- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The year 2009 is all about change. As a dietitian, I am thrilled by 1 change - that no fad diets appear on the horizon and the old ones (e.g., the low-carb craze) seem to be vanishing into the sunset.

That’s not to say we’ve lost our quest to live longer and maintain healthier, more nutritious diets. Consumers are becoming more and more interested in what they eat, but their concern goes far beyond watching their waistlines.

We’re more conscious of the deeper health benefits of certain foods as well as the environmental impact of our diets. Balanced meals, antioxidants and an overall lifestyle change are front and center. It’s about time.

So, how can you resolve to eat better in 2009? Glad you asked.

• Say no to extremes and yes to a healthy lifestyle.

We have come to realize that extreme diets don’t work. Giving up food groups has proved not so effective. Such diets are hard to maintain, and deprivation eventually leads to overeating and guilt. Sound familiar?

What does work is making small changes. It’s as simple as that. Identify 1 change every week or even every month and commit yourself to make it. For example, if you’re not eating breakfast, start by having a small bowl of a high-fiber cereal with nonfat milk. Or if you notice little fruit in your diet, add a whole fruit as a snack between lunch and dinner.

Make a list of 10 changes and add them 1 by 1 by one to your routine until they become habitual. They may seem insignificant, but over time, your body will show the benefits. The best part is that you’ll be making a lifestyle change, not sacrificing your life for the sake of a cookie.

• Think foods with a function.

Functional foods, or food components, are those that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Examples are the live and active cultures (good bacteria) in yogurt, the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed and the exceptional amount of soluble fiber in oats. Thanks to consumer interest in the connection between diet and health, functional foods are booming. But buyers beware: Not all functional foods are healthy.

All manner of fortified junk food is lurking the grocery aisles. Just because a chocolate-chip cookie is labeled as “fortified with fiber,” that doesn’t give you the green light to chow down. Read labels. That cookie most likely is laden with sugar and fat. Nature’s functional foods (i.e. fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds) are still superior - and they don’t come with a label.

• Think and eat green (and I’m not talking about veggies - yet).

Going green has become a trend in the past decade. Driving a hybrid or buying organic is no longer an eccentricity but rather something most of us aspire to do. Eating green means eating foods that are environmentally sustainable, and that means, where possible, locally grown. Eighteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock - that’s more than transportation. Most foods travel thousands of miles before they appear in your local market. The message: Eat less meat, hit your local farmers markets, stay informed and ask questions.

• Court the exotic and ethnic.

All over the United States, ethnic cuisine is going mainstream, whether it’s Latin American, Mediterranean, Indian or Asian. This trend is not just good for the palate; it has health benefits as well. We’re not strangers to the heart-healthy benefits of the olive oil consumed in Mediterranean diets. Indian diets include more vegetables and less meat than the traditional Western diet. South American grains (for example, quinoa) hold very respectable amounts of fiber and other vitamins and minerals. I recommend that you try 1 new ethnic food a month to broaden your palate and maybe improve your health. You may surprise yourself and add new foods to your repertoire.

• Tea it up.

Green, black or white - whatever your pleasure. Tea shops are almost as common as coffee shops. Tea is considered a superfood of our generation. We may have all heard that tea is full of antioxidants (natural substances that prevent cell damage), but it also has been linked to heart health, cancer protection and improvements in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also calorie-free and considered part of our daily fluid requirements. Next time you pass the teahouse (which you no doubt pass at least once a week) pop in and sample a few varieties. Maybe you can swap your afternoon java for a cup of antioxidant-laden tea.

• Spice up your year.

Spices have a lot more to offer than just flavor. They are full of phytochemicals, and researchers think they may help control or prevent diseases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rated oregano at the top of the list for its antibacterial properties. Cinnamon may help diabetics lower their blood sugar. Turmeric may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Cumin is believed to have cancer-fighting properties (and, as a bonus, it just might keep you away from the saltshaker). Next time you’re grilling a simple chicken breast, add a spice of your choice to jazz it up.

• Eat a rainbow of color.

When I was growing up, my parents told me I needed to eat my greens. As a soon-to-be parent, I’ll be preaching for my children to eat all the colors in the Crayola box. We now know that vegetables of all colors provide an array of phytochemicals (plant chemicals that have protective or disease-preventative properties), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. What 1 has, the other may not. Tomatoes house lycopene, carrots and pumpkin contain beta-carotene, and the antioxidant glutathione is found in asparagus. For maximum protection, we need it all. Add veggies to your morning omelet, pack them in on your sandwich at lunch, and dip a carrot in your hummus for a midafternoon snack. Variety really is the spice of life.

• Eat at home - and I don’t mean take-out.

If you’re not cooking at home now (or if you are just sometimes) add 1 day or 1 more day to your dinner schedule. Cooking at home puts you in control. You determine the ingredients and how much to use as well as your portion sizes. Eating at home is 1 of the best ways to lose or maintain weight and eat healthfully. Twenty-four hours in a day gives you plenty of time to organize a home-cooked meal (so I don’t want to hear that there’s no time). Aside from the nutritional aspect, it’s much more cost-effective. With this economy, who doesn’t want to save a buck?

• Commit to be fit.

Just get moving. Dance, join a gym, take an aerobics or martial-arts class, get involved in team sports, walk, jog, ride a bike, go swimming, do yoga or get a trainer. Get the point? Pick something and commit to it.

• Indulge.

We’ve already learned that deprivation leads to overindulging. So treat yourself. The most important point to remember is that you’re not on a diet. You’re making a lifestyle change. I encourage my clients to live by the 90/10 rule, meaning: 90 percent of the time, eat healthfully and exercise; 10 percent of the time, indulge. There are 21 meals a week (3 meals per day, not including snacks); 10 percent of that is 2 meals. So, 2 meals a week are yours to eat as you wish, be it in 2 dinners or 1 breakfast and 1 dinner, and so forth.

There you have it. These resolutions are a far cry from what we’ve heard in the past decade or so, but look where the old-style diet resolutions got us (obesity, co-morbidities and so on). Change is happening in the ways we think about nutrition, and change is exactly what we need.

Broccoli-and-leek soup

Makes 6 servings.

1 bunch broccoli (about 5 cups when cut up)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 leek, trimmed, washed and finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups vegetable stock

1 large potato, peeled and diced

Bouquet garni (see note)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the florets (the green flowering part) off the broccoli and reserve. Trim the bottoms and any tough fibrous parts off the stems and discard. Finely chop the stems.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Cook the leek over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft but not brown, adding the garlic after 2 minutes. Stir in 4 cups of stock, the potato, the bouquet garni and the salt and pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped broccoli stems and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft.

Meanwhile, blanche the broccoli florets in rapidly boiling salted water until tender, about 1 minute. Drain the florets in a colander and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain the florets and blot dry on paper towels, reserving 6 for garnish.

Discard the bouquet garni. Puree the soup with the blanched broccoli florets (minus the garnish) in a blender. Return the soup to the saucepan and heat thoroughly. If the soup is too thick, thin with more vegetable stock. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, garnishing each with a broccoli floret.

NOTE: A bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs tied with a string or bundled into a sachet. There is no definitive recipe, but the bouquet typically contains such herbs as parsley, thyme, bay leaf, basil, rosemary and so forth.

91 calories per serving, 5 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 43 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol

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