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What is the best Happy Hour deal…for your health?! Nutritionista answers.

January 25th, 2012 No Comments

This is my favorite mid-day snack!

Right after I took this picture, I wondered, “What is the healthiest bar snack option?”  To me, this seems like it, but the chips are fried and the beer is full throttle.  Although it is a dark beer, which is less caloric than light ales if you can believe it.   Instead of guessing, I emailed Leah, aka Nutritionista who used to contribute regularly to MTM, for the numerical answer.

She responded like a champ!  Read the cold hard facts below.

HAPPY HOUR HEALTH QUIZ

by Nutritionista

Recently, Mary presented me with three common happy hour options and asked a simple question: Which is healthier? I’ve written about how to have a healthy happy hour before, but this seemed like a fun and challenging happy hour dilemma to tackle. Here are the choices Mary gave me:

  • Glass of wine and a bread basket with olive oil at an Italian restaurant
  • Sliders and light beer at a sports bar
  • Skinny margarita with chips and salsa at a Mexican Restaurant

First let’s establish portion size. I went with 3 5-oz. glasses of red wine and 3 smaller pieces of crusty white bread with 1/2 tbsp olive oil for the Italian restaurant, 4 small sliders and 3 12-oz. light beers for the sports bar, and 25 chips + 6 tablespoons salsa and 3 skinny margaritas for the Mexican restaurant.

The first thing most people would probably be tempted to do is look at the calorie count for each of these options. You might be surprised to know that the approximate calorie counts for each happy hour pick are pretty similar: around 850 for the Italian restaurant, 745 for the sports bar, and 745 for the Mexican restaurant. Yes, you could save around 100 calories by avoiding the Italian option, but calorie count isn’t telling us much here.

So let’s go beyond calories, since I don’t think they tell the full health story anyway. The Italian happy hour choice not only has the most calories, but it also has the most carbs by far — around 95g compared to 50g for the sliders and beer and only 35g for the Mexican meal. But that low carb count in the Mexican happy hour might be due to some artificial sweetener in the margaritas — and I definitely don’t think artificial sweetener is healthy. But if you don’t want your blood sugar to spike, stay away from the Italian happy hour with all that bread! White bread has pretty much no redeeming nutritional qualities anyway.

Looking at protein, the sports bar meal packs the most punch, with 30g compared to 16g in the Italian meal and 11g in the Mexican meal. The sports bar meal also has the most fat (presumably from the burgers), which you all know I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. No, the beef in those sliders is probably not very high quality, but the fat will still be more filling.

If I had to give a final verdict, my vote goes to the sliders and beer. It will be far more filling than either of the other options because of the protein and fat. If you want to kick the health factor up a notch, eat your sliders open-face and cut back to two beers. That brings the calorie count down to around 545 and the carb count down to 20g.

If you can mix and match, go with 1-2 glasses of red wine (a healthier option than beer) with 2-3 open-faced sliders. That’s around 400 calories, 15g carbs, and 15g protein. It would also be pretty satisfying because of the protein/fat, and keep you from walking away feeling bloated. Not a bad option!

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Two Easy Midnight Snacks You Can Munch Guilt-Free

April 28th, 2011 No Comments

Whether you’re in the mood for savory or sweet, these midnight snacks will take care of your cravings!

First up: Spicy Pepper Poppers

To make the pepper, just de-seeded bell pepper, stuff it with baby spinach and pieces of Kerry Gold Dubliner cheese (you could use any cheese you have/like, but I like the sharpness of the Dubliner), and then microwavethe whole thing for about two minutes. After cooking, I added crushed red pepper (for the spice), salt, and pepper. The pepper got soft, but still had a little bit of crunch, and the cheese and spinach melted together.

Now for the sweeter side: Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Muffins

You’ll need (makes a dozen muffins):

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 3/4 C walnut pieces
  • 2 1/4 C almond flour
  • 1/2 C honey (you could also use maple syrup)
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 3 t cinnamon
  • 1 t nutmeg

Make it:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine all ingredients except walnuts in a large mixing bowl.
  • Mix well, then fold in walnuts.
  • Grease muffin tin well, and fill cups up 3/4 of the way.
  • Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

These are sweet, but not too sweet, and super filling because of the almond flour! Definitely a late-night snack that won’t weigh you down.

