How to Reduce Advanced Glycation End Products

Reducing advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in your diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and prevent premature aging!

What are AGEs?

You may have heard of AGEs before, but what exactly are they? AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, are a type of harmful compound that forms when proteins or fats combine with sugars in the bloodstream through a process called glycation. These compounds are known to increase inflammation and oxidative stress and can damage tissues, contributing to the development of various chronic diseases. 

Where are AGEs found?

AGEs, also known as glycotoxins, are form when high fat animal foods, such as meat is exposed to high heat. Cooking methods like grilling, frying, and roasting, as well as processed foods tend to be high in AGEs.

Although the body has a way of eliminating AGEs, excessive AGEs in our circulation can produce harmful effects. Exposure to AGEs has been linked to an increased risk of inflammation, oxidative stress, and cell damage. These effects can lead to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

How can you avoid AGEs?

The main source of AGEs is from our diet. While the formation of AGEs is part of normal metabolism, excessive amounts may be harmful. There are several ways you can reduce exposure to AGEs.

  1. Cook using moist methods, such as steaming, poaching or boiling, that don’t involve high dry heat
  2. Limit your consumption of processed foods
  3. Use shorter cooking times
  4. Cook food gently using lower temperatures
  5. Include acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice and vinegar which inhibit the formation of AGE
Photo by Andy Kuzma on Pexels.com

The standard American diet is often high in processed foods that have higher levels of AGEs, so it’s important to limit your intake of these foods. Some processed foods that are high in AGEs include:

  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Chips
  • Pizza

Carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk tend to be lower in AGEs, even after cooking.  Foods that are lower in AGEs include:

  • whole-grain bread and pasta
  • yogurt
  • beans and legumes
  • fruit
  • low-fat milk products

There is evidence that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome may also contribute to lower levels of circulating AGEs. This is because gut bacteria have the ability to degrade AGEs during the digestive process. Consuming a diet rich in probiotic foods such as fermented foods -kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir – and taking a probiotic supplement can support a healthy gut microbiome. You can learn much more about gut-friendly foods in a previous post – How to Heal Your Leak Gut.

Lastly, consuming a diet rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals may also contribute to reducing cell damage caused by AGEs.

A Diet low in AGEs

Human studies suggest that a low-AGE diet reduces oxidative stress and inflammation. These studies revealed increased insulin sensitivity, which can help maintain weight loss over time, as well as reduced markers of inflammation.

So what does a low-AGE diet look like? Here are two sample menus with some of my favorite meal plan recipes that utilize ways to reduce AGE levels:

Menu 1

Breakfast: Orange Cardamom Overnight Oats

Lunch: Kale and Sweet Potato Salad with Walnuts

Snack: Yogurt with Blueberries

Dinner: Whole-grain Pasta with Beans, Garlic, and Arugula served with Simple Poached Salmon

Menu 2

Breakfast: Chocolate Fudge Smoothie with Hemp Seeds

Lunch: Quinoa Tabbouleh

Snack: Low-fat Cottage Cheese with Raspberries

Dinner: African Peanut Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

Final Thought

The current AGE research demonstrates that a significantly reduced intake of AGEs can be achieved by increasing the consumption of fish, legumes, low-fat milk products, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and by reducing intake of solid fats, fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and highly processed foods.

Reducing your exposure to AGEs is a good way to support your overall health, prevent premature aging and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Making simple changes to the way you cook and eat can help protect your health in the long term by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. If you need a little inspiration for healthy cooking, click here for my free weekly recipe!


5 Strategies for Meal Prep to Make Back-to-School a Breeze

Are you a parent of children who are heading into another school season? If so, then you might be feeling overwhelmed by the preparations that need to be made for this time of year. 

There is so much to do before that school bell rings! One thing I’m really looking forward to this fall is a new well-oiled meal prep routine.

One important strategy to lighten your load this school season is your meal prep strategy. In this post we will explore five strategies for back-to-school meal prep that will save you time and energy. Plus, you’ll love that your family is eating well.

I hope it helps make things easier for you and keeps everyone happy and healthy during these busy days!

Delegate

No matter your children’s age, they can help at some level with meal prep and lunch packing. Unfortunately, this is one parenting lesson I didn’t learn early enough. So get the kiddos involved as soon as possible and make it fun! 

