Category Archives: Nutrition

Antioxidants – Protecting Healthy Cells

antioxidant

Our bodies are battlegrounds against infection and diseases. Normal body functions, such as breathing or physical activity, and other lifestyle habits (such as smoking) produce substances called free radicals that attack healthy cells. When these healthy cells are weakened, they are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers. Antioxidants — such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein — help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Carotenoids

Among the 600 or more carotenoids in foods, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein are well-known leaders in the fight to reduce the damage from free radicals. Foods high in carotenoids may be effective in helping prevent certain cancers and may help decrease your risk of macular degeneration.

Foods high in carotenoids include red, orange, deep-yellow and some dark-green leafy vegetables; these include tomatoes, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli.

Vitamin E

Research has demonstrated the broad role of vitamin E in promoting health. The main role of vitamin E is as an antioxidant. It helps protect your body from cell damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease and cataracts as we age. Vitamin E works with other antioxidants such as vitamin C to offer protection from some chronic diseases. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, salad dressings, margarine, wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.

Vitamin C

Perhaps the best-known antioxidant, vitamin C offers a wide-variety of health benefits. These benefits include protecting your body from infection and damage to body cells, helping produce collagen (the connective tissue that holds bones and muscles together) and helping in the absorption of iron and folate.

To take advantage of these benefits, eat foods rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits and tangerines), strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and potatoes.

The best way to build a healthful eating plan is to eat well-balanced meals and snacks each day and to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Eating at least 2 cups of fruits and 2½ cups of vegetables daily is a good start for healthful living.

Wellness Challenge: June

fuitandveg
June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!

Your goal for this month is to have a serving of fresh fruit and vegetables every day (Monday through Thursday) for the month of June.

1 serving (in general) = a small whole fruit/veggie, 1 cup raw, ½ cup cooked

Not only are fruit and vegetables low in calories, they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that can really have a positive impact on our health.

Vegetables and fruit are an important part of a healthy diet, and variety is as important as quantity.

No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eat different kinds every day.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruit can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect on blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.

Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens; brightly colored red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruit; and cooked tomatoes. Click here to learn more about the nutrients in fruit and vegetables.

Whole Grains

wheat-300x194

Whole Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin & folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).

Dietary fiber from whole grains or other foods may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It also helps reduce constipation and provides a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.

The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a key role in metabolism – they help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. They are also essential for a healthy nervous system.

Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells and can reduce risk of neural tube defects during fetal development.

Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood.

Magnesium is used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles.

Selenium protects cells from oxidation and is also important for a healthy immune system.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel:

The Bran: Outer shell (protects seed), contains fiber, B vitamins, trace minerals
The Germ: Nourishment for the seed, contains antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins
The Endosperm: Provides energy, carbohydrates, protein

Examples of whole grains:

  • Brown rice

  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat cereal
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Whole-grain cornmeal
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Whole-wheat sandwich buns and rolls
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Wild rice
  • Whole cornmeal
  • Shredded wheat cereal

How to identify whole grains:

  • Look for the word “whole” as the first word on the ingredients list

  • Look for the whole grain stamp on a product:

WG-Stamp-4C-100-16g

Do your best to incorporate whole grains into your diet! Your body will thank you!

Daily Recommended Servings of Fruit & Vegetables

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2010 that only 33% of adults were eating the daily recommended amount of fruit, and even fewer — 27% — were meeting their veggie quota. And that’s adults; the numbers for teens were worse.

What’s a Daily Recommended Serving?

There’s not a lot that nutrition scientists agree on, but almost everyone seems to think we should eat more vegetables, and that they should make up a greater part of our plates. To this end, they recommend a very basic guideline:

Someone who needs 2,000 calories a day should eat:
•2 cups of fruit
•2 1/2 cups of vegetables

These recommended servings come from widely accepted dietary guidelines that are still, of course, just rough guidelines. Everyone is different, and has different nutritional needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all plan, and perhaps you eat a lot more veggies than this every day (or a lot less fruit).

While that 2,000 calorie standard is an average that suits a lot of people, of course it doesn’t fit everyone. Fruit and vegetable servings are calibrated off of calorie requirements, which in turn are set by a person’s sex, age, and activity level.

