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Monday, March 8, 2021

5 Easy Ways to “Spring Clean” Your Diet!

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It is that time of the year again, where spring arrives, and we feel motivated to clean out our closets and dust our ceiling fans and light fixtures. We can implement this same plan into our diets. A change of seasons is the perfect time to rethink old eating habits, make healthy food swaps and get a fresh start. Here are some tips for eating cleaner and improving your nutrition:

Tip No. 1: Increase your water intake.

Stay hydrated all day by drinking water and carrying reusable water bottles to fill up. Drinking water keeps our bodies running optimally and helps to take the edge off hunger. You can add lemon for taste or infuse the water with cucumber, strawberries or other fresh fruit. There are also some low-calorie flavored cartridges that you can purchase to make water more flavorful.

Tip No. 2: Clean out your refrigerator and pantry.

Cleaning out your pantry/fridge will allow you to get rid of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods (processed foods - i.e., cookies, chips) that are unhealthy and weigh you down. Make room in your fridge and pantry for healthier foods and snacks like fresh fruit, veggies, low-fat cheese, low-sugar spreads and jams, and heart-healthy protein like chicken and fish. Don’t forget to include beans, lentils and chickpeas in your diet. These foods are high in protein, fiber and healthy unsaturated fat.

Tip No. 3: Only shop in the perimeter of your grocery store.

Another small change you can make to spring clean your diet involves changing where you are getting your food. While grocery shopping, try to stay out of the inner aisles, as this is where most of the processed and packaged food is found. Instead, buy more food from the outer perimeter, where you can usually find fresh, heart-healthy, vitamin-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, meats, grains, eggs and dairy.

Tip No. 4: Choose color. 

Brush off winter doldrums by eating spring’s colorful fruits and vegetables. Eating “colorfully” is a great way to load up on fiber, vitamins and other disease-fighting nutrients, because the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors are antioxidants. Studies have displayed that higher intakes of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and deaths from all causes. Make sure to include at least two colors in each meal and snack. Blend blueberries into smoothies. Scramble eggs with spinach and red bell pepper. Add strawberries and apples to green salads. Brighten up sandwiches with arugula or microgreens.

Tip No. 5: Skip the juice cleanses and fad diets.

Fad diets and detoxes rarely result in any lasting weight loss. If your spring goal is to shed some weight, try instead to focus on more moderate weight loss (approximately one pound per week). Slow and steady usually wins the race when it comes to weight loss. Most fad diets or cleanses are often extreme and require cutting out entire food groups, making it easy to skimp on important vitamins and nutrients. A good example of this is juicing. Juicing extracts the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables. While the resulting liquid may contain some of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in the whole fruit, the fiber is lost. Research shows that fiber naturally helps lower LDL cholesterol and tempers blood sugar levels to help reduce the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also allows us to feel fuller longer. As I tell my clients, “Eat, don’t drink your fruits and veggies!”

So as we spring forward to a new season, let us renew our commitment to adopting and living a healthier lifestyle. The spring is the perfect time to explore open-air farmers’ markets and adopt new, healthy habits. Get ready to spring clean your diet and make lasting changes that lead to an increased sense of wellbeing.

Lastly, I will leave you with a favorite springtime recipe that is easy to make and heart-healthy. Happy Spring Cleaning!

Marie Vazquez Morgan Ph.D., PT, is assistant vice chancellor of Institutional Wellness, Cole Endowed Professor in Community Health Initiatives and Clinical Associate Professor School of Allied Health Professions Physical Therapy Department.

Spaghetti Squash with Chicken Marinara

Ingredients:
28 ounce can peeled tomatoes
1/2 white onion, minced
4 cloves garlic minced
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 spaghetti squash
salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:

For the marinara

Place the olive oil in a large saucepan and bring to medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 5-7 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the ground chicken and red pepper.

Cook until the chicken is no longer pink.

Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

For the squash (you can also purchase readymade squash noodles in your grocer’s produce section)
Preheat oven to 425°.
Cut the squash in half vertically down the center. Remove the seeds and coat the inside and outside with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Place the squash cut side down on a baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes until tender. Using a fork, shred the squash into strands and mix into the marinara sauce.

Also from Marie Vazquez Morgan Ph.D.

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