Kids love to participate in food prep. Whether it’s cutting up ingredients, packing sections of their bento lunch boxes or stirring muffin batter, giving them some responsibilities will help your child to eat their meals if they’ve had a role in their creation!

Kids are also more likely to try new foods – even fruits and vegetables – if they’ve helped to prepare them. I’ll never forget the time my daughter ate smoked salmon in 1st grade and loved the idea of packing her “lox in the box” for lunch.

Plan and prep ahead

It is hard for any of us to make the best food decisions when we’re tired or frazzled – even a dietitian! Having a plan A and even a plan B helps to keep meals running smoothly, no matter how the day unfolds. 

Using a meal plan as a guide can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on a meal plan but it can help to get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy. Select three dinners and a few snacks for each week of the month. Stick with it until you have a repertoire of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation – this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box appearances when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers. 

My favorite dinner leftover combinations include: 

  • Shredded chicken tacos with salsa and prepared guacamole
  • Vegetable chili with cheese and crackers
  • Beef stew with rice 
  • Tofu or other protein kabobs with pasta and prepared pesto sauce
  • Broccoli Cheddar soup with whole grain toast wedges

A  helpful tip to leveraging dinner as lunch is to scale your recipes to ensure you have enough for lunch the next day. Also, pack lunches BEFORE you eat dinner to avoid adding burden to your already busy morning schedule.

Batch your work

We talk about batching work with tasks at the office, but what about in the kitchen? Same time-saving principle applies!

Here are a few ideas:

If your kiddos love smoothies for breakfast, batch your smoothie packs in cups or bags in the freezer so that breakfast is as simple as dumping the ingredients into the blender and adding their favorite milk or juice to blend. 

Cutting veggies take time so why not cut up your child’s favorite vegetables (or have your child do it with you) once or twice a week and store them in baggies that are ready to toss into the lunch box. Or store all of the sliced veggies in a container so that packing their bento lunch box is that much faster.

And if you know that you’re cooking two different dinners that call for chopped onions and celery, chop up enough veggies for both dinners. You’ll be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second recipe! 

Use a template

How else can we reduce your mental load? Follow a template whenever you can!

If your child uses a bento box to pack their lunch, assign a food group to each section. Whole grains go on the left, fruits below, a protein on the right, and so on. Discuss what “counts” for each section of their lunch and brainstorm choices that fit into each category. From there, your child can pack their lunch with less input from you.

And for dinners, have some regular meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power. For example, Taco Tuesdays! Use the crockpot to cook your favorite taco filling and dinner will be mostly ready when you and your crew get home hungry. A few other ideas are breakfast for dinner, pizza Fridays and getting a rotisserie chicken on Mondays. My favorite is sheet pan dinners where I roast pre-cut vegetables and protein coated with olive oil and our favorite seasonings in a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. I have included the recipe for the Balsamic Vegetable Sheet Pan Dinner as a template below. Just vary the vegetables (remember to batch your work), protein and seasonings to make it your own.  

Adjust your expectations

When your circumstances change, so too does your patience and bandwidth. This is completely normal! In this back-to-school season, remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities to attend and more to-dos each day, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify and delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself, or create meals in the same way as when you have more time. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts.

Key takeaways:

Change always comes with a bit of stress, and back-to-school is full of changes! Be patient  with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!


How to reduce inflammation with Diet and Lifestyle

Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammatory. “For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods combined with an active lifestyle can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet.

Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)

How does chronic inflammation begin? 

It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

How to reduce Inflammation

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body. 

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet 

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)

If you need a little help incorporating all these principles into your daily diet, check out Healthydigz’s anti-inflammatory eating plan . You will find weekly menus, delicious recipes, and shopping lists for your customizable meal plan.

Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Be physically active

  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
A person training with resistance band.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Get enough restful sleep

  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day

Manage your stress

  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
Three women practicing yoga
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

Be social

  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)

See your doctor or dentist

  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist

Final Thoughts

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, consult a registered dietitian/nutritionist who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


A Guide to Successful Gluten-free Baking

Baking is a science. Unlike traditional wheat-based flours, gluten-free flours typically require additional ingredients that contribute to successful gluten-free baking when it comes to binding, texture, and structure (due to the absence of gluten). Each flour has a different flavor, texture, and nutritional attributes. Understanding the personality of each gluten-free flour will help you choose the most suitable one for your recipe. 

