Posts Tagged With: healthy eating

5 Foods You Should Make a Regular Part of Your Diet*

* (if you want to be healthy).

There’s nothing new about the adage to “eat healthy.” But what does that entail, exactly? In simple terms, it involves eating the right balance of foods in order to achieve optimum nutrition. If asked to elaborate, you would probably sum it up like this: vegetables and fruits are good, sweets are bad, proteins should be lean and consumed in moderation. And that’s a great general rule of thumb…but awfully vague. If you’re like me, you thrive on specifics! I like things spelled out for me.

T.E.L.L. M.E. W.H.A.T. T.O. E.A.T.

Like that.

So, I’m doing you all a solid and giving you 5 “power” foods you can incorporate into your diet immediately. All have proven health benefits – and all taste great! Each food is a regular part of my nutritional rotation, as well. Of course, there are more than merely five “superfoods” (overused term alert!) out there, but I’m avoiding some of the trendier ones, like chia seeds and kefir. Those can be intimidating; start with this list and slowly work your way up the (hemp) ladder.

  1. Almonds. Nuts get a bad rap sometimes because they are high in fats, but keep in mind those are good fats. Almonds have an abundance of monounsaturated fats (the same type found in olive oil), which help lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Their potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and magnesium improves the flow of blood. Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system. Studies show that people who ingest high amounts of Vitamin E decrease their risk of heart disease by 30-40%. Almonds increase your energy, speed up your metabolism, promote weight loss,help protect against cancer, prevent the blood sugar of diabetics from spiking, and even make your skin look healthy. A handful a day is one of the best steps you can take to improve your overall health! I’m a big fan of Blue Diamond’s roasted, salted almonds. A one-ounce serving (28 nuts) is 170 calories, has 5 grams of carbs and 3 grams of dietary fiber. I’ve also recently discovered almond milk, which adds a subtle, nutty flavor and makes a delicious substitute for cow’s milk. I could write a separate blog post on almond milk. almond chart
  2. Blueberries. Don’t let their tiny size fool you – blueberries have huge health benefits! They contain more antioxidants than any other fruit; these chemicals help neutralize free radicals, groups of atoms that damage the body’s cells and are associated with the development of cancer, heart disease, and other age-related diseases. Blueberries are low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and contain plenty of Vitamin C (25% of your recommended daily allowance in one serving), manganese (helps convert carbohydrates and fats into energy), and anthocyanins (helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer). They help promote a healthy urinary tract, improve brain health, and even help preserve your vision. Plus, they taste great! I’ll top cottage cheese with 1/4 cup of blueberries for a nutritious snack, or toss a handful into a salad. I also enjoy a homemade blueberry vinaigrette (I’ll post the recipe soon). blueberries
  3. Black beans. Good for the heart? Definitely! Black beans are high in fiber (15 grams per cup) and potassium, which help lower cholesterol levels, maintain blood glucose levels (making them an excellent choice for diabetics), promote a healthy digestive tract, and aid in weight loss as they make you feel fuller longer. They are also packed full of protein and have no saturated fat or cholesterol. In addition, black beans are another excellent source of antioxidants, containing more than any other type of bean. They help prevent heart disease and cancer, lower blood pressure, and strengthen bones. I love adding black beans to a healthy wrap, mixing with quinoa for a nutritionally balanced side dish, or serving in place of refried beans when making Mexican food. Want a great tasting, healthy breakfast? Heat up black beans and add to scrambled eggs. Top with salsa and a few slices of our next food, and you’ll have a great start to your day!
  4. Avocados. Some people shy away from avocados for the same reason they avoid nuts: they are afraid of the high fat content. But like almonds, the fats in avocados are healthy ones; 15 of the 22 grams of fat monounsaturated. This creamy, buttery fruit is nutritionally dense, containing lots of Vitamins C, E, K, and B6, in addition to potassium (packing more per serving than a banana), riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. A medium avocado contains about 250 calories, so it’s best to portion that out – I rarely eat more than 1/2 in one sitting, and in fact, the official serving size is 1/5. Avocados are high in fiber, low in saturated fat, contain no cholesterol or sodium, and can significantly reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They improve digestion and help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. People who eat avocados on a regular basis weigh less (thanks to the low carbs/high fiber combination), have a lower overall Body Mass Index, and less belly fat. Avocados help promote healthy vision and even lower your risk of depression. Turning them into guacamole is a given (I have another great recipe to post); I will also slice them and add them to wraps, sandwiches, and salads.
  5. Quinoa. Quinoa is an “ancient grain” that is enjoying a modern surge in popularity thanks to its many health benefits. The Incas called it “the mother of all grains” and believed it improved the stamina of their warriors. This gluten-free superfood contains all nine essential amino acids and is chock full of protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Its antioxidant properties help ward off heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer, while its high fiber content helps fill you up longer, helping to prevent obesity. Whole grains are significantly healthier than refined grains such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients during the milling process. Plus, I think they taste better. Brown rice is another nice whole grain substitute, but honestly, it’s a bitch to cook – I have yet to master its idiosyncrasies. Quinoa, on the other hand? Simple. Add one cup of uncooked quinoa to a pot, 1/2 cup of liquid (water works fine, but I like the flavor that chicken or vegetable broth brings), bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Be sure to season with salt and pepper. Quinoa is incredibly versatile, as well; add sauteed mushrooms and garlic to the pot for a burst of flavor and textural contrast, or make this delicious one-pan Mexican quinoa when making tacos or enchiladas – it’s a great replacement for Spanish rice. black-and-white-quinoa-grains