You can calculate your own daily recommended servings of fruit & vegetables here.

A Few Tips on Calculating Fruit & Vegetable Servings

How do servings work? For the most part, a cup means a cup — just measure out a cup of grapes or a cup of chopped carrots, and ta-da, you have your measurement. There are a few exceptions, though:

When it comes to salad, a cup is not a cup. It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal 1 cup of vegetables.

Juice does count as a fruit. According to the CDC, a cup of fruit juice does count as a serving of fruit, but nutritionists caution that you’re not getting the fiber and other good benefits of eating whole fruit.

When it comes to dried fruit, cut the amount in half. A half cup of dried fruit equals one cup of fresh fruit.

One big piece of fruit is roughly a cup. An apple, an orange, a large banana, a nectarine, a grapefruit — one piece of fruit gives you one cup.

Keeping this in mind, here are some looks at a full daily serving of fruit and vegetables:

fruit1

Berries at breakfast, berries for dessert, and vegetables for lunch, snack, and dinner.

Fruit: 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup strawberries (about 8 large)
Vegetables: 1 cup coleslaw, 6 baby carrots with dip, 1 cup sautéed kale

fruit2

Let’s get snack happy! If you just snack on fruit and vegetables all day, this is the way to do it. Cut up some vegetables and pack them in your lunchbox with some hummus.

Fruit: 1 cup cantaloupe, 1 cup champagne grapes
Vegetables: 1 cup sugar snap peas, 1 yellow bell pepper, 1 stalk celery

fruit3

Eat a big salad for lunch or dinner, and round it out with some fruit. You could even put the fruit on the salad.

Fruit: 1/2 cup dried cherries, 1 apple
Vegetables: Large salad with about 5 cups salad greens

Weight Loss Tips

diettips
Struggling to shed weight and keep it off? Seven dietitians offer the most important weight loss tip they share with patients:

Tip 1: Don’t let hunger deter you from sticking with your diet.

Whatever diet you choose — and many different diets can help you lose weight — don’t give up because you get too hungry.

“Hunger is one reason many people don’t stick with a weight loss plan for more than a few weeks. When you eat less, your fat cells release more hunger hormones, which increases your appetite,” says Dawn Noe, RD, LD, CDE. “Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate meal plans are best for controlling your hunger and appetite.”

When you have diabetes, a diet with fewer carbs (like bread, pasta, rice, desserts, sugary beverages, juice) is also important because you’ll need less insulin. And that can help prevent hunger, fat storage and weight gain.

Replace processed carbs like white bread, bagels, muffins or donuts for breakfast with high-protein foods like eggs, or Greek yogurt mixed with chia seeds and berries. You’ll find that you stay fuller, longer.

Tip 2: Don’t eat a carbohydrate unless it has fiber attached to it.

“This method forces you to forgo the bad carbs (candy, white bread, soda) and stick only with high-quality carbs,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “The more fiber in your diet, the better!”

Fiber helps improve blood sugar control, helps lower cholesterol, and reduces your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, colorectal cancer and heart disease.

Foods rich in fiber include legumes (dried beans, lentils), veggies (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach squash, sweet potatoes) and fruit (apples, berries, oranges, pears).

Tip 3: Focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on the scale.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you look only at your weight. “Focus instead on making good food choices, watching portions and exercising regularly,” says Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD. “If you lead with these behaviors, the weight loss will follow.”

Replace a goal like “lose 2 pounds a week” with specific mini-goals, like “eat 1 cup of veggies at dinner,” “walk 20 minutes a day,” or “keep a daily food log.” If you’re disappointed with your weight progress at week’s end, reflect on how well you stuck to each goal.

“If you’ve made healthy changes, congratulations!” she says. “If you fell short, ask yourself why. Were the goals too difficult? Do you need a stronger support system? Is a major barrier in your way? Then either tweak your goals or focus on the factors you can control.”

Try tracking lifestyle changes, food, exercise and weight in a journal. At the end of each week, check off which new habits are going well and which need more work. “Your health is a lifelong journey,” she says.

Tip 4: Make plants the foundation of your diet.

Different weight loss approaches work for different people. But plant foods should be the foundation of any diet.

