Ten tips for eating better and living a healthier life

01/15/2014 12:00 AM

01/14/2014 10:50 AM

Any time is a good time to start living a healthier lifestyle.

Health experts, food bloggers and chefs say that with an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, getting on the right track should be a little easier.

Also helping people make better food choices is a new book by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. Her book, “Giada’s Feel Good Food: My Healthy Recipes and Secrets” (Clarkson Potter, $32.50, 256 pages) is loaded with more than 100 recipes for breakfasts, juices, lunches, snacks, dinners and desserts.

Why change your eating habits? The reasons are many, including lowering your blood pressure, reducing your risk of heart disease and getting your blood sugar levels under control. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy to change.

But with 10 helpful tips from the experts and some recipes from De Laurentiis, you can begin the new year in a healthful way.

1. Don’t skip breakfast, says Kim Tirapelle, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente in Clovis. Eating a breakfast with protein and fiber will help stabilize your blood sugar and curb your late morning cravings. Foods like Greek yogurt are a great source of protein, as are eggs or egg whites. Whole wheat toast, oatmeal and fresh fruit are also good sources of fiber.

2. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables at every meal. Tirapelle says the more colors of food on your plate the better. Also, if you can’t get your children to eat vegetables, sneak it in their food by puréeing it and adding it to sauces or soups. And if you can’t find fresh fruits or vegetables, frozen produce is a good option.

3. Cut out the fat and salt. Try roasting or grilling your meats and vegetables instead of frying. Choose leaner meats and pull the skin off poultry. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with different herbs and seasonings. It helps add flavor without the salt.

4. Increase your intake of fiber and whole grains. Chef Naomi Hendrix adds a tablespoon of chia seeds to her morning oatmeal or cereal. The nutrient-rich seeds are high in protein and antioxidants. Hendrix says the tiny seeds will make you feel full, reducing the tendency to over eat. Other fiber-rich things to try include quinoa, amaranth and freekeh, young green wheat that is toasted and cracked.

5. Eat more foods with omega-3, a beneficial fatty acid. Tirapelle says foods with omega-3 help improve your heart and brain function. Foods high in omega-3 include salmon, mackerel, tuna, flax seed, spinach and walnuts. She recommends at least three servings a week.

6. Increase your fluids. “Often times when we feel tired and worn down it is because we are dehydrated,” Tirapelle says. She said we should be drinking between 64 to 80 ounces of water a day. And limit the sports drink, flavored coffees and teas.

7. Plant your own garden. Growing your own food helps increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and gets children more interested in what they are eating.

8. Try healthy snacks. Limit salty and fried snack foods such as potato chips. This time of year, stock up on winter fruits for snacks and at meal time. “Put a bowl of 4-5 peeled mandarins and 2-3 sliced pears at the dinner table for one more side dish,” said Dorie Lim, a registered dietitian. “Trust me, they'll disappear.” Dried fruit and nuts also are a good source of healthy snacks.

9. Choose low-fat or nonfat milk products. Also, try using low-fat plain yogurt or avocados – that have a heart-healthy fat – for dipping vegetables or other healthy snacks.

10. Use smaller plates to help with portion control. Also, taller slender glasses help reduce the amount of soda or juice you drink. When you eat from smaller plates, you feel satisfied without overeating, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For more tips, visit the government website www.choosemyplate.gov.

At right is one of the recipes from Giada De Laurentiis’s “Feel Good Food.”

RECIPE

Stuffed red bell peppers with whole-wheat couscous

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

Peppers:

6 large red bell peppers

1/2 cup whole-wheat couscous

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Vegetable oil cooking spray

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, diced (about 1/2 cup)

3 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 large shallot, diced (about 1/2 cup)

3 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped

10 pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (2 to 3 large limes)

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

4 ounces coarsely grated low-fat white Cheddar cheese (1 cup)

Avocado sauce:

One 12-ounce avocado, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 large limes)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the peppers: Preheat a broiler. Arrange the peppers in a single layer on a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning the peppers every few minutes, until charred on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Put the peppers in a resealable plastic bag for 15 minutes. Gently scrape off the burnt skin, being careful not to tear the flesh. Lay each pepper on a cutting board.

Using a paring knife, remove a 1/2-inch-wide strip of flesh from the side of each pepper to create an opening. Chop the strips of pepper into 1/2-inch pieces to reserve for the filling. Using a small spoon, remove the seeds from inside each pepper.

In a medium saucepan, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the couscous and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.

In a small nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, garlic, oregano, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the couscous, shallot mixture, the reserved chopped bell pepper pieces, the raisins, almonds, olives, lime juice, maple syrup, and half of the cheese.

Divide the filling among the peppers, packing it gently and mounding it at the top. Arrange in the prepared dish, spaced slightly apart. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake until the peppers are heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.

For the avocado sauce: Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the avocado, 2 tablespoons water, the lime juice, and salt. Blend for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth. Spoon the sauce on plates and top with the peppers.

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