Although there’s no denying eating can foster relationships and nourish the soul, it’s easy to overindulge, lose sight of our waistlines and the real reason we eat. Still, with such delectable options everywhere we turn, it’s hard to strike a balance. We caught up with some professionals in the Lake Minnetonka area to learn how we can shape up and eat smart yet still have fun in our gastronomical adventures.
The Basics: Understanding the anatomy of a meal
People come in all shapes and sizes, so everyone’s plate should look slightly different. “A really good rule of thumb,” says Dr. Barbro Brost of the Brost Clinic in Wayzata, “is to have your protein at your big meal of the day be the size of your fist.” This guideline will keep your portion in line with the size of your body. Brost continues to suggest that you divide your plate into three: protein, starch or carbohydrates and vegetables.
Tip: Visit the hot food bar at Lakewinds Natural Foods, where you have full control over portion sizes.
The goal with vegetables, points out Brost, is to enjoy a variety of colors because they offer different antioxidants and nutrients. So instead of simply grabbing a green pepper to toss in your salad or add to your quesadilla, try a red or yellow one. It’s also important to note that starchy vegetables, like corn and potatoes, go in the carb/starch category when portioning out your plate per Brost’s method.
Tip: Become friends with a new vegetable this fall. Kimberly Plessel, dietitian at the Marsh in Minnetonka, recommends pairing your lean protein with a side of Brussels sprouts.
Brussels Sprouts with Walnut-Lemon Vinaigrette
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 Tbsp. walnut oil
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
¼ tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place Brussels sprouts in a steamer basket and steam in a large saucepan over 1 in. boiling water until tender (7–8 minutes). Meanwhile, whisk all remaining ingredients together. Add the sprouts to the dressing; toss to coat. Recipe originally from eatingwell.com
When it comes to fat, it’s tempting for the diet-conscious among us to run the other way. Although there are plenty of fats we want to limit, the truth is that some fats are downright good for you. For instance, avocado, olive oil and fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that are “integral in the cell membranes in the brain, help protect against heart disease and help with the absorption of certain vitamins,” says Plessel. One source of fat is peanut butter, but Brost warns that you want to look for organic peanut butter because peanuts can be genetically modified and some people don’t react well to that. You may need to stir your natural peanut butter before enjoying because the oils will separate.
Tip: Grind your own peanut butter or other nut butter at a local health food store. Whole Foods Market in Minnetonka offers almond, cashew and peanut varieties in the bulk foods area.
Brost reminds us that “there are a tremendous amount of calories in drinks, and a lot of people don’t realize it.” In her clinic, she often advises that one of the first diet changes a patient makes is to stop drinking pop and excessively sugary drinks. Fancy coffee drinks can ring in around 700 calories, and fruit juices offer plenty of sugar without the fiber you receive by eating the fruit directly. And don’t be fooled by “diet” labels. “Even if it doesn’t say sugar on the label, if it tastes sweet, it will trigger insulin release in your body, which in turn signals your body to start craving carbohydrates,” explains Brost. It’s a vicious cycle.
Instead of grabbing a can of soda the next time you feel thirsty, go for the free beverage of choice: water. The average person should drink at least three quarts of water a day, more if they are exercising. “The trick is keeping some sort of measurement,” says Brost, who suggests carrying a water bottle around all day, taking note of your intake. Plessel tells her clients to use your thirst as a gauge, with the goal that you rarely feel thirsty. Another reason to enjoy a big glass of water: It might chase away the need for that impulse snack. “Your thirst center and hunger center in the brain are right next to each other, so it’s easy to perceive thirst as hunger,” Brost says.
Tip: Carry a water bottle with you all day long so you can monitor your water intake. Keep a journal and record how your water intake affects your mood, energy and appetite.
The Balance: Understanding the art of eating mindfully
Devin Hastings, hypnosis specialist and owner of MindBody Hypnosis, points out that portion control is actually emotional control, and if you can learn to eat mindfully, deciding when to end a meal is quite simple and natural. First, he recommends avoiding eating while doing an activity that might steal your attention (for example, watching TV) and make it difficult to monitor your hunger levels.
Although it’s hard to banish all such habits from our eating routines, Hastings suggests cutting back just a little to start. The end goal is to enjoy eating for the sake of eating and “when you chew thoughtfully, you tend to taste it more and that helps to satisfy a person’s hunger,” says Hastings. Other helpful suggestions include putting your fork down between bites or taking a few deep breaths before beginning a meal to calm the body, mind and emotions.
It’s one thing to eat healthy at home, quite another to maintain those habits in social situations. Hastings recommends taking smaller portion sizes at a party, then waiting five minutes before going back to refill because that will give your stomach enough time to signal if you’re full. The point of social eating is to take your time and enjoy the company of others, so linger over your food, savor the experience and don’t worry about being a member of the “clean plate club.”
Plessel suggests seeking out social outings beyond happy hour and meals. “Aim to meet your needs for connection and physical activity at the same time by inviting friends on a walk or bike ride,” she says.
Snacks, Sweets, Treats
Snacks are often looked upon as the “no-no” of a healthy diet, but if you plan small snacks throughout your day, they will help maintain your blood-sugar levels. In order to avoid an attack of the afternoon munchies, pack a snack high in protein, like a hard-boiled egg, a handful of almonds or an apple with peanut butter, she suggests. Another tip for getting by the mid-morning hunger slump is to ensure that your breakfast is high in protein. Try stirring an egg into your oats and water before cooking your oatmeal, advises Brost.
Every balanced diet includes some sweets and treats. “I encourage clients to give themselves unconditional permission to enjoy all foods to prevent the deprivation and overeating cycle that can be prevalent with the dieting mentality,” says Plessel. Hastings agrees, suggesting that by eating smaller portions of your favorite treats, you take away the “forbidden fruit” factor and can thoroughly enjoy your dessert in a mindful manner.
Lakewinds’ Jennifer Hanson suggests making a healthier version of an old favorite, like this fruit dip. Instead of marshmallow fluff and lots of sugar, use vanilla yogurt and fresh juices.
Citrus Zing Fruit Dip
8 oz. softened cream cheese
8 oz. vanilla yogurt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lime juice
Zest from one lemon
2 tsp. sugar, honey or agave
Combine lemon juice, lime juice and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cream cheese, yogurt and zest, and beat with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Garnish with lemon and lime zest if desired. Serve with fruit of your choice. Note: Cream cheese should be completely softened to ensure it fully incorporates with other ingredients.
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