“Research strongly supports the benefits of plant-based nutrition approaches for weight loss, disease prevention, and overall health,” says Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, LD. “Whether you’re eating vegetarian, paleo, high-fat, vegan or pegan (a combination of paleo and vegan), your diet should include a variety of foods from the earth.” That means enjoying lots of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cucumbers and bok choy, and fruit like berries, apples and pears.

Plant-based foods contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help support your cells and reduce inflammation, she says. They also provide fiber and water, both of which help you feel fuller.

Tip 5: No foods are 100 percent off-limits.

When you label foods as “good” and “bad,” you naturally fixate on foods you shouldn’t eat but typically still crave —and likely will crave more when they’re totally off limits.

“Focus instead on choosing the right portions of healthy foods 80 to 90 percent of the time,” says Jennifer Willoughby, RD, CSP, LD. “That, paired with a healthy exercise routine, can lead to long-term weight loss success. And it leaves some wiggle room to enjoy ‘fun foods’ occasionally without feeling guilt or resentment.”

When working with children, she teaches them which choices are better and will fuel their bodies more effectively, rather than giving them lists of foods to eat and foods to completely avoid.

Feelings of guilt from eating forbidden foods can snowball into unhealthy emotions in childhood, adolescence and even adulthood, she says.

Tip 6: Spend your calories wisely.

All calories are not created equal. “If your diet consists mainly of sugar, saturated/trans fats and salt — all of which can be very addictive — you can develop consistent cravings for dense, high-calorie foods with little nutritional value,” says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

“This leads to excess calories and weight gain or inability to lose weight.”

Eat foods that are high in lean protein, healthy fats and fiber, and you’ll feel satisfied throughout the day and will rarely get cravings. This will help you maintain a lower calorie level, which will lead to weight loss.

Tip 7: Plan tomorrow’s meals today.

Planning ahead stops that “grab what you see” panic that sets in when you wait to plan dinner until you’re starving at 6 p.m. Scaring up dinner on the fly is likely to bring less nutritious, higher-calorie choices to your table.

When you sit down for dinner tonight, plan what you’ll eat for dinner tomorrow. “It’s so much easier to do when you’re not hungry,” says Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, CDE.

“This also gives you time to take something out of the freezer, chop veggies tonight to put in the crockpot tomorrow morning, and ask which family members will be home for dinner.”

Wellness Challenge: Replace Sweets with Fruit

fruit

Your wellness challenge for the week is to replace sweets with fruit. Remember, your challenge is to do this at least 4 days this week.

Many types of candy are loaded with artificial dyes and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and an array of other additives. Skip unhealthy ingredients and replace candy with fruit, nature’s sweet treat. While fruit contains natural sugars, it also delivers beneficial nutrients, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in fruit also makes you feel full, unlike most candy.

Out With the Candy

The first step to replacing candy with fruit is to remove temptation. That bag of taffy you have in your desk drawer and any other stashes of candy need to go. If you do not want to throw them away, take them to work for coworkers or give them to a friend. This prevents you from giving in to a candy craving, since the prospect is less appealing if you have to go out and buy candy to get your fix.

Fresh Fruit around the House

Keeping a fruit bowl in the rooms you frequent makes your new candy replacement more appealing and convenient. Wash the fruit so they are ready to eat, set out only as much as you plan to eat in a week and restock when the bowls are empty. Cut fruit that require peeling into candy-size pieces and store mini fruit salad bags in your refrigerator. Reach for these when you feel like snacking, instead of grabbing a bag of candy. If possible, store bags of fruit in a refrigerator at work to replace your visits to the vending machine.

Frozen Fruit Instead of Hard Candy

If your favorite is hard candy, buy a bag of frozen berries or chopped fruit. Alternately, make your own: prepare the fruit, spread it on a baking sheet and freeze it for an hour before putting it in a bag to keep the fruit from sticking together. Pop a piece of frozen fruit in your mouth and suck on it until it has thawed enough to chew. Keep some frozen fruit at your office as well, if you have access to a freezer.

Dried Fruit on the Go

For chewy sweet treats, dried fruit is your best choice. Most grocers have a wide selection of dried fruit; avoid sweetened varieties, which are nearly as bad as candy. Keep a bag of dried fruit in your desk, candy dish, or anywhere else you like to snack. You can also dry your own fruit. Slice them thinly, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a dehydrator or in a 150-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 to 12 hours. The fruit will not retain their color unless you dip them in ascorbic acid — or some type of citrus juice — before you dry them. This helps kill bacteria as well.

