Tropical Slaw

 

This tropical coleslaw is a great low-calorie topper for fish tacos or is wonderful served by itself as a unique, flavorful side dish.

Tropical Mexican Slaw 1 Tropical Slaw

Ingredients:

¾ of a small pineapple, diced

½ of a small head of green cabbage, shredded

2T finely chopped cilantro

½ of a red bell pepper, diced

½ of a cucumber, diced

Juice of 1 lime

2T Annie’s Naturals fat free mango vinaigrette

Pinch celery seed (optional)

Ground black pepper, to taste

 

Simply toss these ingredients together and chill well. If you can’t find Annie’s mango vinaigrette, you can substitute another tropical flavored vinaigrette. I love Annie’s flavors, and the fat free/lite dressings are super low-cal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Skinny Jalapeno Poppers

Baked Poppers2 Super Skinny Jalapeno PoppersMy love of  jalapeno poppers, paired with my dislike of unnecessarily fattening food drove me to find a better way to prepare these tasty little tidbits.

The best part is that these super skinny poppers are also super easy to make, and always a crowd pleaser. 

The only ingredients you will need are:

-Jalapeno Peppers

-Laughing Cow Light cheese wedges, Swiss or Queso Fresco & Chipotle flavors. A combo of the two flavors is my favorite.

-Light shredded Mexican blend cheese

-Vegetarian “bacon” bits

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the jalapeno peppers, cut the tops off, then slice lengthwise (end to end).

3. Seed and devein the peppers. (If you don’t remove all of the seeds or veins, you might have a very HOT popper!)

4. Mix the Laughing Cow cheese with the Mexican blend (don’t go overboard on the Mex blend for calorie purposes), then microwave for a few seconds to soften.

5. Scoop the cheese blend into the pepper half, then place on a baking sheet sprayed with zero calorie cooking spray. Sprinkle each half with the veggie bacon bits and a pinch of the Mexican blend cheese.

6. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the pepper starts to wrinkle and the cheese is completely melted.

NOTE: Each of these poppers is only about 35 calories, which is amazing compared with their high calorie and fat counterparts.

The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

        As an increasing number of people are becoming more aware of healthy living and weight loss, so are food manufacturers. At least, they are aware of the fact that you are more likely to purchase their product if it’s labeled “Natural”. Unfortunately, “Natural” has become more of a marketing term than a guarantee of food quality.  Since healthy living and weight loss have become huge industries, it makes sense that people are buying products in those categories, but the labeling standards aren’t even close to where they need to be. So what can you do? Simply be an informed consumer.

 Natural Label The Skinny on “Natural” Food Labeling

 The Difference Between Natural and Organic

Essentially, organic labeling is regulated (see my article The USDA Organic Labeling System) and natural labeling is “sort of but not really” regulated.

The USDA’s definition of “Natural”:
A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Even though this definition is headed in the right direction, it’s really what IS NOT included in this statement that is important.  There is nothing prohibiting the use of growth hormones OR genetically modified organisms. Does this sound “Natural” to you? Me neither.

Keep in mind, natural does not mean organic! This is a huge point of consumer confusion; many people even think that a “natural” product is better than an organic product. Not the case.

Does Natural Mean Healthy?

Not necessarily, since the definition of “Natural” is so vague. For example, the fats in butter and meat are natural, and a food high in saturated fat and cholesterol isn’t considered healthy to most people.  Instead, look for a statement like “low in saturated fat” (no more than one gram per serving).

Does Natural Mean Low-Calorie?

One word: no. Some “Natural” foods are low-calorie, but that labeling DOES NOT guarantee a low-calorie food.

What Can I do?

To be clear, I am not saying that “Natural” products are bad. There are some perfectly wonderful foods with that label. In order to know if you are picking one of the good ones, simply look at the ingredient list. If there are only a few simple ingredients and you can understand what they are, you’re on the right track.

If you are concerned with what kind of strange substances might be in your food, organic is the best way to go (100% USDA certified is the absolute best). I know that it’s not realistic to eat organic food all the time, so the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is to read ingredient lists and not be misled by marketing claims.

 

Top 6 Ingredients for a Satisfying Salad

Perfect Salad Top 6 Ingredients for a Satisfying Salad

1. The base: a few cups of organic greens.

2. Add some color.  A rainbow of fresh fruits and veggies is THE BEST. Don’t be afraid of combining flavors, they usually blend together well (if it sounds like a good combo to you, do it.) I have been known to mix together whatever fruits and veggies are in my fridge. Hey, it’s a great way to use leftovers!

3. Pick your low-cal protein. Shrimp, wild salmon, seitan*, chopped veggie burger, flavored tofu…the possibilities are endless!

