Healthier Taco Recipe

Healthified Baked Tacos

Baked tacos has become one of my favorite dinners to make when I need something nutritious in a hurry. I’ve served them for parties and taken them to carry-in dinners and everyone loves them. The best thing about them is they are easy to make and by substituting ground turkey for ground beef and mixing in a can of fat-free refried beans you can add protein without adding a lot of calories.

Baked Tacos

Ingredients:

1 pound of ground turkey
1 can of vegetarian refried beans
1 package or taco seasoning mix (optional)
3/4 cup salsa
1 cup cheddar cheese
12 hard taco shells
Chopped lettuce, onion, and plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Brown ground turkey. Add refried beans. Stir until hot.

Taco Meat
Add salsa.
Fill taco shells with mixture and place them in an oven proof baking dish.
Sprinkle cheese on top.

Tacos in Dish
Bake for about 20 minutes (or until cheese is melted).
Serve with lettuce, onion, and plain Greek yogurt.

Each taco is about 300 calories.

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Lemon Basil Chicken

This summer I planted basil in a pot on my deck and have had fresh basil with all of its fragrance and flavor to use in dishes. This Lemon Basil Chicken recipe is quick and easy and is a good way to use fresh basil.  I served the chicken on a bed of Quinoa for a low-calorie, nutritious meal.

Fresh Basil

Ingredients:

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Juice of two fresh lemons

3 or 4 fresh garlic cloves, minced

Olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)

1 large bunch of fresh basic, chopped

Lemon Basil Chicken Raw

Directions:

Place the fresh chicken in a baking pan. Spread the minced garlic evenly over the chicken.
Squeeze the juice of the lemon evenly over the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil then place the chopped basil on top.

Cover and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Serve on a bed of brown rice or quinoa.

I made enough to have lunch the next day. The best way for me eat healthy at work is to make extra servings of the healthy meals I make for dinner and then take them for lunch. I bought the microwave container that is perfect portion for lunch at TJ Maxx.

Lemon Basil Chicken

Using cucumbers from the garden I made Hungarian Cucumber Salad which was the perfect side dish.

Cucumber Salad w Paprkia

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Ten Super Foods You Should Be Eating Every Week

As humans we are forever evolving, or if we’re not, we should be. We should be trying new foods and finding which ones are the most important to our individual life and eating style.

Over the years I’ve posted my list of superfoods and realize it’s time for an update. I’ve grown to depend on some foods more than others to keep me nourished, happy and healthy.  Below is a list of foods I eat every week, some every day.

Super Foods

1.   Almonds – Almonds are a prime source of protein and healthy oil. They have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol, and, when eaten with a meal, lower blood sugar.  Almonds are high in vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants.  The best thing about almonds is that they are filling. I eat a few each morning with breakfast and it helps me stay full until lunch. You can add almonds to salads, vegetable dishes, yogurt and baked goods.

2.   Olive Oil – Olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean Diet and is most known for its anti-inflammatory benefits and ability to reduce total blood cholesterol.  It’s also been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of some cancers. Keep in mind when cooking with olive oil that it has a low smoke point so you don’t want to get it too hot or it will lose some of its health benefits. Drizzle olive oil on breads, salads and garden vegetables.

3.   Blueberries – Blueberries are also famous for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  These berries are also believed to improve cognitive benefits and memory.  They may even slow down cognitive problems that are associated with aging. Blueberries are best when fresh but can also be frozen. They are abundant in vitamin K, vitamin C, fiber and manganese.

4.   Bananas – There isn’t anything that compares with bananas when it comes to post-workout recovery.  They have more potassium than sports drinks plus they are a good source of vitamins B6 and C.  Despite their sugar content, bananas are low on the glycemic index due to the amount of fiber and pectins they contain. Bananas can be added to smoothies, eaten with peanut butter or on their own.

Banana Smoothie

5.   Romaine Lettuce – Leafy, crunchy romaine lettuce is my favorite for salads.  It is high in vitamins K, A, C and B1.  Plus, it has fiber and folic acid that’s not found in a lot of other foods.  The best thing about romaine lettuce is its high nutritional value combined with being very low in calories.

