6 Food Staples for Healthier Eating: Stocking Your Kitchen

food staples prepared for healthy meal planningA “healthy” kitchen stocked with food staples is a pretty straightforward path to healthier eating. Who doesn’t care about healthy eating? I think most people would like to make better food choices, but end up floundering for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there is no healthy food in the house, they are tired, not motivated in the moment, or just too tired to care about eating a healthy diet. It’s important to keep in mind that a healthy meal does not need to be labor intensive and time consuming. Keeping basic food staples around can simplify the process of carrying out healthier eating. Here’s my list of 6 food staples and what you can do with it.

Vegetables

Everyone knows vegetables are important to a healthy diet. The problem is that even though people know this, they are not going out of their way to eat enough. I have not really figured out why, but I think it is because there is a bit more labor required in order to eat most vegetables. You know, scrape, clean, cut, etc. The “work around”  is to prep some for the week, and bag them up. For instance, if you like peppers, cut a few up for the work week and put your portions in Ziploc bags for the week. You will not need to stop and chop, just grab your portion. Don’t forget you can also drink your vegetables by stocking low sodium V-8 juice which is full of nutrients like potassium and vitamin C.

Fruit

Yes, it is good for you. No, it does not contain too much sugar and is ok to eat even if a diabetic. While we do not have a ton of choices in the Midwest right now, every store has a nice variety of bagged organic frozen fruit. Keep it on hand to use as a smoothie.  When I am hard pressed for good nutrition on the run, I love doing the smoothie trick.  Want to increase the protein? My trick is to add 1/2 cup of cottage cheese to the mix which boosts the protein to 15 grams.  Smoothie recipe.

Grains

Despite all the negative comments regarding carbohydrates, grains are an important part of a healthy diet.  Grains provide fiber and B vitamins. They can be dished up differently for different people. Whole grain pasta, crackers, and cereal can keep in the cupboard as a staple side dish or even eaten as an occasional entrée.  I frequently have sheepish clients say they eat cereal for dinner. Guess what? I have done that as well topped with a fruit such as a banana or strawberries. As with the vegetables, planning ahead and freezing some grain based foods also works to foster a healthier diet. Freezing wheat free muffins and gluten free waffles for later use is super helpful. Wondering how to buy a loaf of bread, here are some tips.

Milk or milk substitute

I’m lactose intolerant, so I keep lactose free milk in my kitchen. I also enjoy kefir for my smoothies. If you don’t want to drink cow’s milk, you should still have a milk alternative in your kitchen. Milk alternatives are typically fortified with calcium and will have a similar calcium content to cow milk. Options are: almond, soy, rice, hemp, or the now popular oat milk.

Eggs 

Despite the new bad press, an egg is a wonderful package of nutrients for very few calories. Eggs have high quality  protein and the cholesterol content of eggs has been declining. Today, eggs such as EggLands Best Eggs have omega-3 fatty acids and are a source of vitamin E.  An average egg has only about 180 mg. of cholesterol. If you still want to decrease your dietary cholesterol while eating several eggs, consider mixing a whole egg with an egg substitute like Egg Beaters.

Frozen Meals

Healthy frozen dinners are included in my list of important food staples. I can pretty much guarantee that a Healthy Choice or Kashi brand frozen meal is going to be a healthier option than heading to your local fast food joint. When time is tight or energy is already spent, having a few of these on hand can save the day. Many frozen dinners are now lower in sodium, fat, calories, and preservatives, but high in flavor. Don’t forget, you can freeze your own meals as well.  Double up your recipe, and freeze the other half.

Do you have more tips for fast healthy eating?

Without Wheat: Buckwheat Flour Muffins

Buckwheat muffins with chocolate chips

Buckwheat flour muffins with chocolate chips

I started my life without wheat by making buckwheat flour muffins

Personally, I REALLY enjoy eating whole grains. And, I used to eat a ton of wheat. Sadly, my wheat days are basically over due to my food sensitivity testing. I started weaning myself from wheat by making these buckwheat flour muffins.

For others, it may be apersonal decision to pull back because you need or want to be gluten-free (products labeled gluten free are also wheat free). Whatever the circumstances, there are definitely some grain alternatives out there for those that love whole grains. I started living without wheat by making the pictured buckwheat flour muffins. The verdict was they were delicious!

Keep in mind that two of these grains noted here are not gluten-free, only wheat free or differing in the gluten profile. Barley, rye, wheat, and oats that are not processed in a dedicated gluten free facility are not allowed on a gluten free diet. For those choosing to live without the ubiquitous wheat found in standard grocery stores, the challenge is to find alternative products that may be better tolerated.

Here are some other wheat-free options:

Rye

Most commercial store brands of rye bread actually contain wheat. For instance, Pepperidge Farm rye bread notes: unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour as the first ingredient, followed by water, then rye. To find a rye bread made entirely of rye flour, you may need to go to a bakery. In the Chicago area suburbs, there is a little bakery that only uses rye flour. For those going “wheatless”, breads using only rye flour are a delicious alternative. Don’t assume every bakery uses just rye flour, you will need to ask the staff.