4. Make it Fiber-licious. Although fiber doesn’t sound so tasty, it is! Plus, it makes your salad stick with you longer.  Flaxseeds, slivered almonds, black beans and lentils are a few easy ways to add filling fiber to your salad.

5. Choose your fun factor. This is where you think outside of your normal salad fixings. Pick something at the store that you don’t eat very often or just sounds intriguing. Somehow, it just makes the idea of a salad so much more interesting. I love to add things like dried fruit, low-fat feta cheese, hearts of palm, “bacon” bits, pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, and all kinds of other things!

6. Dress it up! There are more low-calorie/light dressings on the market right now than ever before. Annie’s Naturals makes THE best (in my opinion) line of light salad dressings, with flavors like honey mustard, mango, and ginger vinaigrette.  Sometimes, keeping it simple with some balsamic vinegar and/or lemon juice is the way to go. Or, you could sprinkle a bit of hot sauce on the salad if you want some kick. (That inspiration is courtesy of my husband, who puts hot sauce on everything.)

REMINDER: Salads can become high-calorie nightmares if you’re not paying attention. The dressing can be a thousand calories in itself! Having a base of lower calorie, flavorful ingredients mixed with some protein and fiber to keep you full is the perfect combo.

*The salad shown in the photo is  mixture of organic greens, mushrooms, red bell pepper, cucumber, flaxseeds and orange seitan. I served it with mango vinaigrette.

Perfect Pinto Beans

Perfect Pintos Perfect Pinto Beans

These poor dried beans never get the respect they deserve. They are tasty little nutritional powerhouses that often go unnoticed in their spot at the store.

The dried version has better flavor and less sodium than canned beans (and they’re cheaper), plus they’re a low-calorie, low-fat food that is a great source of fiber, complex carbs (the good kind), protein and other nutrients.

I usually make a large batch and freeze some for later (they only keep for about a week in the fridge). You should store and freeze the beans in their cooking juices. Making the dried beans takes a little more work up front, but when you are pulling a bag of frozen ones out of the freezer, it’s just about as easy as opening a can. They taste SO much better than the canned version when the right flavors are added.

A pressure cooker is a great option, but if you don’t have one, this is my absolute favorite way to cook the perfect pinto bean.

What you need: Dried  pinto beans, low sodium vegetable broth, fresh onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro, olive oil, chili powder, cumin, and sea salt. (There aren’t any exact measurements so that you can customize the ingredients to your liking.)

TIP:  Don’t add any salt before the beans are almost done cooking because it will lengthen the cooking time.

Step 1: Rinse beans thoroughly, removing any hard debris.

Step 2: Soak beans in water overnight (8 hours or so), making sure they are covered by at least 3 inches.

Step 3: Drain water and rinse the beans.

Step 4: In a large pot, combine rinsed beans and low sodium vegetable broth, covering by 2-3 inches. You can use water, but the vegetable broth adds great flavor.

Step 5: Boil for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, partially covered. (If the liquid evaporates during cooking to the point that the beans are no longer covered, add more hot liquid to the pot.) Skim off the foam that collects on the top.

Step 5 ½: In the meantime, sauté some diced onion, garlic and jalapeno (seeds removed) in a mixture of olive oil and chili powder.

Step 6: Add sautéed vegetables, cumin, sea salt, fresh chopped cilantro, and more chili powder to the beans. Simmer for another ½ hour to an hour, or until you have reached your desired consistency.

Enjoy the perfect pinto beans! I love them in burritos, as a side dish with Spanish rice, as a salad topper, in bean dip, as a snack…you get the idea.

Top 6 Flat Stomach Tips

1. Eat Yogurt. Seem simple? It is. The bacteria in yogurt is good for your digestive system, which means less bloating. I love plain organic Greek yogurt (I even use it as a substitute for sour cream) but the flavored stuff is good, too. Just watch out for yogurt with added sugars, which will NOT help to flatten your stomach.

2. Stay Hydrated. I know you’ve heard this before, but it is SO important. Water helps to get rid of excess salt and toxins (which cause bloating). I go by the rule of drinking at least ½ oz. of water for every pound that you weigh. Divide your weight in half and that’s how many ounces you should drink per day.

3.  Cut Back On: Salty foods, fried foods, carbonated drinks, alcohol and sugar.

4. Don’t Forget Your Fiber. Dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts, bran, quinoa and berries are a few examples of foods that contain a good amount of insoluble fiber. (For more on different types of fiber, check out my FREE e-book, The 6 Step Diet.) Fiber helps keep your digestive system running efficiently and getting rid of what you don’t need.

