Winter Blues? Eat Right to Feel Better

January 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Health, Healthy Eating

Getting the winter blues? With less daylight and colder temperatures, it’s easy to do. But don’t let the season get you down or make you put your health on hold. More than ever, start paying attention to what foods you’re putting into your body. Fueling your body properly is always a step in the right direction, making you feel and look better.

To start, you simply need to follow a well-balanced diet, as if it were any other time of year. Watch your portion sizes, don’t skip meals, and concentrate on getting nutrient-dense—rather than calorie-dense—foods. But during these dreary months, certain nutrients might seem harder to come by than they might be in the warmth of summer. But in reality, no matter what the time of year, nutritious foods are always available in abundance.

Here are some of my top picks for this time of year.

Citrus Fruit. Personally, I can’t get enough of oranges, grapefruits, and clementines, so rich in vitamin C. Even though scientific research doesn’t support the claim that it actually prevents the common cold, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help boost your immune-system function—and at any time of year, that’s a bonus. A clementine is easy to peel, very portable, and has only 35 calories each. I tend to buy my oranges and grapefruits already peeled in to-go containers—a little more expensive, but for me, worth the price, since I love eating but hate peeling them.
 Potatoes. Surprised? They always seem to get a bad rap, and for the life of me I never know why. Like citrus, potatoes are rich in vitamin C and offer similar benefits.  They’re also a great source of potassium and fiber. And during the winter months, when we tend to feel sluggish, carbohydrates can help provide the energy we need. Minus the usual butter and cream or deep frying, potatoes can be a nutrition powerhouse. I like mine baked and topped with black bean hummus and low-fat sour cream.
 

Perfect for risotto, for example.

Canned Salmon and Sardines. It’s funny—as a child I loved sardines, but as an adult I don’t have a taste for them. Regardless, I can’t help but mention them as a winter food must. The less daylight we have, the less sunshine too, and less opportunity to catch a dose of vitamin D. Salmon and sardines are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease, but more important, they (along with milk) are among the very few foods that provide a good source of vitamin D during the winter months.

Vitamin D promotes bone health, which may provide protection from osteoporosis. And we need to keep our bones in good shape now, especially if we tend to be more active in the spring.

Brussels Sprouts. Why do so many people hate them? My husband won’t eat them, and they seem to be at the very top of my patients’ “I don’t eat” list. And yet I can’t get enough of them. My favorite preparation is simply steaming them (I know: boring), but they can be roasted or sautéed in olive oil with herbs and spices, or shredded raw into salads. Just like potatoes and citrus fruit, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C, and fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. A one-cup serving, steamed, is only 56 calories—adding to your nutritional status but not your waistline.
 Water. Keeping your body well hydrated can help prevent dry skin, which is so easy to develop this time of year—with dry heat indoors and cold temperatures and winds outdoors, our skin can take a beating. Luckily, water is always available as our first line of defense. If you don’t enjoy the taste of plain water, try seltzer or club soda with lemon, lime, or a splash of 100% fruit juice. If you prefer a hot beverage, try decaffeinated teas or coffee (without a ton of sugar and cream), or even low-sodium, low-calorie soups. The most important thing is to remember to drink up, even though your body might not be telling you it’s thirsty.

To find out what’s in-season locally (and hopefully available at year-round farmer’s markets), check the website Sustainable Table or the list at Fruits And Veggies – More Matters.

So, let’s all eat well this winter. Good, nutritious food is available—we just have to go to the store and make the right choices. The dark days of winter can give anyone the blues, but if you’re taking good care of yourself, they’re much easier to endure. And spring seems to come that much sooner.

Book Review: The Small Change Diet (VIDEO)

March 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Healthy Eating

If you’re working on eating healthier, you need practical advice and encouragement. In her book, The Small Change Diet: Ten Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You (Gallery Books, $15), WVFC contributor and registered dietician Keri Gans provides both. Each chapter focuses on manageable changes organized around a theme: making a healthy eating schedule, for instance, or brightening your plate with fruits and vegetables, choosing healthier beverages, and so on. Along the way, she turns each healthy change into a set of manageable steps and offers specific suggestions: Make sure you plan snacks that have protein or healthy fat and fiber to keep you satisfied. Make time for breakfast, even if it’s on the go. Start dinner with a salad.

Each chapter includes a breakdown of the obstacles or excuses that might crop up. Gans compiles a list of protests culled from years of listening to her patients, and rebuts each one with sympathy and humor. The call-and-response of this section is so thorough, and her tone so upbeat and confiding, that it feels as though she’s having a conversation with you as you read. If you protest against the taste of whole wheat cereal or pasta, she says, try gradually mixing white and whole wheat. If you’re lactose intolerant, use lactose-free dairy products to reap their nutritional benefits.