Spelt

Spelt is an ancient grain. According to one bakery website (kolateksbakery.com), spelt needs more steps to harvest and then bake, so it fell out of favor and eventually took a back seat to our now popular wheat. Spelt is technically part of the wheat family, but it possesses a different gluten profile. Those with a wheat sensitivity may be able to tolerate spelt better than wheat. I found this bakery’s Tata bread to be very “normal tasting” and almost reminiscent of whole wheat bread days!

Buckwheat

Here’s an actual gluten-free alternative. It’s actually not a grain, which is why there is no gluten! It’s a type of seed called a pseudo-cereal. I’m trying to get in the kitchen a bit more making my own wheat-free alternative foods, because so many of the commercial mixes are just way too high in sugar and calories. Here’s a great buckwheat muffin recipe:


1.5 cups buckwheat flour
¾ cups oatmeal (use gluten-free oats for a GF diet)
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup skim milk or milk of choice
2 tbsp. oil of choice
¼ cup applesauce
1 mashed banana
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
½ cup chocolate chips

Combine ingredients. Mix until moistened.  Bake at 350º for 18-20 minutes. Yields 12 muffins. 150 calories per muffin; 5 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat

There are other grains to try such as Teff which is gluten-free as well.  Anyone else have experience focusing on these grains along with great recipes?

 

Better Aging: 5 Tips to Make it Happen

So, do you want to look your age?  This topic can get pretty dicey as we push through the decades.  I have one friend that says she’s earned her wrinkles and intentionally sports her gray hairs. No more hair coloring for her!  I think it’s certainly a personal decision. I also think that if we implement diet and lifestyle strategies that make us look a bit younger than our real age, we might reap some positive health benefits.  After all, our health has to be our top priority as we get older. Better health usually means a better quality of life. We want to be able to enjoy our second 50 years, right?

Here is my top five list:

Wear your sunscreen.  This is a huge point and it’s never too late to start.  Anti-aging dermatology procedures are pricey. They are almost all self-pay.  If you can protect your skin early in life, it will help your appearance in your second 50 years.  When I was in graduate school, I had a strange rash that brought me to the dermatologist.  She told me at that point to never go in the sun again.  I followed her advice (for the most part), and now that I have a Medicare card, I am so glad I did.  Wrinkle removal is expensive and time consuming, prevention is much easier. The health benefit: lessened skin cancer risk.

Exercise when you can. We all know we should be moving our bodies more, right? For some, it is easier said than done.  Lots of us have knees that hurt, but even for osteoarthritis, the current recommendations are to work through it and just keep moving.  Options for lessening joint stress while working out include using a stationary bike and an elliptical.  If you are able to move, you really should be sure to do so.  After counseling thousands upon thousands of clients over my career, it never ceases to amaze me how much younger the exercising crowd looks in middle and later life.  The health benefit:  weight management.  And, weight management can help diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, and hypertension.  And, this is only a partial list!

Manage Your Weight.  Again, those people that are at an appropriate body weight always seem to look younger.  For women in particular, weight gain seems to happen easily during menopause when our estrogen levels decline.  A common “sign” of middle age in both women and men is the increased fat in the abdominal area-known as visceral fat.  This pouch does not need to happen with a healthy eating plan matched to energy requirements and limited in alcohol.  The health benefit: losing this visceral fat will lessen inflammation and decrease your risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Sleep.  It can be difficult to get enough sleep. It seems like each decade brings its own sleep issues.  I know of so many seniors that will fall asleep but cannot stay asleep.  Getting up at 3:00 AM is not ideal, and many of us already did that when we raised our kids.  Tips are to not overstimulate your brain before bed.  Get off the iPad or phone if it is too stimulating before nodding off. Try to set a routine and stick to it most of the time.  Discuss sleep issues with your physician.  Lastly, a little melatonin (3-5 mg) may be helpful.  We make less as we age, so this supplement makes sense.  The health benefit: you just feel so much better, it’s like magic!

Eating Well. Don’t give up on a healthy eating plan.  Consult with a nutritional professional if you are totally confused about what you should be eating to maintain or improve your health.  There is just so much information out there that is often incorrect or not correct for you as an individual. Most nutrition health care providers would suggest a diet high in fruits, vegetables, with the appropriate amounts of whole grains and lean protein.  Some supplements might be in order as well, depending up your individual circumstances.  For thoughts on those supplements:  5 Dietary Supplements for Baby Boomers!

 
For those of you in your second 50 years, what else can you add?

Drinking Water and Fluoride: Healthy for All?

Drinking water: fluoride for all?

For most of my life I never really thought much about fluoride or my drinking water. My teeth are in pretty good shape, and the only time I thought about fluoride was when I taught a college level nutrition class. The text books noted the “benefits” of fluoride in preventing tooth decay, and then always showed the classic brown spots on tooth enamel due to overexposure of fluoride.  We discussed that fluoride was delivered to municipal tap water in the Chicago area (our location) and that bottled water was not typically fluoridated. While it may have natural fluoride, fluoride is not typically added to bottled water.