More Budget Friendly Healthy Foods

We recently posted about some healthy foods that are also healthy for your budget. Here are some more ideas. Enjoy!

parsley
Pass the Parsley, Please
What it costs:
11 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Go ahead and munch on that sprig of parsley garnishing your plate. One ounce of this unsung herb (about half a cup) supplies nearly 50 percent of your daily vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and more than 60 percent of your vitamin C needs. A recent study found that the beta-carotene and vitamin C combo may help protect against dementia. It’s also loaded with vitamin K, which helps your blood clot when you have a wound but keeps it from getting too sticky and clotting the rest of the time.

How to use it: Who says pesto can only be made with basil? Try our Spinach Parsley Basil Walnut Pecan Pesto With Green Beans recipe.

cabbage
Head Off Health Issues With Cabbage
What it costs:
8 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage may help prevent prostate and colon cancer, as well as increase survival rates in women with breast cancer. Cabbage is also a good source of folate, fiber, and vitamins C and K.

How to use it: Try this recipe for Crunchy Peanut Slaw, adapted from the Environmental Working Group.

barley
Do Your Body Good With Barley
What it costs:
7 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: Chewy and nutty, barley is rich in both protein and fiber — the ultimate combination for knocking out hunger. And because barley is digested slowly, it keeps your blood sugar — and appetite — stable for hours. “This grain is high in soluble fiber, which tends to bind with bile acids and take cholesterol out of the body,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. Translation: It helps brings your LDL (lousy cholesterol) levels down.

How to use it: Barley lends itself well to risotto recipes — just go easy on the cheese. Toss the grain into a slow cooker with low-sodium broth and your favorite spices. Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese just before serving, and season with pepper or fresh chopped herbs like basil and chives. The grain also makes a great oatmeal alternative, says Jamieson-Petonic, who likes to dress hers up with cinnamon, almonds, dried cranberries and milk.

salmon
Bone Up on Salmon
What it costs:
72 cents per serving (3 ounces)

Why it’s good for you: Canned salmon is an inexpensive and convenient way to load up on fish oil, vitamin D and calcium all at once. Omega-3 fatty acids help protect the brain from shrinking as we age, and they reduce the inflammation that contributes to heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Omega-3s may even keep your vision sharp. The salmon bones, which are edible and can be mashed with a fork, provide more than 160 percent of your daily vitamin D needs. Low levels of D have been linked to heart disease. Another great thing about canned salmon: Much of it comes from wild Alaskan sources, and it’s much cheaper than wild-caught salmon fillets.

How to use it: Use canned salmon in sandwiches, the way you would tuna, or in place of deli meat. Canned salmon also works well for salmon burgers and fish tacos. Or try our recipe for Grilled Salmon with Pineapple Pecan Salsa.

turkey
Turkey Breast Is Best
What it costs:
36 cents per serving (3 ounces, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: Because most people associate turkey with Thanksgiving, buying it year-round can be a cheaper alternative to chicken. “Even though it may be more expensive, we recommend white meat over dark, which can have as much saturated fat as certain cuts of red meat,” says Kirkpatrick. One serving of white turkey meat provides 25 grams of protein and virtually no saturated fat. Turkey is a valuable source of selenium, which helps neutralize damaging free radicals in the body and may guard against age-related diseases. This poultry pick also provides vitamins B6 and B3 (niacin), needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes and nerves.

How to use it: Use ground turkey in your turkey burger, chili, meatloaf and meat sauce recipes. Mix in a package of defrosted and well-drained chopped frozen spinach for a simple way to get your greens. For a cheaper and healthier alternative to cold cuts, roast a turkey breast in the oven and refrigerate to use on sandwiches during the week.

beans
Get to Know Beans
What it costs:
Black beans and chickpeas, 6 cents per serving; pinto beans, 4 cents per serving; red kidney beans and black-eyed peas, 14 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: “Protein, when you’re buying beef, turkey or even chicken, can be really, really expensive,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “But if you buy beans and lentils, you’re getting a lot more for your money,” she says. Undurraga agrees. “When you’re trying to eat healthfully on a budget, there shouldn’t be a lot of meat in your diet,” she explains. The average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day, and most Americans have no trouble meeting that number. One cup of beans will supply one-third of your daily protein requirement. Eating beans in place of protein sources like red meat and full-fat dairy can improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