6.   Coffee – Okay, it’s not actually a food but it has super powers. The proven benefits of coffee are that it helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver cancer.  It also is known to improve cognitive function and mood and will jump start a workout.  It comes in at zero calories when consumed without any creamers or sugar.

7.   Peppers – Colorful bell peppers are a staple on my grocery list. I add them to pasta dishes, use them as a topping for pizza, and eat them as a snack with hummus. Peppers have more vitamin C than oranges, and are high in antioxidants. We grow mini sweet peppers in pots on the patio in the summer and by fall we have a harvest of beautiful peppers to eat.

Sweet Mini Peppers are an excellent replacement for chips and other crunchy snacks.

Sweet Mini Peppers are an excellent replacement for chips and other crunchy snacks.

8.   Chia Seeds – Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have an abundance of antioxidants.  They also provide calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc. Research has shown that eating chia can lead to improvement in certain health conditions and has long been known as runner’s food. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds and it came them sustained energy.  The seeds can be added to oatmeal, yogurt, breads, and sauces.

9. Garlic – The sulfur component of garlic is, in part, what makes it a super food.  Sulfur is an important component for good health and helps keep blood pressure under control.  Some people may be deficient in sulfur so a daily dose of garlic is a good way to replenish your supply. The best way to buy garlic is fresh and whole. You can use a garlic press or a knife to chop it before adding it to soups, salads, meats and main dishes.

Garlic

10. Black Beans -Black beans are rich in fiber and protein which support the regulation of blood sugar. The beans are also a good supply of anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants and give support to the digestive tract. They are low in calories and high in protein and can be prepared in a variety of ways including black bean brownies.

I encourage everyone to experiment to find the foods that work for them.  A super food is a whole food that is high in nutrition, has the ability to improve your health when eaten on a regular basis. Most important, they must be foods that you enjoy eating.

What foods are on your super food list?

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Improve Hydration and Recovery With This Home Made Sport Drink Recipe

For years you’ve been told to drink eight or more glasses of water a day. People bring a bottle of water to work meetings, have another bottle in the cup holder of the car for short trips across town, and ladies carry them in their purses. We’ve become obsessed with drinking water.

Drinking enough water is important, and if you’re exercising or working outdoors in the heat you might think that increasing the amount you drink is the best way to avoid dehydration or heat related illnesses. But excessive water intake can flush your system of important nutrients resulting in a condition called hypnotremia.

What’s Hypnotremia?

Hypnotremia, or water intoxication, occurs when you drink so much water that your blood and sodium concentrations (electrolytes) get out of whack. Early symptoms of hypnotremia are similar to dehydration. Symptoms include feeling light headed or dizzy, nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation and confusion. Untreated, hynotremia can result in more extreme conditions including seizures, a coma or even death.

Many athletes and people that work outdoors at length in the heat need to do more than just increase the amount of water they drink. They need to increase their sodium intake too. Most do this by drinking Gatorade, Powerade or other commercial sports drinks that advertise that they are effective in maintaining electrolyte balance.

It’s true that these sports drinks contain significant amounts of sodium. They also have artificial colors, phosphoric acid and a ton of sugar.  Gatorade has three and a half teaspoons of sugar per eight ounce serving. The low calorie versions replace the sugar with controversial artificial sweeteners.

You can avoid all of the ‘extras’ that commercial sports drinks have to offer by making your own using a quality sea or Himalayan Mountain salt.

Home Made Sport Drink Tips

My rehydration solution uses green tea as a base, Real Salt and Chia seeds

My rehydration solution uses green tea as a base, Real Salt and Chia seeds

Here are a couple of tips before you get busy making your own sports rehydration drink:

1. Choose A Quality Salt –Not all salt is the same.  For your sports drink you’ll want to use a quality salt that contains additional minerals. I did my research because I’ve been hearing about Himalayan Mountain salt being the mother of all salts, however, there are numerous articles that say Himalayan Mountain salt is no better than regular table salt. I couldn’t find a Himalayan salt that listed any ingredients other than ‘sodium’ on the label so I decided to buy Redmond’s Real Salt that provides a full disclaimer of contents. Redmond’s salt contains 10 minerals in addition to sodium.