Fluoride not an essential dietary nutrient

For the last 70 or so years, it’s role in public health has been one of preventing tooth decay. Once teeth have erupted through the gum, fluoride added to the tooth surface plays a role in preventing tooth decay through remineralization of the weaker spots on the tooth enamel as well as controlling the amount of acid that bacteria of plaque produce.  I remember routine fluoride treatments given in the dental office because I had great dental insurance and it was covered.  And, of course, there is lifelong use of fluoridated toothpaste.

Fluoride in drinking water in equal amounts for everyone?

For the municipalities that deliver fluoridated water, there is no choice in the matter. If you want to avoid ingesting fluoride in the Chicago area, you must find a means to remove it from your tap water or stick with purchasing spring water. Preset fluoride levels are “one size fits all.”

According to a recent article in the Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (2018), these points should be considered:

  • Current evidence clearly suggests that the protective mechanism of action of fluoride is mainly topical.  In other words, we do not need to be ingesting fluoride to reap the dental benefits.
  • 1% of the population appears to be highly sensitive to fluoride (yes, I am in that 1%).
  • Certain subsets may be particularly vulnerable to ingesting fluoride: the elderly, diabetics, the malnourished.
  • Once added to water, would the fluoride levels be problematic for those that drink a large amount of water? Those individuals might include manual laborers, diabetics, and athletes.
  • Interestingly, on the international front, most European countries have rejected water fluoridation. Only Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom practice water fluoridation.

While the debate on fluoridated water continues, you can help protect your teeth by:

  • Choosing a healthy diet low in sugar will help prevent tooth decay. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables will stimulate saliva production to help rinse the sugar away.
  • Avoiding cavity promoting foods like sugar, sticky foods (like raisins), and soda will help prevent tooth decay.  
  • If indulging in sugary foods, try not to do so all day long. Best to splurge and then brush, instead of exposing your teeth all day long.
  •  Apply that fluoride through toothpaste, mouth rinse, and in the dental chair.

My last comment will be that in the concept of “clean eating”, I see no reason to be putting fluoride into my digestive tract.

Where do you stand on the issue of ingesting fluoride through tap water?

Probiotic Supplements: 5 Purchasing Tips

2 popular probiotics

My father lived in an assisted living facility a few years ago. The assisted living physician ordered the probiotics for him. I remember the doctor sitting at his desk writing the order and at the same time quipping that “all probiotics are the same!” The comment took my breath away because this was only a few years ago, and most health care providers should know that probiotics are not all the same! There is plenty of research available on how probiotics are both similar and different. And there is plenty to consider when purchasing a probiotic supplements!

Bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract are flora. A healthy functioning gastrointestinal tract has a healthy balance of bacteria. Occasionally, that balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced due to antibiotic use, illness, stress, or even a poor-quality diet.

Research on the health benefits of probiotics is vast. Researchers are evaluating how probiotics may affect mental health, lipids, weight, and various GI conditions. Even our pets are taking probiotics!

 Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when purchasing probiotic supplements:

Packaging of probiotic supplements

Probiotics need to be alive to be effective in your body. If they are dead on arrival in the bottle or purchase package, they will be useless to your gut. Take a good look at the packaging. Many probiotic strains need to be refrigerated to stay alive, or they may be sold in blister packaging to assure viability. If the product needs refrigeration, be sure online shippers are shipping the product with dry ice during warm weather to protect the product. With blister packaging, there is no need to refrigerate. Keep in mind that the companies selling the probiotics are doing their own regulation, so you might want to use a name brand product to help assure the organisms are alive upon purchase.

Dosages

Potency is usually noted on the label as CFU which stands for “colony forming units”. The recommended intake for probiotic supplements varies by the strain and intended therapy. For general use, take supplements that have a CFU of at least 1 to 10 billion. Higher dosages are still deemed safe and are often found in many reputable brands.

Strains

Contrary to the thoughts of my father’s former physician, bacterial strains do matter. For instance, for antibiotic-related diarrhea, it may be advisable to start taking a common drugstore brand such as Culturelle which contains Lactobacillus GG. Other research suggests that it may be even more effective to take a probiotic with multiple species of organisms. In adult women with IBS, Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to reduce pain, bloating, and bowel movement difficulty. For cholesterol reduction, Lactobacillus reuteri may be therapeutic for LDL-Cholesterol reduction.

Dosing

 If you are taking probiotics for overall wellness, keep in mind that the organisms only survive for a few days to weeks, so it is necessary to keep taking them. Speaking of surviving, some probiotics have an enteric-coating to ensure stomach acid survival and intestinal delivery.

Food

 Many foods also contain probiotics. Think yogurt, kefir milk, and kombucha. And, nutrient dense foods are usually great sources of prebiotics-the food probiotics use. Those microorganisms need their own fuel and fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the fuel of choice for probiotics.

Remembering to keep these key points in mind: packaging, dosages, strains, and dosing will make you a savvy probiotic consumer. And, foods are a key source of probiotics as well. And to feed your probiotics, eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Has probiotic use helped your health? Share your thoughts!

For information on purchasing other supplements, read on.