How to use it: While beans’ high fiber content is a nutritional boon, people who aren’t used to that much roughage may not see it that way. The secret, says Jamieson-Petonic, is to start slowly and gradually increase your fiber intake so your body can adjust. And, because fiber absorbs liquids in your digestive tract, always drink plenty of water to avoid getting bound up. Grill up a batch of our Black Bean Oatmeal Burgers, or, for a healthy sandwich spread, try this recipe for pinto bean hummus.

lentils
Pack in Protein With Lentils
What it costs:
6 cents per serving (1/2 cup, cooked)

Why it’s good for you: A good source of protein and B vitamins, lentils can help people steer clear of diabetes and heart disease. “They’re an anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-free substitute for meat, so they help reduce cardiovascular risk. They’re also high in fiber and a low-glycemic way to stretch your dollar while controlling cholesterol and blood sugar,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. They’re also loaded with essential nutrients like folate and iron.

How to use it: Unlike other dried legumes, lentils cook quickly without any pre-soaking. Brown lentils, the least expensive variety, break down during cooking and are best used in soups. These three soup recipes offer a tasty introduction to lentils and make the perfect cool-weather meal: Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup With Shiitake Mushrooms recipe, Pumpkin Lentil Soup recipe, and Collard and Lentil Soup recipe.

sunflower
Make Sunflowers Your Top Seeds
What it costs:
16 cents per serving (1/4 cup)

Why it’s good for you: “Sunflower seeds are really a good snack for a lot of reasons: They give you vitamins and minerals you won’t be getting from other foods,” says Jamieson-Petonic. Those nutrients include vitamin E, which helps safeguard cells from damage and may protect against heart disease and cancer; magnesium, which may help stave off depression, migraines and hearing loss; and selenium, which may help lower cholesterol and prevent hardening of the arteries.

How to use it: Avoid going overboard; eat sunflower seeds sparingly. A quarter-cup serving makes a 200-calorie snack. To keep from overindulging, use sunflower seeds in a trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, suggests Petonic. Or use them in place of more expensive pine nuts in pesto or sprinkled over salads or vegetables. Or buy them in the shell.

canola
Get Cooking With Canola Oil
What it costs:
2 cents per serving (1 tablespoon)

Why it’s good for you: Canola oil has the least saturated fat of all vegetable oils. Saturated fat contributes to disease-causing inflammation. The good fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, can help reduce your heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol and inflammation.

How to use it: Whereas extra-virgin olive oil is great for drizzling over food before serving, canola oil, whose smoke point is 470 degrees, can withstand high-heat cooking and works well for pan-frying, grilling and sautéing. Because of its mild flavor, canola oil can also be used in any baking recipe.

yogurt
Build Bones With Yogurt
What it costs:
62 cents per serving (1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Skip the sweet stuff and go with nonfat plain yogurt. Fruit-on-the-bottom varieties aren’t just more expensive; ounce for ounce, they contain more sugar than most soda. While almost half of that is naturally occurring lactose, more than half isn’t. Sweetened yogurt tacks more than 14 grams of added sugar onto your diet. That’s nearly the recommended daily limit of 20 grams. One cup of nonfat plain yogurt, on the other hand, provides nearly one-quarter of your daily protein needs, as well as half of your day’s calcium.

How to use it: While we love Greek yogurt for being lower in sugar and higher in protein than conventional kinds, it is more expensive. When making dips or looking for a sour cream alternative, splurge on Greek, which has a much thicker consistency. Use conventional plain, nonfat yogurt in smoothies or mixed with fruit and honey for a snack.

Wellness Challenge: Cooking at Home

cooking

Your wellness challenge this week is to cook at home four or more days this week. Here are just some of the benefits of cooking at home:

Nutritious – Restaurants, both fast food and otherwise, are known to be notoriously high in calories, sugars, fats, sodium and carbohydrates. Even the healthier, low-cal options can contain a high level of sugars and fats. Eating at home allows you to cut out what you may deem unnecessary in your diet. You’re in control of the food you cook and the food you consume.