4 Rules for Creating a Satisfying Salad

March 31st, 2011 1 Comment

–By Nutritionista

Salad is the go-to lunch food for many office dwellers, but they also tend to find themselves starving and lethargic when 3pm rolls around. That’s because a lot of salads are just plain bad. Grilled chicken and low-fat dressing does not a satisfying salad make. Let me give you a few rules to creating a satisfying salad that won’t leave you hungry two hours later.

Salad Rule 1: Your salad needs to have at least one form of protein!

Salads without protein are just side dishes. Adding at least one form of protein will make sure your salad gives you sustaining energy, so make sure your salad contains something like:

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • tuna/salmon salad
  • cottage cheese
  • egg salad
  • shrimp
  • bacon
  • cheese
  • beans

Salad Rule 2: Your salad should have at least two forms of fat.

We know that unprocessed fat has a totally unwarranted bad reputation, but don’t forget that it’s also super satisfying. Add two of the following forms of fat to your salad for ultimate satisfaction:

  • olive oil (in a dressing)
  • avocado/guacamole
  • nuts (can count as fat or protein)
  • cheese (can count as fat or protein)
  • shaved coconut

Salad Rule 3: Avoid low-fat, processed dressings.

The best dressing is one you make yourself with olive oil, some form of vinegar, lemon, and whatever herbs and spices you like. I love homemade Greek dressing, and you can make one easily by mixing olive oil, spices like garlic powder, dried oregano, basil, pepper, salt, onion powder, Dijon-style mustard, and red wine vinegar.

Salad Rule 4: Avoid empty carb add-ons like croutons, sesame sticks, tortilla strips, etc.

These will do absolutely nothing to make your salad more satisfying, and they just add carbs and calories. You’re better off adding crunchy nuts of spicy guacamole if you want more texture/flavor.

The 5 Necessary Components of a “Good” Diet

March 24th, 2011 1 Comment

–By Nutritionista

Let me preface this post by explaining that when I use the word “diet” in the following paragraphs, I don’t mean the thing you go on to lose weight. I mean the way you eat in general.

I’m talking about these first two definitions of the word. I especially like “habitual nourishment” as a definition.

Anyway, I want to outline what I think are the 5 necessary components of good habitual nourishment. They’re purposefully a bit ambiguous, but that’s because I believe that everybody needs a slightly different combination (and amount) of foods to feel and look their best.

  1. Is it sustainable for you long-term? My motto is never do anything on a diet that you couldn’t do for the rest of your life. Because if you can’t do it for the rest of your life, you won’t do it for the rest of your life. And that could mean years of yo-yoing and frustration. Make sure that your diet is something you could maintain for the foreseeable future.
  2. Does it provide enough energy? You can’t live on a diet that has you feeling constantly sluggish, rundown, and lethargic. It’s just not sustainable (see #1!). Take care to make sure that you’re diet is one that gives you the fuel and energy you need to live the life you want to live, whether you’re running a marathon every other month or just lucky if you make it to the gym twice a week.
  3. Is it sustainable to the Earth? Sure, you could live on factory-farmed meat and produce flown in from Latin America, but the Earth sure can’t live on that. I recognize that you can’t necessarily accomplish this kind of diet overnight (I recently discussed the two “levels” of health!), but it’s something to be constantly striving for.
  4. Can you easily maintain a healthy weight? If the diet you eat doesn’t allow you to fairly easily maintain a weight at which you look and feel your best, it’s probably not the right diet for you. Sure, you can eat 1,000 calories per day and maintain a “healthy” weight, but it’s going to be a huge struggle. And that’s just NOT sustainable.
  5. Do you like what you’re eating? I certainly can’t ignore taste as one of the crucial components of a good diet! A diet that’s not delicious to you most of the time isn’t going to last. And it won’t be very pleasant. You might even get resentful after a while. So make sure you’re enjoying what you’re eating on the diet you choose.

So, does your diet (or “diet,” in the other sense of the word) live up to these criteria? Are there any others I missed?

Reader Mail: How Can I Change My Lifestyle?

March 10th, 2011 1 Comment

–By Nutritionista

I got this email from a reader a while ago, and thought I’d share it along with my response to her! She writes:

I’ve always been a particularly unhealthy eater. My blessing and my curse is that this unhealthy way of life doesn’t really show up on me physically. But of course, I’m old enough to know better and I am starting to feel the effects of it – I am tired all of the time, I am lazy (hence my ordering a pizza instead of cooking a meal), I make up excuses for not getting food at the grocery store or exercising more. And worst of all, I have a history of heart disease and other ailments in my family. I need your advice on how to start living a healthier lifestyle. And let me tell you, its easier said than done to “just do it”, as everybody tells me – I need baby steps! I want to take care of my body starting at this relatively young age, I want to have energy, I want to exercise more!