Before we get into the types of gluten-free options and how to make DIY flour blends, let me answer a few basic gluten-free baking questions.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains that provides structure in baked goods. The most common gluten-containing grains include wheat, barley, and rye. It’s also found In relatives of wheat like spelt and kamut.

Can I just substitute a gluten-free flour for all-purpose in my favorite recipes?

It might be tempting to sub a gluten-free flour for all-purpose 1:1 and hope for the best! However there’s a good chance it might not turn out quite right. Some baked goods are more forgiving than others. Use the information below to determine if and when you need to alter amount and/or add ingredients like starches or binders.

How will gluten-free flour affect the baking time?

Most gluten-free baked goods will require a longer baking time to prevent a gummy, mushy texture. The reason? More liquid. The “toothpick test” isn’t the best indicator of doneness so make sure your oven is calibrated properly and use the time instead.

What about store-bought gluten-free flour? 

Some popular flour companies now make 1:1 gluten-free baking flour blends that already have a proper mix of flours and starches (like xanthan gum). It’s a great option in a pinch because you can use as a 1:1 replacement for all-purpose flour and it mimics results of all-purpose flour. Just note that these are typically rice-based, so they aren’t as nutritionally dense as some of the other options mentioned here. They can also be expensive.

Photo by Klaus Nielsen on Pexels.com

Rice Flour

Light, mild and easy to digest. Often used to make noodles in Asian cuisines. It’s also rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. A common ingredient In store-bought flour blends because it’s texture is most similar to all-purpose.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea (or garbanzo bean) flour contains significantly more fiber and protein than others on this list. It’s also a good source of plant-based iron. Popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.

Millet Flour

Millet flour has a mild, sweet flavor and a cake-like crumb. It works great in muffins and quick-breads. It’s also a very nutritious whole grain.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite what the name suggests, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. It’s often used to make noodles (soba), pancakes and Russian blini. This flour adds a beautiful deep brown color to baked goods and has a nutty flavor.

Almond Flour

This may be the most versatile of the bunch. Almond flour has a high fat content which equates to moisture, tenderness and rich flavor. It can produce a “heavy” final product at times which might not rise as easily as traditional wheat flour baked goods. 

Coconut Flour 

It has a sweet coconut flavor and is very high in fiber. Note that it is also highly absorbent, so you’ll only need a small amount (1/3 or 1/4 as much) and you’ll likely need to combine it with another flour for structure.

Oat Flour 

Oat flour is made from milled oats and has a mild flavor. It’s light texture lends soft and fluffy quality to baked goods. Remember that oats need to be certified gluten-free as they are often cross-contaminated. 

Cassava Flour 

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates and high in fiber. This flour is similar to wheat, so works well in a variety of baked goods.

Why use binders and starches? 

In baking, gluten allows dough to come together and become elastic (think pizza dough!). When working with gluten-free flours, you’ll need to add an extra ingredient that does its job. This is where binders (like gums) and starches come in. In baking, these ingredients help hold everything together. They also add much-needed moisture and a more pleasant texture. Too much can lead to a gummy final product so it’s important to use the correct amount. See below for a description of some of the more popular options available. 

CornStarch

Commonly used to thicken sauces and and soups. It’s not usually recommended in baked goods because it can taste too starchy. 

Arrowroot Powder

Flavorless. Similar to cornstarch and a great substitute for those who avoid corn. Use it to thicken sauces or pie filling. Sub 2 teaspoon for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Tapioca Starch

Also known as tapioca flour and is used as a thickening agent. It also provides “chew” and elasticity. It can contribute to browning. 

Potato Starch

Similar texture to cornstarch and tapioca starch but derived from white potatoes. Helps bind recipes together and keep baked goods tender. 

Guar Gum

Adds structure or “glue” to baked goods as a way to prevent a crumbly texture. It has 8x the thickening power of cornstarch! 

Xanthan Gum

Similarly to guar gum, xanthan gum helps prevent crumbling in baked goods by providing structure and strengthening elastic networks. It’s corn-based. 

