Tag Archives: Healthy eating

The Benefits of Keeping a Food Journal

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The answer to weight loss may be hidden in your desk drawer….. read more.


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Filed under food diary, food journal

A Bento Can Help You Make Healthy School Lunches


A bento is a boxed lunch that originated in Japan.  Its presentation has evolved over time.  Today, a bento typically consists of a larger box that holds smaller containers (with or without lids) of various sizes.  Using a bento provides you with many health benefits……..read more.

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Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad

The Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad is great on its own or as a topping for a baked potato!

Welcome to Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA.  Today’s featured recipe is Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad.  I decided to use my “Shop to Lose” app for the iPhone to choose the ingredients for this dish.  The Shop to Lose app contains a “smart shopping list” which analyzes and screens grocery store foods based on my weight and health objectives, as well as those of other family members.  It’s a great way to ensure that my pantry items are healthy for me and my family.

I am glad I chose to use “Shop to Lose”* because I discovered something new that I would not have considered otherwise.  My recipe calls for black beans – not a product that I would consider to have many variances between brands.  But, my “Shop to Lose” app brought to my attention that the sugar content between my choices differed slightly.  One had no sugar and the other had 1 gram.  What is nice about the “Shop to Lose” app is that it highlights why a product is a good choice or a bad choice under the nutrition label displayed on the app.  It will tell you if the product is low in sugar or high in fat, for instance.  That is how I discovered the sugar difference – and I thought I was pretty savvy at deciphering nutrition labels.

I think you will find today’s recipe to be very easy to pull together at the last minute because many of the items are pantry staples.  It is also very versatile.  You can serve it as a side dish, use it to top baked potatoes (as I did), or add it to a bed of whole-grain rice for a healthy meal.  It it a great dish to pass at potlucks, barbecues, and picnics too!

Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad


1 (15.5 ounce) can of whole kernel corn, drained

1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 small green bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped

1 small red bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

3/4 tsp ground cumin

2 TBS lime juice

2 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


In a medium bowl add corn, black beans, bell peppers, onion, and garlic.  Drizzle olive oil and lime juice over mixture.  Sprinkle with ground cumin.  Stir until mixture is coated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

*Click here to download the “Shop to Lose” app.

Try this recipe and come back and tell us how you served it, we want to know!

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Filed under barbecue, easy meals, healthy food, homemade meals, iPhone apps, PICKKA, picnic, picnic recipes, Recipes, Shop to Lose, side dish

Tips for a Successful Transition to Healthy Eating

Too often, individuals with good intentions to improve their diet end up abandoning their attempts just a few months into their health makeover.  Various reasons can account for the departure, ranging from time and financial issues to just plain frustration with a process that seems to be taking longer than expected to achieve desired results.  Although obstacles and setbacks cannot be completely eliminated, a little planning prior to beginning your endeavor to live a healthier life can help you progress forward, even during the most challenging times.  Here is what you should consider:

  • Are you ready? Are you willing to put forth the effort that is necessary to improve your health?  If not, what will motivate you?  Do you want to lose weight so that you have more energy to play with your children/grandchildren?  A lifestyle change made with a half-hearted attitude is less likely to succeed than one that is made with a whole-hearted desire to make a change.  Discover what will motivate you and realize that what motivates you may change as time goes on.
  • Is now the right time to make a change?  Will you be leaving for an overseas trip where you will lack control of your dietary intake?  Or, will a family member be undergoing a surgical procedure after which you will need to spend a great amount of your time caring for them?  Making a change amidst “chaos” will prove to be a challenge to maintain.  Consider delaying your efforts until things have calmed down or devise strategies that will help you to adhere to your program during major life events.
  • Set specific short- and long-term attainable goals.  Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” say “I want to lose 10 pounds by December 1.”
  • Devise and outline a plan to achieve your goals.  Your plan should include clear actions that you will take to make the change (e.g., “I will replace the cream in my morning coffee with skim milk.”).  Your plan should also account for obstacles that will be encountered and contigency plans should be in place.  For instance, on days that you know you will be attending a dinner party, choose to eat a light lunch composed of fruit and low-fat yogurt.
  • Be realistic.  Progress is the goal, not perfection.  Circumstances will (and do) arise that will interfere with your attempts at living a healthier lifestyle.  That’s okay – don’t let it frustrate you.  Take this time to reevaluate your plan and goals and make changes accordingly.
  • Keep it fun and make it enjoyable.  Reward yourself when you achieve your goals (e.g., give yourself 15 extra minutes to read the newspaper before starting on household chores).  Keep it interesting by trying healthy cuisine from another culture or by eating your favorite fruit prepared a different way (e.g., poached and served with a yogurt sauce).
  • Enlist support.  Let friends, family and coworkers know you are making a change for the better and ask them to help or even join you in your efforts.  Sharing success stories or discussing challenges with others can help motivate  you to stay on the right path.

Having the right mindset and being prepared to make a change toward healthier eating will help to make your transition toward better nutrition a success.  Don’t get discouraged by setbacks, rather use them as lessons for a better future.  And remember, it is a process that will contiually evolve overtime.

What has helped you maintain a healthy diet?  Share with us, we want to know!


Filed under behavior change, goal setting, health, healthy eating tips

Nix the Salt Habit!

Do you tend to have a heavy hand with the salt?  If you do, you are not alone.  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a sodium intake that is no more than 2,300 mg/day for individuals 2 years of age and older – that is about 1 teaspoon of salt per day.  The recommendations for at-risk populations (African-Americans, adults 40 years and older, and hypertensive individuals) is lower, set at no more than 1,500 mg/day.  However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg/day of sodium.  Why is this so bad?  Sodium stimulates your kidneys to retain water.  This, in turn, increases your blood volume.  An increased blood volume can cause hypertension (high blood pressure).  And, hypertension increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. 