This reader has the right idea when she asks for baby steps. That’s EXACTLY how she can gradually live a healthier lifestyle. I want to help her get going, so here are a few things she can start doing TODAY:

  • Focus on eating a nutritious breakfast. She shouldn’t try to overhaul her whole diet at once. If she focuses on changing just one meal at a time, it won’t feel so overwhelming. There’s even a diet based on this principle! Start with breakfast (and definitely eat it, I don’t care if you’re not hungry at first!). My PB&J oatmeal is nutritious, but tastes pretty decadent. You can make it with rolled oats, too, for a faster meal.
  • Start switching from fast food to REAL food, fast. I’ve posted several recipes that take around 10 minutes to prepare (you can’t tell me you can drive to a restaurant and pick up food much quicker than that!). If you have to start with packaged foods, that’s fine, just make sure they’re healthy. Stock up on frozen vegetables, whole grain instant couscous and brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and protein that doesn’t need cooking like tofu, pre-cooked chicken sausage, beans, white deli meat, etc. Then, gradually add foods that require more prep (See my post about Mix & Match eating.)
  • Plan to cook just two to three dinners a week. Ease into the rhythm of cooking dinner by planning just two or three meals a week to cook. Add the ingredients to your grocery list and then plan to cook when you have the most time and will feel the most relaxed. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the number of meals you plan to cook.
  • Add healthy frozen meals to your diet. They’re slightly more expensive than fast food, but totally worth it. I just wrote about Amy’s and other nutritious, yet delectable, frozen meals. There’s no reason why she can’t start replacing a lunchtime burger run with one of those right away.
  • To start, devote just 20 minutes a day to movement. That could be just walking around the block twice. Download a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to and make yourself move while you listen. You can also just turn on some music and dance for 20 minutes (4-5 songs)! Make it a goal to move for 20 minutes straight to start out with.

Hopefully, these tips will get the reader started on the path to healthier eating and living. As she gets more comfortable, she can start cooking and exercising more, but for now, the goals she sets should be small and realistic.

Your Just Desserts

March 3rd, 2011 No Comments

–By Nutritionista

[Post originally published in May 2009.]

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I eat dessert pretty much every night. (MR note: Me too!) And I think you should, too! Follow the guidelines below to enjoy sweet treats in good conscience:

  • Be diligent about portions.

I advocate eating real dessert food, not a “diet” food substitute. If you want a frozen treat, don’t bother with the “no sugar added!” “zero fat!” stuff. Go for a smaller portion of the real thing. It will ultimately be more satisfying.  If you think you’ll have problems controlling the portion, don’t hesitate to portion stuff out as soon as you get it home from the store. Pictured above is my small (but satisfying) portion of coconut milk coconut ice cream (170 calories per half cup) with one or two tablespoons of dark chocolate chips (50 calories per tablespoon). As a general rule, desserts should fall in the 200-300 calorie range and take the place of any other snacks you would’ve eaten in that time period.

  • Redefine dessert.

Fruit is super sweet, it’s delicious, and in the right context (roasted, baked, poached, broiled, etc.), it tastes decadent. Why can’t it be dessert? Reevaluate what counts as dessert. If it’s sweet and satisfies your craving for a little palate cleanser after dinner, isn’t it dessert? Some of my favorite unconventional desserts are dried fruit with nuts or nut butterbaked apples or pears, a tiny piece of high quality dark chocolate, tea with a little soy milk creamer, etc.

  • Keep it real.

Don’t let dessert be an excuse to eat processed food. The other night, I wanted to spice up my coconut milk ice cream. Rather than add some HFCS-rich flavored syrup or candy, I topped the ice cream with sliced banana, walnuts, and a few dark chocolate chips. Instant Chunky Monkey and so delish! Still, all the ingredients were very close to their natural state and even offered some nutritional value. Following these guidelines means you never have to skip dessert again. It’s a shame there’s such a stigma attached to the concept of dessert because I think having something sweet is a great way to end a meal… and it definitely doesn’t have to be detrimental to your health OR weight loss goals!

MR Note: I totally agree with everything she said…but I occasionally love M&M’s…sometimes the whole bag.  On other occasions, just a few.  Don’t hold out, eat what you want and then you won’t crave it!