Real Salt

 2.  WHO Rehydration Solution – The recipe below is based on the World Health Organization’s oral rehydration solution.  Be aware that it will taste saltier and not nearly as sweet as the commercial products that you may be used to. You can adjust the amount of sodium and sugar or add the solution to a juice or tea to dilute it more and add flavor.

3.  Add Cucumbers or Fruit – Fill a glass with ice, pour in the sports drink and then add slices of lemon, lime, and orange.  Try adding sliced cucumbers and other fruits to enhance the flavor and increase the nutrients in the water.

4. Be Creative – Use coconut water or brewed tea as the base and add additional enhancers like Chia seeds and Emergen-C.  You can get creative with your concoction, find out what works best for you and turn your beverage into a rehydrating energy drink.

Basic Home Made Sports Drink Recipe

This recipe is based on the oral rehydration recipe published by the World Health Organization:

Ingredients:

- 1 quart of water, brewed tea or coconut water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (preferably Redmon’s Real salt, sea salt, or Himalayan Mountain salt).
- 1 -2 tablespoons sugar or sweetener. (You can use honey, aquave nectar, stevia, etc.)

Directions:

- Place slightly warmed liquid in a glass container.
- Add sea salt and sugar or sweetener
- Stir or shake until the ingredients are dissolved.
- Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Adding back the sodium that you lose when you sweat is critical to eletrolyte balance that can’t be restored by drinking plain water. Making your own sports drink is a healthier option and less expensive than buying the store brands. In my concoction (pictured above) I used green tea as the base, then I added lemon slices and chia seeds.

Do you have a favorite recipe for hydration?  Drop it in the comment section below.

*Note – People that have hypertension or other conditions where limited salt intake is recommended should check with their doctor before trying this recipe, or consuming any of the commercial sport drinks.

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Mediterranean Diet Prevents Overweight and Obesity In Children

Most parents are emphatic about their role as the guardian and care giver of their children.

A parent puts their child in car seat to drive three blocks for a play date. They do exhaustive research and check the references of the local day care centers before making a choice to leave their child there. At home the cabinets are secured with safety latches, the fire detectors have working batteries, and a camera keeps an eye on babies and toddlers while they sleep.

The parent needs and wants to make sure that their children stay out of harms way.  But that’s not all. As a parent, your goal is to raise children to be healthy, active, productive adults.

If you’ve watched the Fed Up movie trailer and follow the trends on childhood obesity and diabetes you know that raising a healthy child is getting harder. Currently 17% of our children are overweight or obese. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to 25%. Each year nearly 4,000 children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Fed Up isn’t the first movie to make these claims.  The HBO documentary, The Weight Of The Nation tackles the same issues and presents a startling and scary look at what is happening to the health of our children. The Weight of The Nation says that unless you do something different than the average American your children will grow up to be overweight or obese.

The good news is that your child is probably not predestined for overweight, obesity or diabetes.  There is not an unstoppable force that you, as the parent and guardian of your children, can’t do something about. You can make sure that your child doesn’t becomes a statistic and it might be easier to do than you think.

Child eating fruit

Flickr photo by Bruce Tuten

Mediterranean-Style Diet Prevents Overweight and Obesity In Children

A recent study suggests that adopting a Mediterranean eating style will help prevent overweight and obesity in children.  The study looked at the weight and eating habits of more than 9,000 children in eight countries for a two year period.  The children’s weight and body fat was measured at both the beginning and end of the study.

The study found that kids that followed a Mediterranean style diet were 15 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not follow that type of diet.