Individuals who are at-risk and/or are  “salt sensitive” – that is, more susceptible to the effects of salt on the body – need to take particular care concerning sodium intake; however, all individuals need to lower consumption to reduce health risks.  Last April, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States.  In this publication,  the IOM states that a collaborative effort is needed to reduce the amount of sodium Americans consume.  Part of this strategy entails new government standards for sodium content in foods produced by food manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice providers.  The ultimate goal is to set a standard sodium level for commercially prepared foods that is considered to be safe.  This reduction is to occur graduallyso as to allow the American palate to adjust accordingly without change being significantly noticed.  Likewise, the IOM is calling upon Americans themselves to make wiser choices about food products and to limit sodium content in home-prepard foods.  Other sectors of society, such as health professionals and public-private corporations are asked to support the implementation of sodium guidelines by food producers as well as to encourage fellow Americans to follow a lower sodium diet.

How can you take action to reduce the sodium in your diet?

  • Gradually lower your intake of sodium to the recommended level.
  • Purchase items labeled as “low salt,” “low sodium,”  “no salt added,” and “sodium free.”
  • Avoid adding salt while cooking foods such as rice, pasta, whole-grain cereals, and vegetables.
  • Add flavor by using salt-free spices and herbs instead of salt.  Good salt-free alternatives include lemon-pepper blends, all-spice, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, dry mustard, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, basil, dill, and garlic.  Using lemon juice and vinegar can also add flavor without the need for salt.
  • Watch out for hidden sources of sodium, such as some over-the-counter and prescription medications, certain natural foods (e.g., olives and seafood), and baking soda and baking powder.

Although it is important to reduce your sodium intake to the recommended safe level, do not eliminate salt completely from your diet.  Sodium is essential for proper muscle function, neurotransmission of impulses and fluid regulation and balance in your body.

How have you reduced the amount of sodium in your diet?  Share with us, we want to know!

Sources for more  information

Institute of Medicine

American Dietetic Association

American Heart Association


Filed under health, healthy eating tips, salt, seasonings, sodium, spices

Simply Sunday – Healthy Cooking

Welcome to Simply Sunday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  Today’s topic of discussion is healthy cooking.  A quality diet isn’t just characterized by the type of foods that you eat, but how you prepare and cook them.  Using proper tecnniques will lessen the chances of decreasing the vitamin and mineral content of foods and adding unnecessary amounts of fat and sodium to meals.  Here are a few tips to follow when in the kitchen:

  • Do not peel away the edible skin of fruits and vegetables (e.g., apples, peaches, potatoes, etc.,).  Most of the vitamins and minerals are not found in the middle, rather they are present in the skin and just below the skin.  By removing the peel you are stripping away vital nutrients.
  • Steam rather than boil vegetables.  There is very little or no contact with water during the steaming process; therefore, most of the vegetable’s nutrients can be retained.  Because some of the vitamins can be dissolved in water, boiling vegetables can lead to a loss of nutrients.  If you need to boil your produce, save and freeze the cooking water to be used at a later date for soup stock, sauces, etc.,.  This way, you can still obtain the water-soluble nutrients that were dissolved in the water during the boiling process. 
  • Roast vegetables using nonstick cooking spray to enhance flavor while cutting down on fat content.
  • Do not overcook vegetables.  Overcooking destroys vitamins and minerals.
  • Rinse canned fish and meat before consuming to lower sodium and fat content.
  • To lower the fat content of your meal, trim the fat from cuts of poultry and meats before cooking and remove the skin from cooked poultry before eating.
  • Microwave meats and produce.  The fast-cooking process of microwaving decreases the time that the heat-sensitive nutrients of food are exposed to high temperatures.  Also, you do not need to add any fat to your meal to cook it in the microwave.
  • Baste using low-fat or fat-free liquids such as lemon juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, tomato juice, fat-skimmed stock, and wine.
  • When sauteing, use wine, lemon juice, or fat-skimmed stock and/or broth instead of oil or butter to lower fat content.
  • When roasting, grilling, and broiling use a rack so that fat drippings fall away from meat and poultry.

What techniques do you use for healthy cooking?  Share with us, we want to know!



Filed under health, healthy eating tips, healthy food, homemade meals, nutrition

5 Tips to Avoid Unwanted Snacking

Are you guilty of mindless snacking?  Here are a few tips to help you break the habit.

  • Eat Breakfast: By replenishing your energy stores from the fast incurred by sleep, you will prevent unwanted “crashes” later in the day that lead to the “munchies” and/or binge eating.  Eat a balanced breakfast composed of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Lack of sleep and/or restless sleep upset the hormonal balance, increasing enzymes that trigger your body’s hunger center.  Adequate sleep will help to keep this system in check.
  • Practice Stress Relaxation Exercises: The stress hormone, cortisol, can stimulate hunger.  Minimize triggers of its secretion by keeping the body in a calm state through such techniques as deep breathing, meditation, Yoga positions, etc.,.
  • Take a 5-10 Minute Walking Break: Are you feeling the urge to nibble on the surplus of donuts in the conference room at work? Try hitting the halls for a quick jaunt instead.  Exercise can suppress appetite and can lower stress levels that stimulate hunger.
  • Put Temptations Out of Sight: Avoid succumbing to the “power of suggestion” by storing unhealthy snacks out-of-view in the back of the pantry and/or refrigerator or areas that are not readily accessible – better yet, don’t even buy them.  Prevent temptations on-the-go or at work by not keeping sugary, empty calorie items in your car or office desk drawer.  Instead stock up on nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc.,.

How do you avoid unwanted snacking?  Share with us, we want to know!


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Filed under breakfast, healthy eating tips, snacks, stress, Uncategorized, weight management, workplace