DIY Gluten-Free Flour Blends 

If you want to give gluten-free baking a try and prefer to experiment with your own flour blends, start with one of these! Option one is rice-based and will yield results most similar to all-purpose (wheat) flour. Option two is oat-based, which is a high-fiber choice. Option three is made with almond flour to create a dense, moist and ultra satisfying final product. 

Rice Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup white rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1/2 cup potato starch 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Oat Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cup [certified gluten-free] oat flour 
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Almond Flour Blend

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour 
  • 2 1/4 cups buckwheat flour 
  • 1 3/4 cup potato starch 
  • 3/4 cup arrowroot powder 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing.

Baking with gluten-free flour may seem a little intimidating at first. But you really can’t go wrong if you start with one of these flour blends. Once you determine the flavor and texture you desire in your baked goods, you can fine tune your flour recipe. Have some fun in your discovery and put your personal stamp on your creation. Happy Baking!


How to cook squash – from Kabocha to Delicata

I agree – they’re intimidating! The mounds of colorful, tough-skinned squash and gourds arranged in boxes outside the automatic grocery doors as their more approachable, thin-skinned cousins nestle in their cozy produce-aisle beds. There’s no doubt that members of the Cucurbitaceae family, notably pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash, are beautiful, if not interesting, ornamental works of Mother Nature. But it seems that many are destined to be arranged on the front stoop of every suburban home from November through December.

Underneath their colorful, sometimes rough, exteriors is nutrient-dense flesh that does really well in soups – it’s just the right amount of starch to yield a creamy texture. But don’t stop there. They are also delicious baked and roasted along with protein of your choice….think sheet pan dinner! Many varieties have edible skins and do not need to be peeled. This makes them easy to prepare and high in fiber. No lie – it was a game changer for me when I discovered I can cook and eat the peel.

In addition to fiber, winter squash is an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin C. If the nutritional attributes alone have not convinced you to make this healthy plant-based food a part of your regular diet, I hope you will give it a whirl once you learn all the delicious and versatile ways to use them in recipes. Personally, I love adding roasted squash to salads and puréed squash to baked goods (recipe below). Here I share with you some top picks for edible varieties.

Kabocha

Also known as Japanese pumpkin, kabocha squash has green skin, orange flesh, and a shape similar to pumpkin. The flesh is super sweet when cooked and is rich in beta-carotene – 1 cup has more than 200% DV (daily value) of vitamin A! Before preparing for cooking, place whole squash in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes to soften the skin. It will make cutting, peeling, and chopping an easier and much safer experience. Try using kabocha in place of the butternut squash in your favorite soup.

Kabocha

Acorn

Acorn squash varies in color from dark green to tie-dyed green with orange shades. The flesh is less sweet than kabocha and is more yellow than orange. Just one cup provides more than 25% DV of vitamin C. You can soften the squash if needed by heating in the oven, although it is small enough that this may not be needed. Trim the top from each squash, invert on the cutting board, and slice from bottom to top to create two halves. Remove seeds. You can bake the halves with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of maple syrup for 30 minutes at 350°F – an excellent side dish. You can also slice into half moons to prepare for roasting.

Acorn

Sugar Pumpkin

Sugar pumpkins look a lot like carving pumpkins so be sure to select those marked especially for cooking. They are sweeter than those cultivated for jack-o-lantern displays. The best way to cook the flesh is to roast the entire pumpkin – this allows the flesh to remain moist and helps the sugars to develop. Remove stem from pumpkin, rinse, and make several slits through the skin with a sharp knife. Bake at 350°F for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let sit until cooled. Cut off the top portion (around where the stem would be), remove seeds, and scoop out flesh. Try adding pumpkin to hummus or stir some into yogurt. Of course, you can always use it for baking!

Sugar Pumpkin

Delicata

Probably on the top of my list for ease of preparation! Delicata squash has a mild, nutty flavor, firm flesh, and thin edible skin. Preparing this variety could not be simpler: rinse, cut in half, remove seeds, slice into half-moons, toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes until browned. Delicious enough to eat on their own as a fiber-rich snack!

Delicata Squash

Now that you have a little more culinary knowledge about squash, why not put it to use and impress family and friends over Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s a recipe to inspire you:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/3 cup Tapioca Starch (tapioca flour)
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 325ºF and combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until well incorporated. Pour into a greased shallow 8×8 pan or mini muffin pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool before serving.


