Stepping into the New Year with Healthy Habits
By Dana Jacob for the American Institute for Cancer Research
I love to eat and I hate to work out. With no more holiday parties to excuse my overindulging, and lots of indoor treadmill hours on the bleak, wintry horizon, this is hardly my favorite time of year. Yet as the new millennium settles in, I am determined to improve my health, particularly through diet and exercise.
Changing one's diet is challenging, so I am starting small. My commitments are simple: to add enough vegetables and fruit to achieve a five-a-day habit, and to eat more whole grains.
I am also trying to cut calories by eating smaller portions.
To change how I eat, I'm using The New American Plate as my model.
This plan, explained in detail in a free booklet available from the American Institute for Cancer Research, allows for modest portions of flavorful meat, poultry and fish. Two-thirds of your plate, however, is filled with vegetables, grains, legumes and fruit. This approach fits nicely with my desire to eat more of these foods every day.
For many of us, following a diet based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans seems difficult, and doing so with variety and only a modest amount of fat seems downright impossible.
Here are 10 simple and enjoyable ways I have found to make it easier.
Stack up a Sandwich: When making lunch, always add a folded lettuce leaf plus slices of tomato, cucumber, or thin apple.
Together they can equal one serving of vegetables and fruit.
Be a Fruit Nut: Toss in a handful of raisins, chopped dates and apricots whenever you cook rice, quinoa, or barley.
Think Dark: Switch to whole grain bread for toast and sandwiches. Try whole-wheat pasta topped with mushrooms and tomato sauce. Use brown rice under stir-frys.
Snack Creatively: Try a small baked yam instead of cookies for an afternoon sweet. It's fat-free and can be packed for brown bagging.
Stay Naturally Sweet: Stuff a cored apple with raisins and chopped ginger.
Baste it with defrosted apple or orange juice concentrate and microwave until tender.
Sneak in Fruit and Fiber: Stir chopped dried figs and dried cranberries into plain yogurt, along with vanilla extract. Top hot oatmeal with a shredded apple and some cinnamon.
Be Juicy: Mix grapefruit juice and Dijon mustard with a tsp. of oil for a delicious salad dressing. Try orange and tomato juice in place of vinegar, too.
Stock Up: When sautéing and stir-frying, replace each Tbsp. of oil with two tsp. of chicken broth and one of oil.
Think Italian: Extra virgin olive oil and true Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese pack powerful flavor. Sprinkling a tsp. of oil or a Tbsp. of grated cheese over steamed vegetables stretches fat calories while adding great Mediterranean taste.
Be a Potato-head: Scoop out half the inside of a baked potato and mash in a half cup of steamed broccoli or spinach. Save the extra potato in the freezer, then use it instead of bread crumbs in meatloaf.
Soup It Up: A handful of barley or steel-cut oats, a chopped onion, carrots and celery stalk simmered with water and bay leaf provides fat-free servings of whole grain and vegetables.
For exercise, instead of biting off more than I can chew, I am taking it in small steps. When I pick up the morning paper, I step out for a brisk 15 minute walk.
At lunchtime, I walk for another 15 minutes on the way to a lunch date or as a break if I eat at my desk. Those short walks are adding up to two and three hours of activity a week.
To order a free copy of the New American Plate brochure, send an SASE with 66 cents- worth of postage to: The New American Plate, American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R ST. NW, PO Box 97167, Washington DC, 20090-7744.
Chopped Mediterranean Salad
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 scallions, white and green, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint (optional)
1-1/2 Tbsp. chopped flatleaf parsley
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, scallions, mint and parsley. Add the lemon juice and oil. Toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve within 1 hour.
Makes 4 servings.
Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon
1 large lemon
1 10-oz. package frozen asparagus spears
12 oz. spaghetti
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Boil a pot of water for the pasta. Grate the zest of lemon into a small bowl. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the bowl. Set aside.
Using the amount of water specified in the package directions, cook the asparagus until it is tender-crisp (about 4 minutes). Transfer the asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl of iced water. Drain well and set aside. Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.
When the butter is browned and fragrant (after about 2 minutes) add the lemon juice, lemon zest and the asparagus, taking care as it may spatter. Mix well.
Remove the pan from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and transfer it to a heated serving bowl. Pour the asparagus over the pasta. Add the cheese, toss well. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
1-1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 large red peppers, seeded and cut in 1/2 inch strips
2 large yellow peppers, seeded and cut in 1/2 inch strips
1 medium Spanish onion, halved and cut crossswise in 1/2 inch slices
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 pound boneless and skinless chicken breast, cut in 3/4 inch pieces
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the oil in a deep, medium skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the peppers, onion and garlic. The pan will be heaped with the vegetables. Sauté until the peppers have softened and the red ones have become paler, about 10 minutes, stirring often. The pan will be moist from the juice of the peppers.
Stir in the chicken until the pieces are white all over. Cook until the peppers and onions are very soft and lightly browned in places, 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chicken should be white all the way through and tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes 4 servings.
Dried Fruit Compote
1 Valencia orange
1 c. dried sliced apples, 2-1/2 oz.
1/3 c. finely chopped preserved ginger
1/4 c. dried cherries
8 Calymernia white figs
8 whole dried apricots or 16 halves
2 Tbsp. dried currants
2 - 3 to 4 inch cinnamon sticks, halved lengthwise
3 whole cloves
2-1/2 c. apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
1 Tbsp. honey
Grate the zest from the orange. Juice the orange. Set the zest and juice aside.
Place the apples, ginger, cherries, figs, apricots and currants in a deep saucepan. Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves and apple cider. Bring the juice to a boil.
Add the reserved zest and orange juice and the honey. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft, about 20 minutes.
Cool to lukewarm and remove the spices before serving or refrigerating. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 6 servings