increase the time it takes to freeze the food.

  • Frozen foods should be stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Most frozen fruits and vegetables can be stored for 8 to 12 months.

  • While most fruits and vegetables freeze well, the National Center for Home Food Preservation advises against freezing cabbage, celery, cucumbers, lettuces, parsley, and radishes. Their high water content leaves them mushy and unappetizing when defrosted.

Ferment

Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria and enzymes that aid digestion. Cabbages and cucumbers are the most commonly fermented vegetables. According to Tufts University, fermenting cabbage to create sauerkraut and kimchi increases the cancer-fighting glucosinolates. The downside of fermentation is that the process requires large amounts of salt. Be sure to limit your overall sodium intake on the days you enjoy fermented foods.

  • Store-bought fermented foods often undergo high-heat cooking and pasteurization, which kills the beneficial bacteria. By making your own fermented vegetables, you can preserve these healthy components.

  • The National Center for Home Food Preservation cautions to use tested and approved recipes when fermenting foods. Do not attempt to alter ingredients such as salt or vinegar. The correct balance of ingredients in necessary to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

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