Nutrition


Per Serving: 167 calories; 9.2 g fat; 20 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 0 mg cholesterol; 125 mg sodium.

Feeding kids on Halloween to Avoid a Sugar Crash

Feeding your kids a healthy meal on Halloween night may not be the first thing on your mind. But it should be high up on the check list for a successful Halloween. Fueling their bodies with some high quality food before they dash out for a long night of trick-or-treating may prevent a sugar crash!

A blood sugar crash is a result of eating too much simple carbohydrates – in this case Halloween candies. When the body gets a flood of sugar, it triggers the active production of insulin which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This may cause the blood glucose to decrease suddenly, resulting in a drop in energy level, also known as hypoglycemia. Some of the common symptoms are irritability, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, excess sweating, jitters, shakiness and dizziness.

Although the response to a sugar rush is very individual but why take a chance on Halloween night when kids are out on the busy streets in the dark.

Frozen pizzas, mac & cheese packages, and the like may seem like a quick solution for feeding your kids when you are busy. Surprisingly, in the time it takes to preheat you oven or boil water for packaged food, you can whip up a nutritious kid-friendly meal without preservatives, food-coloring, and added chemicals. The recipe below, Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese is easy (of course), fun, nutrient-packed, and only takes 20 minutes to make. Pumpkin is a very nutrient-rich ingredient – high in vitamin A, C, and fiber. If you want to boost the antioxidants even more – without doing more work – just add your kids’ favorite vegetables (chopped broccoli is my kid’s choice) to the pasta cooking water in the last minute of the cooking time. For more healthy food and cooking tips, check out my Instagram feed. Happy Halloween!

Homemade Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 8 oz dried pasta
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 cup lowfat 2% milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp granulated onion
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until it forms a paste, then slowly add the milk while whisking constantly. Cook 1-2 minutes until it comes to a simmer. 
  3. Stir in the pumpkin, cheese and spices then continue to cook over medium low, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once pasta is done, strain and transfer to the warm cheese sauce. Stir until completely coated.

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving: Calories 248; Protein 10g; Total Fat 7.9g Saturated Fat 4.3g Trans Fat 0.0g; Total Carbohydrates 34g Dietary Fiber 2g  


How to Build a Foundation of Self-Care for Kids

Guest blog by Ana Willis, http://fitkids.info 

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children how to care for themselves. We can never start building a foundation of self-care too early. Children today are under exponential stress, and giving them permission to take care of their own personal physical and emotional needs will help them stay healthy into adulthood.

Model Healthy Behaviors

It is simply not enough to tell your kids they have to do things like sleep and eat well. If you want to truly have an impact, you have to model healthy behaviors yourself. This is especially important if you work remotely, like many parents across the country, and also have children at home. Working at home with kids is difficult in the best of times. We are not living in the best of times! The pandemic has put a great deal of stress and strain on working parents to the point where it’s taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

As a remote working parent, you have to find ways to reduce stress on yourself. Start by asking your employer for a flexible schedule. You will then want to set rules with your family, especially with kids, so that they are not continually interrupting you while you are trying to focus on making a living. Make a schedule, and then ensure everyone in your family understands when you are and are not available.

Other ways to model healthy behaviors are to make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat the right balance of food so that your body has ample stores of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its peak. It can also help to take care of your outward appearance. Make a point to shower each morning and get yourself dressed as though you are going into the office. This will help keep you on a schedule and instill in your children that it’s wise to transition from “home” mode into work or school mode.

Make Fitness Fun

You don’t need statistics to tell you that kids today don’t exercise nearly as much as they did in the days before high-definition video games and the internet. Children as young as 11 are living sedentary lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is an alarming issue as lack of activity can result in a host of health problems, including obesity and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many fun and exciting ways to get the kids off the couch, even during the digital age. You can even use their electronics to encourage fitness. One great example is the game Beat Saber, which is available on the Oculus VR system. This game is just one of many active games that can help children keep their bodies moving while burning a similar number of calories as they would if they were outdoors playing tennis. 

You can also eliminate tech time for a few hours each day, and go outside with your children. Build a fort, toss a football, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood. Your activities don’t have to be extreme or regimented to be beneficial. Keeping your own self up and moving will ensure that your children do so throughout their lifetime!