Throughout the book, Gans keeps her solutions manageable by grounding them in real life and presenting options to accommodate both personal taste and healthier choices. It’s not about giving up what you love entirely, she points out, but about finding ways to enjoy smaller portions, less frequently, and modifying your choices to be as healthy as possible. She’s thought of just about everything, from business trips, busy days, and holidays to sympathy for cravings and moments of overindulgence.

This is very much a plan for omnivores, as it hinges on incorporating servings of lean meat and dairy. Tofu and soy get their due, as does the idea of going meatless once a week.

You might struggle with some of the changes more than others, or may already be doing one or two of the changes she suggests. You may be more inclined to work on the change chapters out of order, because you already eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, for instance, but struggle to incorporate whole grains or lean meat into your eating plan. After laying out each small change, Gans concludes the chapter with a check-in, with specific, practical questions: Do you eat fish at least twice a week? Do you eat enough during the day, and keep busy enough into the evenings, to vanquish late night cravings? These focused questions keep your progress on target as you work on making new healthy habits a regular part of your life.

If you do decide to do the chapters out of their presented sequence, make sure to work through Chapter 1 completely before doing any of the others. That first chapter lays the groundwork of basic habits that will help make the rest of the plan work: keeping an honest food diary to track what you’re eating and drinking, for instance, planning a schedule of meals and snacks to keep you well-fueled, and getting enough sleep.

Although the book is packed with healthy substitutions and some food preparation ideas, it would be great to see more of the recipes that can help Gans’s small changes stick. Her Healthy Hummus, for example, is terrifically easy to whip up, and a great way to get more of the fresh vegetables that are a cornerstone of the eating plan. I am curious to try the Best Breaded Chicken, which makes clever use of ground flax seed to give the breading an extra nutritional punch.

Maybe Gans’s next project should be a cookbook of healthy and nutritious recipes. In between her contributions to Women’s Voices For Change, of course.

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“The Small Change Diet:” A New Book by Keri Gans

March 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Books, Healthy Eating

If you’re a longtime WVFC reader, you’ve probably seen many articles by our nutrition writer Keri Gans, on topics ranging from the benefits of chocolate to vitamin D and fiber. So you can understand our excitement at the publication of her book, The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You (Gallery Books, $15). To kick off our month of self-health and renewal, here’s a short excerpt that will help get your month—and your day—off to a terrific start. We’ll be back with a review of the book later this month.  –Ed.

Let’s Start at the Beginning . . . With Breakfast!

If you want to be thin, you need to start doing what thin people do, and that is eat breakfast. Want to lose fifteen pounds? Instead of signing up for a trendy 6 a.m. gym class, you’re better off signing up for breakfast.

When Stephanie, twenty-four, first came to me, she was skipping breakfast and consuming too many calories later in the day. After two weeks of simply committing to breakfast, Stephanie lost three pounds. “I feel fuller during the day,” she said. Thirteen months later and still thirty pounds lighter, Stephanie continues to enjoy her nonfat plain yogurt, blueberries, and high-fiber cereal in the morning.

After being in private practice for more than ten years, I have heard every possible excuse for skipping breakfast:

I have no time to eat in the morning.
Small Change Solution:
Breakfast can be very quick and simple. It does not require a lot of effort to prepare or cost a lot of money. Do you have five minutes for a bathroom break? Or one extra “snooze” when your alarm clock goes off? Then you have time for breakfast. Five minutes is all it really has to take. You can eat breakfast at home, in your office, or even on the run.

I am not hungry in the morning.
Small Change Solution:
In my practice, I have seen many breakfast dodgers who can’t remember the last time their breakfast was more than a cup of coffee. By lunchtime, they are way hungrier than they should be and wind up making poor meal decisions. Once you start eating breakfast regularly, you will find that your appetite changes in the morning. You will be hungry when you wake up, and better yet, your lunch choices improve.

I don’t want to waste the calories.
Small Change Solution:
When I hear a patient complain about “wasting calories” by eating breakfast, I just shake my head—nothing could be further from the truth. Breakfast is not only an opportunity to kick-start your metabolism and your day, it is also proven that eating breakfast leads you to eat fewer calories throughout the day.

How many hours are you up before eating breakfast? Ideally, I suggest eating within one to two hours of waking up. Typically the longer you wait to eat, the hungrier you will be.

If you cannot imagine eating breakfast, start slowly. Grab an energy bar, a piece of fruit, or a slice of toast. You can eat it at home, on the way to work or school, or at your desk.

The goal is to incorporate breakfast into your day, every day. It might not be 100 percent ideal at the beginning, but that’s where the Small Change solutions will move you along. Your first goal is to make breakfast as natural for you as brushing your teeth in the morning.