“The promotion of a Mediterranean dietary pattern is no longer a feature of Mediterranean countries,” the researchers said. “Considering its potential beneficial effects on obesity prevention, this dietary pattern should be part of obesity prevention strategies and its promotion should be particularly intense in those countries where low levels of adherence are detected.”

The study was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the European Congress on Obesity in Bulgaria. Until then they’ve published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, findings presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary.

Adopting a Mediterranean Lifestyle Can Help You Too

The Mediterranean diet was first publicized by Dr. Ancel Keys and became popular in the 1990s. The ‘diet’ is based on mimicking the eating patterns of the people that live in countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea; Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, to name a few.

Along with a longer life expectancy, people that live in these areas are found to have lower rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Ironically these are the same health conditions that are on the rise in the United States and Europe.

The Mediterranean Diet is similar to the Paleo plan in that it calls for eating whole or ‘real’ foods but does not go to the extreme of eliminating entire food groups.

The diet calls for eating an abundance of plant foods, fresh fruits, beans, nuts and whole grain cereals such as oats, barley, corn and brown rice. Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat. Cheese and yogurt (with no sugar added) are the main sources of dairy. Moderate amounts of fish and poultry are consumed. Eggs are limited, and so is read meat.

Below is a picture of the Mediterranean food pyramid that shows the foods that are to be eaten in quantity and those that are to be limited.

Mediterranean pyramid

Flickr photo by alenjandromercer

There’s nothing particularly epic about the eating plan. It is based on applying common sense to the way we eat so that most of the foods we consume are dense in nutrients and low in calories, sugar and fat. The diet also calls for healthy amounts of physical activity throughout the week.

Getting children started at a young age eating fruits and vegetables, lean sources of proteins, and whole grain cereals may be the best prevention there is to make sure they don’t become an overweight teen or young adult.

My call to action for you is to change the way you eat by starting a Mediterranean Project in your household. There’s no need to go it alone. Invite you friends and family join you!

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Sweet Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Lime Dressing

This recipe has been circulating lately so I decided to try it for the holiday weekend. I needed a new salad since I always seems to fall back on my favorites, broccoli salad, and corn and black bean salad.

This was delicious but I must confess that I did not grill the corn as the original recipe suggested.  I was in a rush and didn’t want to heat up the grill.  I had some delicious sweet corn that I boiled gently for about eight minutes then let it cool until I could hold onto the ear to cut the corn off of the cob.

This salad is excellent! The secret is to have quality sweet corn, semi-ripe avocados and tender cherry tomatoes.

Corn Avocado Salad Ingredients

Ingredients:

4 ears of sweet corn
Small carton of cherry tomatoes
2 medium avocados
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons Canola oil
Juice of one lime
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cilantro
Sea salt and coarse black pepper

Directions:

Grill or boil the corn until tender, then remove the kernels from the cob.
Halve cherry tomatoes (You can use as many as you like. I used about a cup and a half)
Peel, core and chop avocados
Dice onion and celery
Mix altogether in a large bowl

In a small bowl mix the lime juice, garlic, honey, cilantro, salt and pepper.

Salad Dressing

 

Toss the corn, avocado, tomato mixture with the dressing.

Corn Tomato and Avocado Salad

Delicious!

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Ten Easy Ways To Add More Fruits and Veggies To Your Diet

If you’re signed up for the #FedUpChallenge and have decided to get the sugar out of your diet – at least for the next 10 days – it will be easier for you if you have plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables to eat. The nutrients in fruits and vegetables will help lower your sweet cravings and balance out your blood sugar.

When you’re at the grocery, purchase a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you can make your own creative dishes that are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that will fill you up.

Here are ten tips for getting more fruits and veggies in your diet:

1.  Keep It Simple – Cubed cucumbers, sliced cherry tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, parsley and a little salt and pepper go together to make a crunchy salad that you can put together in less than 10  minutes. Experiment with the fruits and vegetables that you have on hand to make winning combinations.