Empower kids to take charge

Modeling self-care behaviors and encouraging exercise are an excellent start. But, self-care is more than just this. Self-care is a broad term that refers to everything we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically well every day.

An important part of our self-care efforts is teaching our children how to make healthy food decisions. Even the youngest members of your family can do so, but they do need your help. Get in the kitchen with them, and let them whip up their own healthy snacks after school. Smoothies, fruit trays, and peanut butter and apple pitas are all options that children in the ten and under crowd can make for themselves.

Self-care also means paying attention to how we feel about how other people treat us. Kids today are exposed to so much negativity in the real world and the media alike. It can be difficult for them to distinguish healthy relationships from those that take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, children are not immune from having toxic friendships, which are often emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Talk to your children about what types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And, if you have friendships that make you question your own worth, it’s time to cut ties to these.

The hope here is that kids will learn how to recognize what makes them feel good. Whether this is eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, or even playing games that incorporate their favorite music, self-care is crucial to build them up. As a parent, you can model healthy behaviors by taking care of yourself and giving your children opportunities to do the same.


Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Plant-based Diet helps to reduce inflammation

Sugar, trans-fats, and alcohol are known to contribute to many diseases. But did you know that red meat, especially processed meat, and dairy foods may be pro-inflammatory and can lead to chronic inflammation? Before we get into how a plant-based diet can help, let’s have a look at how inflammation happens in our body.

Acute Inflammation

Can you remember the last time you cut yourself, were stung by a bee, or injured a joint? Your body reacted in a way to heal itself – to return the injured tissue to a normal state. The reaction that caused the uncomfortable pain, redness, and swelling is the result of a protective response known as inflammation. Inflammation is necessary and is not bad, but it has its place – as in the cases cited above when there is an acute injury. The benefit of an inflammatory reaction can be life-saving, so suppressing inflammation completely is not possible. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, extinguishing some of the fire can have big health benefits.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is harder to identify than acute and is a state of prolonged inflammation. The same cells that help with acute injury healing actually do damage if they hang around too long when the inflammatory switch gets stuck in the “on” position. While chronic inflammation is not known to be the primary cause any one disease, it is now widely accepted that it plays a role in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders, such as overweight and obesity, as well as neurological diseases. Causes of chronic inflammation may include persistent infection, food sensitivities, leaky gut, poor diet, poor sleep hygiene, environment, and exercise without proper recovery. Also, visceral fat, which is the fat tissue stored close to organs in the mid-section, can be a driver of chronic inflammation as it is dynamic and produces a variety of pro-inflammatory hormones.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The easiest, low-risk approach to addressing chronic inflammation is with diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is described in research as one that is appropriate in calories, low in processed carbohydrates, high in fiber, high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, higher in omega 3 than omega 6, and high in antioxidants. Translation: High in whole, plant foods with a focus on healthy fats and moderate animal protein intake –at least 75% plant foods and no more than 25% animal proteins.

This type of 75/25 dietary ratio hits all the anti-inflammatory buttons as whole plant foods are almost always less calorie-dense than processed foods, they are high in fiber, and contain a wide variety of disease-fighting antioxidants. Certain plant foods such as chia seed, avocados, walnuts, and olive oil are rich in healthy fats. The other 25% of your plate? High-quality animal proteins. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are animal proteins of note as they are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory.

Transitioning to a Plant-based Diet

By reducing intake of processed foods and replacing them with colorful, whole plant foods you are well on your way to reaping the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing risk of many chronic diseases. Curious as how to transition to a plant-based diet with success? I have created an e-book that shows you how to plan, shop, and cook plant foods, including an extensive pantry list to stock up on essential ingredients. This FREE e-book is a great resource to get you started on plant-based eating.


Healthy Greens To Eat Now: 5 Not-So-Basic Leafy Greens

When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and I have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health). 

If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting.  Here are some of my favorites healthy greens along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:

Arugula

Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This  leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad).

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects. Try tossing some arugula in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle on top of baked flatbread and pizza – great way to amp up the nutritional value and add a refreshing flavor!

Arugula

Lacinato Kale

You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture.

Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse. If you don’t want to turn on the stove, try massaging the chopped kale with a little salt and olive oil to soften the leaves for a more digestible salad.