5. Un-Supersize Your Portions.  Your digestive system hates it when you shovel a bunch of food into your mouth at once. Its’ revenge? To make you feel fat and bloated while it works overtime to break down your feast.  Just pay attention to your body’s ‘full signals’ and eat sensible portions – your stomach will feel flat more consistently.

6.  Exercise! The real key to a flat stomach is overall fat loss. You can’t see your abs if they are covered by fat – it’s just impossible. Aerobic exercise paired with core-focused training is a great combo. This helps you lose fat while defining muscles in the right places. My personal strategy is a mix of pilates, cardio (the elliptical machine, hiking, biking, etc.) and occasional crunches.

Your New Weight Loss BFFs

I wanted to share with you a list of foods that will REALLY help you lose weight (I know they really helped me) because they are more filling than other foods. Therefore….you won’t be tempted to eat too much because you are full, and for longer!

Here is a list of:

  1. Foods that are high in fiber. They stay in your stomach longer after you eat them…and
  2. High Protein, low-calorie foods. Lean proteins also pack a lot of substance and help keep you from overeating.  Low-calorie is an important factor because some high-protein foods (like red meat) can contain lots of calories and fat.  Fine in moderation, but not your best weight loss ‘friend.’

HIGH FIBER FOODS:

Apple with skin- 4.4g/ 1 medium

Pear with skin-    5.1g/ 1 medium

Raspberries-       8g/ 1 Cup

Artichoke-            6g/ 1 medium

Broccoli-               3g/ 1 Cup

Peas, cooked-     6g/ 1 Cup

Potato, baked-    4g/ 1 medium

(with skin)

Edamame-           8g/ 1 Cup

(Soy Beans)

Black Beans-        10g/ 1 Cup

Lentils-                  16g/ 1 Cup

Chick Peas-           8g/ 1 Cup

(Garbanzo Beans)

Quinoa-                 24g/ 1 Cup (*)

Oatmeal-               4g/ 1 Cup

(*) If you don’t have much fiber in your diet right now, work your way up to larger amounts and drink water with your fiber.

HIGH PROTEIN, LOW-CALORIE FOODS:

Low-Fat Greek yogurt               6 oz.               6g protein, 60 calories

Low-fat cottage cheese           1 Cup              28g protein, 163 calories

Light/Low-fat cheese              1 oz.                6g protein, 60 calories

Egg whites                                  2 lg. Eggs       8g protein, 32 calories

Black Beans, whole                   ½ Cup             6g protein, 100 calories

Refried Beans, no lard            ½ Cup             8g protein, 100 calories

Portabella mushrooms         1 Cup sliced   5g protein, 42 calories

Salmon                                        3 oz.                23g protein, 184 calories

Tilapia, whitefish                      3 oz.                18g protein, 81 calories

Note: Nutrition info. varies by brand, so check labels to know what you’re eating

The Metabolism Myth

We have all heard about the relationship of weight loss and ‘speeding up your metabolism,’ right?  Well, let’s take some of the mystery out of what exactly that means to you as you lose weight FASTER and EASIER!

What is my ‘metabolism? It’s how your body converts the food you eat into energy.

Why do I want to ‘speed it up?’ Increasing your metabolism helps you digest foods faster, store less fat and burn more fat. The speed of your metabolism is directly related to how many calories you burn per day.

What affects my metabolism? A variety of things, namely your age, sex and lean body mass.  Heredity also is a small factor. You do (luckily) have some control over how speedy your metabolism is.

How can I ‘speed it up?’ Here are some of the biggies:

  1. Drink at least 8oz. of water right when you wake up in the morning.
  2. Then, eat breakfast.  If you don’t like to eat right away, have at least a little something until you’re ready to eat more to let your body start working and burning calories.
  3. Never skip meals.  Why have we heard this over and over?  Because eating steadily during the day keeps your blood sugar (glucose) levels stable.  Our bodies need glucose to produce energy, so if the levels are out of whack it can leave you feeling tired and unnecessarily hungry….it can also have an effect on how much fat your body stores. If you wait too long between meals, your metabolism slows a bit to compensate. This is why small snacks between meals or small, frequent meals can help you lose weight more quickly.
  4. Drink water throughout the day.  If you are dehydrated, your body is not working as efficiently and not burning as many calories as it could.
  5. Keep stress in check.  (I know, easier said than done, but still important.)  Stress releases the steroid Cortisol into your body, which can slow your metabolism and has been linked to increased fat around the abdomen. Nobody likes that!
  6. Strengthen your muscles. This is probably the best thing you can do to improve your metabolism. Muscles take more calories for your body to maintain, so you burn more calories throughout the day than someone who isn’t fit. Most exercise will strengthen your muscles, from swimming and walking to increasing reps and resistance in your normal workout.  If you have a normal cardio routine, try adding intervals or cross-training.  Also, lean proteins help to build muscle. Keep in mind: muscles burn more calories than fat. Each pound of muscle burns around 35 calories per day, while each pound of fat burns only 2 calories per day…see the difference?
  7. Limit your processed, refined sugars. The fact is, excess sugar converts to fat way too easily in your body.  Think about it like this….your body should already have the energy it needs from the foods you eat; if there is excess energy (calories) available, it starts saving for a later date (basically stops burning as much fat and starts storing it instead!) Note: I am not saying to cut out the natural sugars found in fruit, which do not have the same weight-gaining effect as sugars found in cookies, candy, etc.
  8. Eat metabolism-boosting foods.  Low-calorie protein and high fiber foods not only help to keep you full longer, but they do double duty to help out your metabolism.  A few studies have linked hot peppers and green tea to slight metabolism increases, but the true helpers are definitely low-calorie proteins and fiber-filled munchies.
  9. Get some magnesium in your diet.  Magnesium helps to turn carbohydrates and fats into energy. Almonds, spinach and chard are great sources of magnesium, as well as bran and wheat cereals.