I’ve also got some honorable mentions that would easily have made the list if I’d expanded it beyond five items. These include salmon, green tea, feta cheese, spices like curry and turmeric, and garbanzo beans. Even dark chocolate and wine have surprising health properties.

Good luck, and eat up!

Categories: Healthy Eating | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Fooducate App

There are a lot of smartphone apps on the marketplace that allow you to track calories and other nutrition information, as well as exercise and weight, in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Fooducate (available for both IOS and Android devices) is unique in the category for one big reason: it assigns letter grades to different foods, and suggests better (healthier) alternatives – a boon to diabetics like me.fooducate logo

Unlike other “diet apps” that focus mainly on losing weight, Fooducate helps individuals alter their eating habits in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The interface is similar to other popular apps like MyFitness Pal and Lose It! and includes a handy barcode scanner that allows you to immediately upload nutrition information, as well as a tracking system for daily calories and weight loss, customizable goals, and a veritable wealth of helpful information on food quality.

I recently purchased a prepackaged salad from Safeway, assuming it would be a healthy lunch choice. And then I scanned it into Fooducate, and was dismayed to see a letter grade of C+, much lower than I’d been expecting. In the app, clicking on that item’s grade brings up a list of information explaining why it received the rating it did, good or bad. Using my Safeway Farms Santa Fe Chicken Salad Bowl as an example, Fooducate warned me of the following:

  • 1 tsp. of added sugars per serving
  • More than 20% of daily saturated fat
  • Salty! Has over 20% of the daily max
  • Contains sodium benzoate/benzoic acid
  • Contains phosphoric acid
  • Highly processed!
  • Has EDTA, on FDA’s toxicity watchlist

Yikes! There were a few good points: my salad was a good natural source of iron and calcium, and naturally high in vitamins A and C. But clearly, it was not a very smart choice for a healthy lifestyle. Click on any of those bullet points and Fooducate breaks it down for you even further. For example, under Highly Processed!, it says

If you’ll take a look at its ingredient list, you’ll discover new words to add to your vocabulary. Many of these ingredients are required to increase the shelf life of the product and improve the flavor that disappears when food is not fresh.

After reading all that, I tossed the salad (pun intended) and opted for an Oven Roasted Chicken Salad from Subway instead. (Fooducate grade: B+). And that perfectly sums up how incredibly useful this app is. It has also inspired me to quit buying Fresca (D+) and choose regular salad dressings over those that are fat-free (seems counterintuitive, but as I learned, “A fat-free salad dressing is actually a bad nutritional decision. You see, a little bit of fat goes a long way in helping the body absorb the nutritional goodness of the salad. This is because some vitamins are fat-soluble.” That leads to a longer, more in-depth article on Fooducate’s blog, another nice feature of this app.

Some of the sample Fooducate screens.

Some of the sample Fooducate screens.

I track my meals on Fooducate, and am able to pull up lots of useful information at the end of the day: calories consumed vs. those allotted based on my current weight and long-term goals, and other nutritional information that helps me control my diabetes (including daily consumption of carbs, sugars, fats, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, potassium, iron, etc.). It’s all broken down in colorful, easy-to-read pie charts, and you receive a daily food grade based on your caloric choices. Very cool. And because the app keeps a running tally, as long as you enter your meals in a timely fashion, you can make adjustments as needed throughout the day – a great tool for keeping you on track. When inputting exercise, you have a drop-down menu from which you can select from dozens of different activities, including hiking, table tennis, and – ahem – “moderate” or “vigorous” sexual activity. Whatever you’re doing, Fooducate will help you track it and figure out how many calories you have burned.


This very handy app is not without its flaws, of course. The food database isn’t nearly as extensive as MyFitness Pal’s, meaning you’ll likely need to make a lot of manual entries (a time-consuming process that requires access to nutritional information from other sources). At least MFP allows you to enter the ingredients in a custom dish and will automatically calculate the nutrition info, a feature that would be greatly helpful. Are you paying attention, Fooducate developers? And there are occasional inconsistencies when using the barcode scanner; information does not always match the product label, though it’s usually within the ballpark.

Overall though, the good far outweighs the bad. For pure diet tracking, MyFitness Pal has an edge. But for steering you toward a healthier lifestyle, Fooducate more than lives up to its name. It’s not edible, but I give it 4 knives.

4 Knives

Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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