Increase knowledge of food – Food is much more than just something that tastes good and fills up your stomach. Cooking your own meals can teach you what foods are high or low in certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It will even boost your creativity as you learn to combine nutritious foods to satisfy your palate!

Savor your food – The physical act of preparing your own meals will lead to a newfound appreciate for the food you consume. This is very important since mindless munching and emotional eating can contribute to unhealthy weight gain because you’re not fully conscious of the foods you’re eating. Being more aware of what you consume when you prepare it will make you less likely to overeat.

Appropriate portions- Restaurants are notorious for their extreme portion sizes. Preparing meals at home gives you the ability to exercise portion control and help curb the temptation of overeating.

Builds healthy habits- Cooking at home can jump-start your healthy lifestyle! By discovering healthy recipes, learning about food, creating and sticking to a meal plan, you and your family can be inspired to living a healthier life.

Encourages family bonding – Family dynamics can greatly improve with more at home, family meal times. Children benefit from the ritual of preparing and eating meals together. This is also a great teaching tool for parents to instill healthy eating habits in their children. In fact, several studies conducted by the University of Michigan found eating family meals at the dinner table is associated with fewer psychological issues and higher academic success in children and promoted sociability in the family.

Food safety – According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses (also known as food poisoning) affects 1 in 6 Americans every year. Cooking at home will give you the peace of mind you need in knowing you have the freshest ingredients (or at least since your last trip to the grocer’s!), and you can rest assured knowing your food has been stored and cooked at the correct temperatures.

Awareness of food allergies & sensitivities – While we’ve mentioned that you control the nutritional intake of your meals, cooking for yourself and your family also gives the control to avoid food allergens.

Cleanliness – Cooking at home can give you the clean conscience of not only knowing what’s in your food, but how clean your food is. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure your kitchen and dinnerware are sterile and your ingredients are prepared thoroughly before eating.

Saves money – Eating dinner out is expensive! It is a lot more cost-effective to purchase groceries than ordering take out or going to restaurants.

Budget Friendly Healthy Foods

Think you can’t afford to eat healthfully? It may be easier and less expensive than you imagine. According to Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic, it’s a myth that kale costs more than cookies. A 2012 USDA study found that junk foods cost more per portion than the good guys like legumes, whole grains and vegetables. The secret to getting the most nutritional bang for your buck: embracing a back-to-basics eating style, says Environmental Working Group (EWG) nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, MS, RD. To help you navigate the aisles, EWG crunched some numbers to determine which foods offer the most nutrition for your dollar and the least exposure to environmental toxins like BPA, pesticides and mercury. Here, your guide to the best buys in the supermarket, and how to add them to your diet.

bananas
Go Bananas!
What it costs:
24 cents per small banana (1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Though they may be the cheapest fruit in the produce section, bananas are no nutritional slouch. Among their greatest benefits are their fiber and potassium content, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program. Potassium blunts the effects of a high-sodium diet and can even help lower blood pressure. Eat bananas between meals to curb afternoon munchies. “As with anything that’s high in fiber, bananas will help you feel full for longer,” says Kirkpatrick.

How to use it: Buy bananas when they’re still slightly green, so they’ll last you the entire week. If you don’t eat them in time and they start to turn brown, peel them and store them in the freezer to use later in smoothies, muffins or bread, like our Nutty Banana Muffins recipe. One of Kirkpatrick’s favorite ways to eat bananas: dark-chocolate-dipped frozen banana pops. Or try this easy banana “gelato” recipe for a sweet, creamy treat.

pears
A Pear to Remember
What it costs:
33 cents per medium-size pear (1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Research shows that apples and pears may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Another study found that eating plenty of white-fleshed fruits and vegetables could protect against stroke. Plus, just one pear packs in 20 percent of your daily fiber needs. Think of fiber as your stay-slim secret weapon: The more fiber in your food, the less you’ll need to eat to feel full.

