Tuesday, July 3, 2012

5 Ways to Eat Healthier

Everyone wants to have a healthier diet, but getting there can be a challenge.

Registered Nurse Susan M. Gugliuzza, founder and CEO of SUGU Snacks, a line of nutritious breakfast bars and cookies, has embarked on a lifelong journey to eat healthier and to encourage others to do the same.

Last week, we wrote about SUGU Snacks as a better-for-you, more filling alternative to most snack foods on the market. Today, Susan shares the keys to success in pursuing a healthier diet.

1. Try New Foods

In our quest to eat healthy, it’s important to try new things.

“We are creatures of habit and tend to remain with what is familiar to us. Many times, we need to push ourselves to purchase something out of the ordinary – a different fruit, vegetable, or spice.”

Learning about new ingredients, Susan says, comes with exposure and experience – reading about them, finding new recipes and creating new recipes.

"When I purchase a new fruit or vegetable, my first stop is the computer at home. I type in the name of the item, along with the word recipe ("artichoke recipe" for example). Almost immediately, I find several sites that have recipes for how to prepare an artichoke. This is a terrific way to expand your knowledge and taste buds too."

2. Listen to Your Body

Beginning at the preschool level, Susan teaches young children how our body talks to us. “We must listen to our own body,” Susan says. “It will let us know if a food item agrees with our system or not.”

"Our body speaks to us through pain, bloating, gas, cramps and sometimes hives, a burning sensation or shortness of breath. If we try a new food that does not agree with our body, it will let us know." 

In 2010, Susan was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. She experienced severe stomach and intestinal pain within minutes of eating a meal. The on-going damage prevented her from absorbing any nutrients, and caused hair loss and painful joints.

Facing the prospect of three surgeries, Susan turned to her mom and family practice physician, both of whom recommended that she avoid gluten (wheat, rye and barley).

Having endured the symptoms of Celiac Disease for a year, Susan found relief after only three days of eliminating gluten from her diet. She no longer needed surgery.

Eating a Gluten-Free Diet

Pursuing a gluten-free diet comes with challenges of its own, and Susan has yet to find a gluten-free bread that tastes like the real thing. For a nutritious lunch, she recommends a sandwich roll-up:
  1. Using one large lettuce leaf, either Romaine or Iceberg, layer meat, cheese, sliced green peppers, black olives and a drizzle of mustard.
  2. Roll the leaf from its short end. Enjoy!
Susan also wraps her burgers in a large lettuce leaf with the fixings tucked inside.
As a side dish, choose unsalted nuts; almonds or pecans are Susan’s favorite.

Susan’s Chicken and Grass Recipe

Susan can’t eat soy sauce, so she developed this recipe as a way to enjoy her favorite food, using Liquid Aminos as a substitute. Her eleven-year-old son, Christian, calls it “Chicken and Grass.”

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bag of broccoli slaw
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Liquid Aminos
  • 1 bag of rice noodles (optional)

  1. Sauté minced garlic in a few tablespoons water until tender.
  2. Add chicken breasts and cook thoroughly, turning once, approximately 4 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Allow to cool and dice into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Rinse the bag of broccoli slaw in the bag, pour out the excess water and add broccoli slaw to the pan. Drizzle with Liquid Aminos.
  4. Add a dusting of ground ginger or fresh grated ginger root. Cover and let ingredients steam for five minutes.
At this point, you can enjoy it as a pure meat and veggie dish. Or, prepare rice noodles according to the package directions, then place ½ cup of cooked noodles on the plate and top with the broccoli slaw mixture.

3. Eat Foods in Their Natural Forms

Susan says, “Fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden or market will provide the most nutrients if you don’t boil them into mush.”

Don’t know where to start? You can find recipes for raw foods online.

4. Plan Your Fruits and Vegetables First

Most people plan their meals starting with the main course. Susan takes a different approach. She recommends beginning with a fruit or vegetable.

For example:
  • Select zucchini, asparagus or any other dark green vegetable. 
  • Sauté it in minced garlic, add a cup or two of chicken broth, a can of dark red kidney beans and a handful of small pasta shapes. 
  • You can eat it as a vegetable dish, or add sliced chicken Italian sausage or cooked chicken breast into the mix.

This approach of fruit and veggies first often surprises people.

"When speaking at cooking classes and nutrition seminars, I usually get wide-eyes looking back at me when I state, 'Don’t waste your time preparing a meal if you’re not going to include a fruit or vegetable.' My point is: you are organizing ingredients, preparing the pots or pans and warming, cooking, and baking. If you are doing all that, how much more time will it take to add a fruit or vegetable?"

For example, when scrambling eggs, you can toss in a handful of grated cheese, some diced green pepper and serve it with a sliced peach.

This concept works with canned items too. Add a ½ cup of dried lentils to a can or box of soup. Let it boil for the required amount of time, and you increase the nutritional content of your meal. The dried lentils are a great source of protein and fiber. 

This strategy of fruits-and-veggies-first makes eating produce a priority, not an afterthought.

5. Understand Nutrition Labels

We can’t assume that because a food package says “fat-free” or “sugar-free” that it’s healthy for us.

“Food marketers are quite savvy when it comes to enticing us with photos, zero-this and low-that packaging. However, they are regulated to a certain extent to let consumers know what is truly in the box or bag,” says Susan.

“We, as consumers, need to understand what our limits are, what is considered an adequate serving size and the ingredients used to manufacture the product. All of this combined will empower us to make healthier choices.”

You can learn about reading nutrition labels at the American Heart Association website.

One common misconception is that eating healthy is expensive. "I have been able to demonstrate to households, as wells as schools, that making healthier selections can be a break-even adventure.  When we buy less processed foods and bagged snacks and begin purchasing whole grain, fiber-filled foods, fruits and vegetables, it is amazing to see how much fuller we feel. We are also surprised by how much of a food budget goes toward sodas, boxed juices, pouched drinks, bagged or pre-portioned snacks," Susan says. 

If choosing and preparing healthy foods feels overwhelming, introduce small changes one at a time. You could begin by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet (click here for local farmers markets) and then seek out new recipes, gradually eliminating junk foods from your grocery cart.

Soon you’ll start to see results in the way that you look and feel.

About Susan M. Gugliuzza

Susan M. Gugliuzza is a Registered Nurse and owner of SUGU Snacks, which produces a line of all-natural, whole grain cookie dough. She is passionate about nutrition and has written two books about early childhood nutrition: “Growing a Healthy Baby, One Spoonful at a Time,” and “Growing a Healthy Preschooler, One Meal at a Time," both available from American Health Publishing.

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