Cucumber Cherry Tomato Salad

2. Choose Kale and Spinach – Rather than buying iceberg or head lettuce, use kale and spinach as the base for your green salads.  These leafy greens will bump up the nutrition and the flavor.  Both are superfoods that have an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fiber. This Kale and Pomegranate Salad is tossed with a light dressing and feta cheese.  It is perfect for a quick side salad for your family and pretty enough for guests.

Kale and Pomagranate salad

3. Veggies + Quinoa + Shrimp = One-Dish Meal – I sauteed a mixture of veggies that I had on hand – mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms and asparagus – in a skillet with olive oil and garlic. Then I added a few currants (raisins) for a little sweetness. (Remember naturally occurring sugars are okay.) Mixed with shrimp and quinoa, this is a hearty one-dish meal that packs a nutritious punch. Shrimp Quinoa is a family favorite:

Shrimp Quinoa Skillet

4.  Wrap It In Lettuce – You can reduce your overall carb intake by using lettuce as a wrap in place of a tortilla. If you’re like us, you’ll find that you like them better because the crispy lettuce leaves enhance the flavor of the other ingredients. Asian Lettuce Wraps can be made in a few minutes for a quick dinner or rolled as an appetizer for guests.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Asian Lettuce Wraps

5.   Holiday Salads - Memorial Day weekend is coming and you might be looking for a salad to take to a picnic.  This Edamame Salad is perfect.  It has black beans, corn, onion and lemon juice that blend together for a delicious combination.

Edamame Salad

Edamame Salad

6.  Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth – There are ways to satisfy your sweet tooth without indulging in processed sugar.  Sweet potatoes, prunes, raisins, and fruit smoothies are all ways to get a sweet ‘fix’ without eating something that has three or four teaspoons of sugar.  This Butternut Squash Soup is sweet, creamy and filling and will satisfy your sweet craving.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

7. Try A Smoothie For Breakfast – Breakfast can be a challenge.  Think of all of the breakfast foods that are loaded with sugar.  Waffles, syrup, jelly, bagels, donuts, lattes, and on and on.  If you make your own fruit smoothie for breakfast you can get a full day’s worth of nutrition in a blender.  Greek yogurt, fruit, low-fat milk, and a handful of spinach makes this a breakfast meal that will keep you satisfied until lunch. Karen’s Low-Fat Green Smoothie is a super-food!

Green Fruit Smoothie in A Blender

Green Fruit Smoothie in A Blender

8.  Replace Sugary Desserts With Fruit – You can appeal to your sweet tooth with the sugar that is found naturally in fruit.  Summer and fall are the best time of the year to shop farmer’s markets and the local grocery for seasonal fruits that you might not be able to find at other times of the year.  Fresh berries, cherries, peaches and plums in a pretty glass or bowl can replace fully loaded sugary desserts like cookies and pastries.

Fruit Trifecta

9.  Try Something New – If you have a habit of buying broccoli, carrots and green beans every week at the store, take a look at some of the other, less popular veggies and give them a try.  Leafy greens like collard and bok choy are easy to prepare and supply nutrients that you’re probably not getting in the more common vegetables.

Stir fry in olive oil, garlic and ginger.

Stir fry in olive oil, garlic and ginger.

10.  Add Fruits and Vegetables To Water – Beyond adding citrus fruits to your water, you can toss in watermelon slices, berries, and cucumbers to give your water some zest along with added flavor and nutrition.  Cucumber water is one of my favorites.

Cucumber water

Cucumber water

Over To You

What tips do you have to cut back on sugar and add fruits and vegetables to your diet?

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The Weight Loss Tip No One Is Talking About

Every day my inbox fills up with Google Alerts that I’ve subscribed to so I can stay up-to-date on weight loss products [gimmicks], fitness tips and health and wellness news.

There’s not much new news in the weight loss alerts.  There are a lot of articles promoting garcinia cambogia. Recently John Janetzko’s personal testimony about how he lost 125 pounds but still feels fat has been popular.

And blogs giving tips to people that want to lose weight without dieting never lose their appeal. The tips are typically things that you’ve heard before like drink water before meals and use a smaller plate. All good stuff, but it would take a lot of these relatively mundane tips to add up to weight loss of any significance.