Lacinato Kale

Chard

This leafy green comes in many varietals. The stem color ranges from white to purple and bestows its varietal name, such as red chard. Swiss chard is most commonly known and typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem.

Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables or stuff with your favorite filling. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish. For an easy plant-focused meal, simply add in some chickpeas.

Red Chard

Watercress

Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation.

The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of my favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!

Watercress

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. Baby Bok Choy has a green stem and tends to be a little more tender.

It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. You can also cook Bok Choy on a sheet pan very easily –  simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil.  Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges. Baby Boy Choy is also delicious grilled – place the quartered Baby Bok Choy on an oiled grill and brush with your favorite Asian-inspired marinate and cook for approximately 4 minutes or until tender.

Baby Bok Choy

Take Action

Leafy greens are available year-round in the supermarket. Make it a habit to add greens to your grocery basket very time you shop. Produce should be eaten as fresh as possible for maximum quality and nutritional value – greens are no exception. With such vast varieties, it’s time to try a couple new ones!


Food Allergies and Sensitivities: How to Shop

Food allergies and sensitivities are soaring to an epidemic proportion! Over 32 million Americans have a serious and potentially life-threatening food allergy. That number explodes to nearly 85 million people impacted when you include those with food sensitivities and intolerances.

May is Allergy Awareness Month and there is no better time to learn more about food allergies to help yourself and those you love.

My 2 children both have serious allergies to egg and peanuts since day one. It required lifelong learning for our family to manage their diet. I accepted the challenge of reading every food label in the grocery store, making all our meals from scratch, and baking every birthday cake . As a result, our kids grew up on minimal amount of processed food and mostly healthy home-made meals. There is a silver lining if you can look beyond the often cloudy picture of an allergen-free diet.

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities have a range of severity and mechanism. Food allergy is an immunologic response that shows immediate symptoms within minutes to several hours after consuming the allergen. In many cases, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. On the other hand, food sensitivity is a non-immunologic response to food and the symptoms may appear over a period of days. The range of manifestations may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, headache, skin rash, muscle/join pain, fatigue and insomnia. For those of us who are affected, it can be very frustrating to pinpoint the foods that are causing the problem. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner to help you with diagnosis and treatment.

How to manage your diet

Whether you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, it is necessary to avoid the problem foods to feel well. The first step is to determine what food ingredients you need to eliminate from your diet. This may be done by food allergy (IgE) or food sensitivity (IgG) testing by your doctor or the use of an elimination diet with the help of a Registered Dietitian. The next step is to learn to recognize what food is safe to eat by deciphering food labels and sourcing trusted food companies that make allergy-friendly food.

These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:

Peanuts
Tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
Milk
Egg
Wheat
Soy
Fish (halibut, salmon, etc.)
Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish). Not including mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid)

Avoiding these food allergens is not easy because they are often found in prepared dishes or hidden in processed and packaged foods in different forms. It is key to learn all you can about your problem food including its various names and derivatives, so you can detect them. Some examples of the not-so-common names are sodium caseinate (milk), semolina (wheat), albumin (egg), and lecithin (soy). You can learn more about these common allergens and how to avoid them at www. foodallergyawareness.org.

Sharpen your food shopping skills

According to FDA food labeling law, manufacturers must list all food ingredients in descending order of concentration. In addition, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) requires these 8 most common allergens be declared on the food label. Under the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, sesame is being added as the 9th major food allergen effective January 1, 2023. 

Although these labeling regulations are extremely helpful to consumers, they only cover a fraction of the 160+ foods identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals.

Best practices for buying allergen-free foods

  • Avoid highly processed foods. Less is more here – fewer the ingredients the better!
  • Never buy packaged food without an ingredient list.
  • Don’t buy any food with ingredients unknown to you.
  • Read food labels carefully, including foods you have purchased before. Food manufacturers may change their ingredients without warning.
  • Beware of general and non-specific ingredient terms, such as natural flavoring which may contain allergens unless you know the ingredient used in the flavoring.
  • Don’t just go with claims on the label. Phrases such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free” are not regulated by law. Be sure the allergen is not on the ingredient list.
  • Beware of cross-contamination. Allergen-free products could still be made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
  • Be careful with imported foods. They may not comply with domestic food labeling laws.
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