MYTH:  “My metabolism is too slow, so I can’t lose weight.” You’ve probably heard people say this, or you’ve even said it. (Don’t be hard on yourself, it sounds logical.) Some people do have relatively slower metabolisms, but this does not mean that they can’t lose weight. The odd thing is, the more weight you carry, the faster/harder your metabolism is working. This is part of the reason that you can lose weight faster in the beginning of a weight loss plan than when you’ve been at it for awhile. Your metabolism starts to adjust to your thinner frame and isn’t working as hard or burning as many calories.  You know the feeling….you get all excited at first because you lose some weight quickly, then it seems harder as you go along. Well, now you know why, but all you have to do is follow some of the above tips to keep your metabolism humming right along.

Why Can’t I Lose Weight?

It can be extremely frustrating to feel like you are doing the right things, eating well, and not losing any weight. I used to practically kill myself at the gym 5 days per week and I wasn’t trimming down…I didn’t understand it. The problem was that I was still eating more calories than I was burning. The answer to “why can’t I lose weight?” is  slightly different for everyone, but there are a few factors that are much more common than others:

-Not knowing how many calories you need to eat/how many calories you burn during the day.  Each person burns a unique amount of calories throughout the day, and most have NO IDEA what their number is. I didn’t know until a few years ago My number is 1323 as I am writing this, meaning that I can eat about 1323 calories per day and maintain my weight. I talk more about weight loss in other articles, but knowing your BMR is a great place to start. Finding the BMR (not BMI, which it’s often confused with) formula basically changed my life because it gave me an approximate number of calories that I burn each day.  It’s not an exact science, but it’s the best tool that I’ve ever found to help me understand how much I need to eat in order maintain my weight (or lose some of it after a really good vacation!) Go to www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator to find your number!

-Not knowing how many calories are in the food that you are eating. You do your best to make choices based on what you think are smart food options, but if you’re not absolutely sure what’s in your food, you could be totally sabotaging your weight loss efforts.  The day that I found out how many calories were in a Caesar salad, I practically fell out of my chair. I thought I was being SO healthy and I was SO proud of myself for having a salad for lunch. I wanted to cry when I found out that a Caesar salad at Chili’s had over 1,000 calories and 70 + grams of fat.  Hmmm…I wonder why I wasn’t losing weight?!?? http://www.dietfacts.com/ is a good resource for looking up restaurant information, and there are lots of great resources for finding out what’s in your food, including apps.

-Overestimating the number of calories burned exercising. We all do this at some point. It’s also easy to justify eating way too much after a workout. “Oh, I can have two more slices of pizza, a side of fries and some nachos because I worked out today.” Sound familiar? I know I’ve done it! I usually check a site like http://calories-burned.findthebest.com/ to find out what I really burned during my workout.  OH YES, and don’t believe the calorie counters on exercise equipment.  Really, they are pretty useless.

-Dehydration. When you get too thirsty, your body can confuse the sensations of thirst and hunger. You might feel ‘hungry’ when you are actually ‘thirsty.’ Strange but true.  Try drinking some water when you start to feel hungry, wait about 10 or 15 minutes, and reevaluate whether you are truly hungry.

Also, if you do not drink enough water, sometimes your body tries to save it, creating ‘water weight’ (which can also be triggered by too much sodium or starchy carbohydrates.)

-Restricting calories TOO MUCH. Severe calorie restriction isn’t healthy.  It can actually confuse your body into storing unnecessary food and slowing your metabolism…neither of which will help you lose weight in the long run. Plus, severe restriction can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which keeps your body from operating at maximum efficiency. “Slow and steady” is the way to go when trying to lose weight or change your lifestyle.