The one tip that would help people not only lose the weight, but keep it off, is missing. It doesn’t make the tip lists and isn’t trending in the alerts.

What’s the one weight loss tip that no one is talking about?

Home. Cooked. Meals.

Casserole

The biggest lifestyle change that you can make to lose weight and improve your overall health is to prepare your own meals 95 percent of the time.

Eating Out Leads To Weight Gain

The Keystone Forum, a panel funded by the FDA, studied the relationship between eating meals away from home and the increasing number of overweight Americans. The number of times the average American eats away from home has doubled over the past 25 years.  Americans now eat food not prepared at home more than four times a week. The biggest problem with eating out often is the food portions are bigger and are higher in fats and calories than home-cooked meals.

The Keystone Forum released a report from the study that made these observations:

  • Frequently eating foods prepared away from home is associated with obesity, higher body fat and a higher BMI.
  • Women who eat foods prepared outside the home more than five times per week consume about 290 more calories on average each day than women who eat these foods less often.
  • Eating more fast-food meals is linked to eating more calories, more saturated fat, fewer fruits and vegetables, and less milk.

The study also found that eating out has had an impact on the rising incidence of overweight and obesity in children and teens.

Prep, Planning and Basic Skills Are All You Need

There are plenty of reasons why people don’t cook their own meals.  Lack of time, interest or know-how are all factors. If your life is hectic with a job and family responsibilities, relying on take-out or eat-and-eat meals from the grocery might seem like the best option. But with some basic recipes and a little planning you can prepare healthy meals that your family will love.

If you’re not sure where to begin, Kalyn’s Kitchen.com is a home-cooking blog that has an index of healthy recipes with step-by-step instructions and pictorials. A few months ago I published The Top Ten Healthy Recipe Web Sites. This post that provides links to the best healthy recipe web sites for you to bookmark.

If culinary skills is what you’re lacking there are also plenty of resources on-line that can help you need prepare healthy, tasty dishes.  Check out the list of free online cooking classes at About.com. This page is full of links where you can go to learn the skills you need to be a cooking wizard in your own kitchen.

You may be able to find live cooking classses locally. Junior colleges, park districts, and food co-ops often offer healthy cooking classes to the community for a nominal fee.

The Weight Loss Tip That’s Not In Google

Weight loss is a popular topic and everyone that wants to lose weight is looking for pointers. A Google search for ‘weight loss tips’ provides 280,000,000 results.

Undeniably the fast food tidal wave that began in the 1970s giving us quick access to high calorie, low quality meals is largely to blame for our 21st century obesity problem.  The only way to fix the problem is to avoid what caused it to begin with.

When you do the cooking you control the ingredients, fat, sodium, calories and quality. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health.

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Superfood Salad With Kale and Cherry Tomatoes

Kale, cherry tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives and feta cheese make this delicious superfood salad. I used these beautiful, colorful Sangria tomatoes in my salad:

Sangria tomatoes

 Salad Ingredients:

5 cups of chopped kale
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup of kalamata olives
1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 tablespoons of feta cheese

Dressing Ingredients:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

In a large bowl combine the salad ingredients.  In a small bowl whisk the olive oil, sea salt, cider vinegar and dijon mustard together.

Right before serving, add the dressing to the salad for a delicious, nutritious, colorful salad.

Kale Salad

The options for add-ins to the salad are endless. You can add:

  • chopped kiwi
  • sliced mushrooms
  • slivered almonds
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped cucumbers
  • clementine slices
  • walnuts
  • sesame seeds
  • peas
  • edamame

Toss in whatever you have on hand that will add flavor and crunch!

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Are Processed Foods Bad For You (or is this just another diet fad)?

We’ve been through the low-fat-high-carb and the low-carb-high-protein phase.  We’ve read about Paleo, intermittent fasting and green coffee beans. Now ‘experts’ are telling us to forget everything we’ve learned so far.  What we need to do is remove the processed foods from our diet and eat ‘real’ food.