How to use it: If you’re not in love with the pear’s grainy texture, bake it with a sprinkle of cinnamon, walnuts, no-sugar-added apple juice and cloves for a wonderful treat. Or try our recipe for Roasted Pears With Maple Crunch. You can also use roasted pears in a salad with dried cranberries and blue cheese or shaved Parmesan.

watermelon
Get Sweet on Watermelon
What it costs:
26 cents per 1 cup

Why it’s good for you: You might think of this sweet summer treat as a luxury, but watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, says Jamieson-Petonic. Lycopene is a type of carotenoid (a pigment that gives fruits and veggies their orange, red or yellow hue) found in red produce that may guard against some cancers, as well as help improve the skin’s natural defenses against the sun. Plus, it’s one of the few foods that contain citrulline, a chemical that helps relax your arteries and lower blood pressure.

How to use it: Though watermelon is high in sugar, eating it with other foods helps keep it from wreaking havoc on your blood sugar levels, notes Jamieson-Petonic. Watermelon’s nutrients are best absorbed with a little fat or oil. Instead of saving it for dessert, turn watermelon into an entrée. Toss cubed watermelon into a salad bowl with diced avocado, cucumber, chopped mint and feta. Drizzle lightly with lime juice and olive oil.

prune
A Prune by Any Other Name
What it costs:
19 cents per serving (1/4 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Though we may think of prunes as nature’s little movers and shakers, that isn’t their only claim to fame. A daily dose of dried plums may help reverse bone loss and prevent osteoporosis, but wait, there’s even more. Prunes have a phytonutrient content rivaling that of blueberries, and at just half the cost.

How to use it: Dress up brown rice or couscous with chopped prunes, lemon zest, sautéed onions, garlic and rosemary. Or try this delicious recipe: Arugula, Radicchio, Orange, and Dried Plum Salad. Then try this when you’re baking brownies: Replace ¼ cup butter with 1/4 cup pureed prunes. The chocolate’s deep color and rich flavor will mask both the color and taste of the prunes. You’ll get extra fiber and nutrients instead of all of the cholesterol and saturated fat from butter.

broccoli
Bulk Up on Broccoli
What it costs:
36 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: It’s hard to beat the health benefits of broccoli. One serving of these tree-like veggies delivers more than a day’s worth of vitamins C and K. Vitamin C helps the body repair wounds and maintain healthy cartilage and bone. It also wards off free radicals that cause aging inside your cells. Vitamin K strengthens bones and fights inflammation. Plus, eating several servings of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli each week may help reduce your risk of cancer.

How to use it: Reap the benefits of broccoli with a dip made from Greek yogurt and fresh dill (try our Turkish Cucumber Yogurt Dip). According to Undurraga, getting kids to eat broccoli may be as easy as roasting it, which adds a sweet taste dimension through the process of caramelization. Simply toss bite-size florets of broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper (and fresh garlic if desired) and roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice or grated Parmesan before serving.

collard
Give Collard Greens the Green Light
What it costs:
27 cents per serving (1 cup raw)

Why it’s good for you: “Leafy greens have the biggest association with cancer prevention. The darker the green, the better it’s going to be for you,” says Kirkpatrick. Collard greens are high in calcium and folate, which helps prevent DNA changes that can lead to cancer. Plus, leafy greens have been linked to fewer vision problems with age, as well as a lower risk of diabetes.

How to use it: One of the easiest ways to get your greens? Toss them into a morning smoothie. Try collards instead of kale in our Lifestyle 180 Green Smoothie. Another option: Finely chop up a few leaves of collards (minus the ribs if you’re in a hurry; they take longer to cook), sauté until tender, and stir in an egg or combine with pasta sauce.

romaine
Spruce Up Your Salad With Romaine Lettuce
What it costs:
27 cents per serving (1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Fancy salad greens can be pretty pricey if you don’t find them on sale. But that doesn’t mean your salad’s foundation has to be lacking in nutrients. Swap out iceberg lettuce for romaine, which is loaded with almost a day’s worth of vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene may help protect against breast cancer, vision problems and sun damage to the skin.

How to use it: You can meet your daily leafy green quota with just ¼ cup of romaine per day. Double up on lettuce when making sandwiches or salmon burgers. Use the inner portions of the romaine head as crudités when putting out veggies and dip. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try grilling the romaine hearts. Remove the outer leaves, slice the head lengthwise into quarters, and brush with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill until slightly charred. Sprinkle with vinaigrette.

carrots
Care for Some Carrots
What it costs:
29 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Besides beta-carotene, carrots are also brimming with a relatively unknown but highly potent plant chemical called alpha-carotene. Research suggests that regularly consuming large amounts of this carotenoid, by way of orange and dark green vegetables, may reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.