What I Buy at the Grocery Store

February 24th, 2011 3 Comments

– By Nutritionista

People always ask me what I buy when I go grocery shopping, so I thought I’d shed some light on what items always make my list!

Grocery shopping can be brutal: expensive, time-consuming, and confusing. But to me, it’s mostly just fun and relaxing. That’s because I usually buy the same things every time and don’t branch out into the dubious processed food-filled aisles.

My go-to grocery stores are Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Arbor Farms (a local grocery store that carries the most amazing local, organic, and hormone-free meat!). I buy all my meat at Arbor Farms, but for the sake of this post, I’ll leave it out of the mix. Let me break it down by store for you!

What I buy at Trader Joe’s (mostly snacky stuff):

  • Roasted Seaweed Snacks
  • Just a Handful trail mix
  • big bags of nuts (any kind, usually unroasted and unsalted). Sometimes I’ll get the Chili-Lime mixed nuts (which is almonds, cashews, peanuts, and maybe one or two other types with Thai flavoring and big chunks of dried basil and chili pepper — amazing!).
  • Mini goat cheese and brie
  • Pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs (though last time I went, they were MIA).
  • Avocados — they’re a good deal at TJs.
  • Organic, grass-fed ground beef. It’s pretty cheap here, and as far as I know, it’s the only grass-fed meat they carry.
  • Coconut milk
  • Uncured, nitrite-free bacon. It’s cheaper here than most places.
  • pre-made mire poix. I love when they have this — it’s always SO handy!
  • specialty cheeses. If a recipe calls for gruyere, I’m buying it at TJs!

What I buy at Whole Foods (mostly high-quality staples):

  • Local, raw goat cheese. For some reason, WF is the only place I can find this where I live.
  • Cage-free, organic eggs.  You can also get these at TJs, but I think WF has better options.
  • Meat sticks. Not sure what their official name is, but you find these in the ready-to-cook meat area. You can buy them in beef, bison, or turkey, and they’re a great snack!
  • All my produce, which usually consists mostly of spinach and other leafy greens (love kale!), berries if they’re in season, and other necessities for recipes I’m making. Spaghetti squash has been on the list lately, too.
  • I would buy fish and meat here if they had more wild/local/grass-fed options. Usually, they have at least one grass-fed type of meat, but there’s not a whole lot of choice.
  • Coconut oil/cream/butter (depending on my mood).
  • Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes. I love their “fire roasted” varieties. Definitely a staple.
  • Any other obscure spices/fresh herbs/ingredients. WF has almost anything you’d need. At a price, of course.

Of course, any of this could change depending on what I’m making that week, but these are the things I seek out for the most part.

Click through to the comments to see Mary’s list and add your own. What are the staples on your grocery list, and where do you shop?

All You Ever Needed to Know about Spaghetti Squash

February 17th, 2011 3 Comments

–By Nutritionista

It’s true: There IS a healthier way to eat your favorite pasta dish — with spaghetti squash instead of empty carb-rich spaghetti. But before you get too excited, know that spaghetti squash doesn’t have the same texture, taste, or general mouth-feel as spaghetti. But! It does taste neutral enough — and act enough like spaghetti — to be a very respectable substitute! Here’s what you need to know.

How to find a good one:

When shopping for spaghetti squash, look for hard fruit that is heavy for its size, about eight to nine inches in length and four to five inches in diameter with a pale even color. Avoid any squash with soft spots or a greenish color. The average four-pound spaghetti squash will yield about five cups of “noodles.”

How to cook one:

There are several methods, but I prefer baking (even though it takes a bit longer).

  • Bake it: Preheat your oven to 375. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and place it rind-side up on a baking sheet or dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is tender and you can easily scrape out the noodles with a fork.
  • Boil it: Heat a pot of water large enough to hold the whole squash. When the water is boiling, drop in the squash and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size. When a fork goes easily into the flesh, the squash is done.
  • Microwave it: Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place squash cut sides up in a microwave dish with 1/4 cup water. Cover it with plastic wrap and cook on high for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on size of squash. Add more cooking time if necessary. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then scrape out the noodles.

What to serve with one:

Anything you would serve with regular spaghetti/pasta! A few of my faves:

But seriously, go nuts with pesto, alfredo, etc. It has such a neutral flavor, you really can’t mess it up! One more incredible idea for the road: Mix the squash noodles with the same proportion of real noodles to boost health but maintain a similar pasta texture.