That sounds pretty simple but what exactly does that mean? And, more importantly, is this just one more fad that we’ll find doesn’t work either?

This is where it all began.

This is where it all began.    Flickr photo by (Bayswater 97)

Is Swanson To Thank (or blame)?

When the Swanson TV dinner made its debut in 1954 the convenience food blitz began.  The Swanson TV dinner was a novelty and  moms that needed a break from the kitchen were crazy about them. Mom would heat up the frozen meals (on occasion) as a treat to dad and the kids for dinner.  More than 10 million TV dinners were sold during their first year in production.

The spin-offs that came from the original Swanson turkey and dressing dinner with corn that was packaged in a tin foil tray are beyond imagination. Today supermarkets are lined with heat-and-eat dinners and other easy-to-prepare packaged foods that provide meals for millions of Americans three times a day (plus snacks) every day.

Each time you buy one of these easy to prepare food you’re getting more than you realize.  Along with your Swanson turkey and dressing and Kraft mac and cheese you’re getting preservatives to keep the food from rotting, colorants that increase eye appeal, flavor enhancers for taste, and texturants that make the foods more palatable.

Processed foods also contain varying amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and vegetable oils. Processed foods are typically low in fiber and nutrients and are easy to digest so we want to eat again sooner than we would if we ate a whole food.

To top that off, researchers are now convinced that these foods that we’ve all become so accustomed to are addictive.  People that eat them develop cravings that keep them coming back for more. The more you eat the more you want and the harder it is to stop.

Processed Foods and Chronic Disease

There’s some pretty compelling evidence that shows the impact that the deluge of processed foods has had on our health since families sat down to the Swanson TV dinner 40 years ago. Over the last four decades there has been a sharp increase in the consumption of processed foods.  Processed foods now make up 70% of the Americans diet.

The rise in overweight, obesity and chronic disease runs parallel to that trend.  Diseases that were at one time associated with aging – diabetes, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease and cancer– are now being diagnosed in children as young as three and four years old.

Scientists have also linked processed foods to autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, alopecia, asthma and eczema.  And a 2012 study suggests that the epidemic of autism in U.S. children may be associated with the American diet.

Not All Processed Foods Are Bad

Most foods that you purchase have been through some processing. Whether it’s a bag of fresh-cut spinach or a container of frozen blueberries, something has had to take place to get the food from the farmer to the grocer.

Frozen and fresh packaged fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are minimally processed foods that have been prepped for packaging. There’s no reason to avoid buying and eating these foods unless you have access to fresh foods all of the time.

Foods with ingredients added for flavor, texture, and preservation are more heavily processed. These foods may not need to be completely avoided, but a quick look at the label will tell you if they contain ingredients that are risky to consume. A long label with a list of ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce is a red flag. So are foods that have added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and trans fats.

The most heavily processed foods are the most convenient.  Ready-to-eat foods like frozen pizzas, microwave meals, and foods that can be prepared by adding boiling water all indicate that they have been through a radical procedure and are the farthest away from resembling a real food. A dependence on these foods increases your risk for obesity and chronic disease.

Take Care Of Yourself First

The idea that eating ‘real’ food is the solution for weight management and overall better health is here to stay.

The correlation between processed foods and poor health has been proven. What you can do is look at what foods you’re eating and feeding to your family and decide if that’s the healthiest choice you can make.  It’s up to each of us to stop buying the crap that the food industry is trying to sell us.  That alone will inspire them to change.

If you want to learn more about the food industry and the products that are on the shelves of groceries everywhere, check out the trailer of the documentary “Fed Up” that reveals how processed foods have led to one of the largest health epidemics in American history.

If we are going to change our health, we have to change the way we eat. Giving up convenience foods might not be easy but it will be worth it. To get started, head over to the 100 Days of Real Food web site and sign up for the 10 Day Challenge. If you take it 10 days at a time you’ll find it’s easier to get off the heat-and-eat-train and on the road to better health.

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