How to use it: Keep peeled carrot sticks and hummus ready to go in your fridge for impromptu appetizers or snacks. Incorporate root vegetables like carrots into your meals by making a big batch of soup that you can freeze and reheat. Or pair our Butternut Squash, Carrot and Ginger Soup recipe with a rotisserie chicken and side salad for a quick weekday meal.

potatoes
This Spud’s for You
What it costs:
11 cents per serving (baked with skin, 1 cup)

Why it’s good for you: Poor potatoes sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to nutrition, but the real villain isn’t the potato itself but how it’s usually prepared (as French fries or baked with butter, bacon and sour cream). Per serving, potatoes are the cheapest source of potassium in the produce aisle. This mineral is crucial for heart health and muscle function. Plus, it can help keep blood pressure down.

How to use it: Don’t discard the most nutritious part of the spud: the skin. Boil Yukon Golds or other thin-skinned taters and make smashed potatoes. You don’t need butter to get that creamy, rich taste. Instead, use vegetable or chicken broth and milk, along with minced garlic, salt, pepper and your favorite chopped herbs.

onions
Add Flavor With Onions
What it costs:
18 cents per serving (1 cup, raw)

Why it’s good for you: Adding white-fleshed fruits and veggies like onions to your daily diet can lower your risk of stroke. It may also help keep colon and liver cancer at bay. Some research even suggests that onions and their relatives (scallions, garlic, shallots) may reduce rates of arthritis.

How to use it: Onions are a cheap way to add a lot of flavor. Sauté chopped onions in olive oil and garlic and add to any savory dish, from scrambled eggs to vegetable or chicken stir-fry. For a warming meal, try our decadent Simple, Delicious Onion Soup. Or make chicken fajitas with grilled onions and peppers. The secret to superb Mexican: lots of cumin, chili powder, black pepper and garlic. Garnish with plain Greek yogurt, salsa, cilantro and avocado slices.

Wellness Challenge: Salads

salad2

What could be better than a taste of summer in the depths of winter? Your wellness challenge for this week is to have a side salad with dinner for four or more nights this week. Need some motivation? Here are some reasons why eating salads is good for you:

Eat Salads for the Fiber

Eating a high-fiber diet can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent constipation. And eating more fiber can help you feel fuller, eat less, and ultimately lose weight.

Eat Salads for the Health Benefits of Fruit and Vegetables

Many experts agree that Americans need to eat more fruit and vegetables (especially dark green and orange vegetables) and legumes — all popular salad ingredients. There is plenty of evidence that nutrient-rich plant foods contribute to overall health. If you frequently eat green salads, you’ll likely have higher blood levels of a host of powerful antioxidants (vitamin C and E, folic acid, lycopene, and alpha- and beta-carotene,) especially if your salad includes some raw vegetables. Antioxidants are substances that help protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals.

Eat Salads to Cut Calories and Increase Satisfaction

If losing weight is your goal, you may want to start your meals with a green salad. Studies have shown that eating a low-calorie first course, like a green salad of 150 calories or less, enhances satiety (feelings of fullness) and reduces the total number of calories eaten during the meal.

“Bigger is better” as long as the salad is bigger in volume, not in calories – which means more veggies and less dressing and other fatty add-ons.

Eat Salads to Get Smart Fats

Eating a little good fat (like the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, avocado and nuts) with your vegetables appears to help your body absorb protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark green vegetables.

A recent study measured how well phytochemicals were absorbed by the body after people ate a salad of lettuce, carrot, and spinach, with or without 2 1/2 tablespoons of avocado. The avocado-eaters absorbed eight times more alpha-carotene and more than 13 times more beta-carotene (both of which are thought to help protect against cancer and heart disease) than the group eating salads without avocado.

If you dress your salad with a little olive oil, there may even be some additional years in it for you. Italian research on people aged 60 and older has suggested that a diet that includes plenty of olive oil and raw vegetables is linked to reduced mortality.

Click here for some ideas on delicious side salads. Enjoy!