Just when you think the holidays are over and the thrill of the new year has finally tapered down, here comes February — Groundhog Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Mardis Gras, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day. February is a multi-themed, food-filled month of celebration.
We anticipate the shadow reveal of Punxsutawney Phil, we break out the football-shaped cheese ball to root for our team, we plan our menu of anything and everything on Fat Tuesday, and if that isn’t enough, we love to eat chocolates on the day of love. Then when it’s all over (and after a slight weight gain), we hit the mall for some comfy stretch wear with Presidents Day sale bargains!
But wait, how about doing something this month to celebrate our health and focus on our heart? If we can take advice from a small woodchuck about the weather, we surely can take advice from the American Heart Association about our health!
February is American Heart Month, and part of that is National Wear Red Day. For those of you who know me, my wardrobe pretty much consists of drab colors and neutrals, but this year, I broke out my red floral scarf for a splash of color as a symbol of support!
The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute encourage all of us to take action against this killer disease. Studies show that 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be preventable with education and action.
Find time to talk to your family and get everyone on board with heart health. Encourage healthy eating habits by making healthier versions of your favorite food. Choose foods and recipes low in sodium and with no added sugar or trans fats. When you shop, buy colorful fruits and vegetables, which are all powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, and stay away from dairy and meat products that are high in fat.
Fiber is important in your diet, and you can find fiber not only in fruits and vegetables, but also in beans, nuts, and whole grain. Take the time to read the nutrition labels on items, and check out the sodium content. (A general rule is, if anything has more than 250 mg of sodium, you may want to search for something with less.)
Physical activity can also help you stay heart healthy. It’s not only what you put into your body, it’s also what you put out. Exercise helps to improve heart health, and it can even help reverse certain heart disease risk factors. Our heart becomes stronger from exercise, which helps it pump more blood through the body and work at maximum level without strain.
Aerobic activities at least 3 to 4 times a week are the best. Choose walking, swimming, or biking, and allow for a good 5 minutes of stretching beforehand to warm up your muscles and a cool down period after you’re through. And of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new physical routine.
So this February, maybe forego indulging in lavish holiday food choices (remember that New Year’s resolution?) and celebrate in a new way. Go out and buy something red to wear to celebrate heart health AND 6 more weeks of winter, or will it be an early spring? Better check with Punxsutawney Phil before you go!
Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.
4th of July get-togethers and summer parties are in full swing, so we have healthy summer party tips to make your party a success.
First up, brush up on outdoor food safety.
Know the 4 steps to food safety for your 4th of July party.
Transport food in coolers whenever possible, and never leave any food with mayo, dairy, meat, or eggs out for longer than 2 hours.
When grilling, cook beef and pork to 145 degrees, ground meat to 160 degrees, and chicken or turkey to 165 degrees.
Avoid cross-contamination by keeping dishes and utensils that touched raw meat away from other ingredients and cooked meat.
Tick season is supposed to be bad this year, so set up a bug spray station and use torches or candles to repel bugs.
Sunscreen is an important part of all outdoor get-togethers. Have it on hand and help prevent skin cancer.
And check out our healthy summer party recipes that are perfect for your next party or get-together and, without mayo or dairy, will keep longer outside.
It’s National Soy Foods Month, and even if you aren’t a vegetarian or don’t have food allergies, soy can be a great source of protein in your diet.
Make the long-time staple (especially for those with dairy allergies), Homemade Soy Milk.
Image and Recipe via Light Orange Bean
This Sheet Pan Honey-Sesame Tofu and Green Beans is hearty, tasty, and easy.
Image and Recipe via The Kitchn
Skip the meat in one dish on your grill with Vegan Sweet Potato Tofu Burgers.
This Vanilla Soy Ice Cream is perfect for warm days when you’re avoiding dairy.
Image and Recipe via Food
Your perfect summer side dish awaits with High-Protein Edamame Mango Salad.
No one will know this Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Pie uses tofu to get its silky texture.
Eat with your eyes and skip the fish or pork with this beautiful Sesame-Crusted Tofu.
Focusing on a balanced diet is one of the best ways to make healthy eating a part of your life.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The USDA sets Dietary Guidelines for Americans regularly to help guide balanced diet choices. While these guidelines can seem complicated, there are key takeaways from them you should know.
The Importance of Healthy Eating
Healthy eating helps prevent and slow the onset of diseases, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Include in a Balanced Diet
A healthy and balanced diet, which for most people is around 2,000 calories a day, includes a variety of:
- Vegetables, including a variety of dark green, red, and orange veggies, legumes, which include beans and peas, and starchy veggies, like corn and potatoes.
- Fruits, especially whole fruits, like apples and oranges, which are the perfect serving size.
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy (like milk, yogurt, and cheese) or appropriate substitutes.
- A variety of foods high in protein, like lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, soy-based products (like tofu), nuts and seeds.
- Oils (like canola, olive, peanut, and soybean) or naturally occurring oils in nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados.
Limit in a Balanced Diet
- Added sugars should make up less than 10% of your daily calories, which can be hidden in processed and prepared foods, like soda, cereal, cookies, and more.
- Limit saturated and trans fats, which should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Foods high in these include butter, whole milk, and palm oil. Replace with unsaturated fats, like canola and olive oil whenever you can.
- Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. Processed foods, like pizza, and canned soup and sauces can be high in this salt.
A Balanced Diet with MyPlate
MyPlate replaced the food pyramid as the guide to making sense of servings. It helps you look at your plate and strike a balance with each meal.
Fruits and veggies should make up about half of your plate, with just over a quarter filled with whole grains, and protein should be under a quarter. (A few ounces of meat, a piece about the size of the palm of your hand, is a good serving size for most people.) Also work in a small serving of dairy through milk, cheese, or yogurt to round out your meal.
Making Smart Choices
Combine these guidelines with smart choices, and you’ll be well on your way to eating a balanced diet. And making these smart choices doesn’t have to be difficult. There are lots of tips and tricks that can help you make a balanced diet a part of your daily life.
Tracking Your Food
- First of all, make sure you know how many calories a day you should eat.
Then, you can target the number of servings you should be getting of the different food groups.
- Use food labels to guide your decisions.
These can help you figure out calorie counts and limit sodium and sugar.
- While you’re switching to a more balanced diet, it’s a good idea to track your food or calories.
This can help you understand how balanced your diet and food servings are and set and reach food goals.
Making and Meeting Food Goals
- Start small.
Making small changes in your eating habits can have long-term effects:
- Switch to high fiber, low-sugar cereals.
- Give up soda with flavored sparkling waters.
- When you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water before you eat something.
- Plan for all of the places you go in life:
- Instead of eating out for lunch at work, start planning and meal-prepping ahead of time, and avoid the vending machines.
- If you know your kids aren’t making great food choices at school, get them involved in packing lunches they’ll love ahead of time.
- When you know you’ll spend the day at the mall, carry snacks and a water bottle, eat a healthy breakfast or snack before you head out, and skip the food court. If you just can’t avoid a meal or a snack while you’re out, find the healthiest option. Load up a sandwich with veggies, get frozen yogurt without all kinds of extra sweet toppings instead of ice cream, and choose hot tea or unsweetened iced tea instead of a frappachino.
- Check menus for calorie counts when you’re eating out. Ask for salad dressings and sauces on the side, avoid fried foods, and keep in mind that alcoholic drinks can be full of calories.
- Many communities have community gardens. Join in and help out to get moving and to grow things your whole family can enjoy in meals.
Results and Rewards
- Don’t beat yourself up when you have missteps.
Everyone struggles with giving up the foods full of sugar and salt that they love, so it’s important to stay positive and get back on track.
- Plan your cheat day.
Many people have found that planning a weekly cheat day can help them stay on course knowing they can treat themselves later. And once you get used to a balanced diet, you’ll find that you’ll cheat in smaller and smaller ways, even on the day you’re allowed to.
- Find healthy ways to treat yourself.
For example, do you love watermelon or raspberries? Splurge on the healthy treats you love. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate each day or a glass of red wine each week. Another option, reward meeting your goals with a treat that isn’t food-related, like a new outfit, book, or manicure.
June is Dairy Month. Do you know why you should be getting dairy in your diet?
Calcium in dairy helps build your bones and teeth and prevent breaks.
Dairy is especially important for kids. It helps build bone mass while they’re young.
A diet with dairy in it helps reduce your risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Dairy, especially yogurt and milk, is rich in potassium, which helps with your blood pressure.
A diet with dairy in it helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.
The vitamin D in dairy helps your body maintain calcium and protect your bones.
A diet with dairy in it also helps lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
This week, for Dairy Month, we featured some sweet dairy desserts for your 4th of July parties.
First up is a quick and easy snack for the kids, Strawberry Yogurt Freezer Cups.
These Skinny Raspberry Cheesecake Bars are the perfect treat for sharing.
Image and Recipe via Amy’s Healthy Baking
Frozen Smoothie Bars are a wonderful breakfast on summer mornings.
Image and Recipe via Bakers Royale
Whip up this Chocolate Frozen Yogurt for an icy treat on hot days.
Image and Recipe via Chelsea’s Messy Apron
These Lemon Pie Popsicles are light and refreshing when you’re by the pool.
No one will guess this Chocolate Greek Yogurt Pie is healthy.
Use in-season peaches to make refreshing Creamy Peach & Honey Popsicles.