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As fall weather begins, it can be tempting to toss out the healthy living progress you made earlier in the year. After all, this time of year brings candied apples, pumpkin spice drinks, apple pies and all things to help us feel “cozy.”
Unfortunately, many seasonal foods folks tend to enjoy this time of year are loaded with added sugars or coated in butter and heavy cream. These additions of sugar and saturated fats can do a number on your health status as well as your waistline, and we know that type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke and other heart-related illnesses are closely associated with obesity and being overweight. Before you stop reading, let me offer some tips to stay on track while still being able to enjoy seasonal favorites.
ENJOY THE WEATHER
Weather in October can oftentimes be unpredictable, ranging from 80 degrees down to the 60s with varying humidity. Despite the range in temperatures, it is most often enjoyable. Enjoy the weather by fitting in extra physical activity. Take your lunch to work and enjoy a few walks around your building. If you are looking to get away from the office, take a stroll around the walking trail across from the hospital. Rather than sitting outside to get some fresh air, take a walk wherever you are, even if it’s a few laps around the parking lot. Physical activity has numerous health benefits including improved control and prevention of chronic illnesses, weight management, mood improvement and decreased risk of depression. It even helps you sleep better. Moving for as little as 10 minutes at a time has shown to have health benefits.
PRACTICE PORTION CONTROL
Due to the increased portion size at restaurants, we prepare and expect larger portions at home, leading to portion distortion. Continue to enjoy seasonal favorites, but practice portion control. For your reference, a portion of cooked meat is 3 ounces. This is roughly the size of the palm of your hand. It may take getting used to, but you can wean yourself back. Try slicing chicken breasts length-wise for a thinner breast; trick your eyes. Use a smaller plate, bowl or glass. A serving of cheese is about 1 ounce or the size of your thumb. A handful of nuts and seeds is considered one portion, and a serving of beans is approximately half of a cup. Cooked pasta portions are 1 cup (half a cup when dry, prior to cooking). One serving of vegetables or fruit is 1 cup of fresh, such as grapes, or 1/2 cup dried, such as raisins. One cup is about the size of your fist. A whole apple or banana also counts as one serving. When it comes to added sugars (cane sugar, table sugar, honey, maple syrup, coffee syrups or any other caloric sweetener you add to foods), you’ll want to keep track of your intake throughout the day. The American Heart Association recommends women and children limit their added sugar consumption to 24g per day. Adult men are recommended to limit themselves to 36g per day. We have a budget, so enjoy and spend it wisely.
ENJOY THOSE ORANGE AND GREEN FALL FOODS
Most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, especially in regards to orange and green foods. Orange and green foods offer key vitamins and are most famous for their vitamin C content. They not only offer a variety of vitamins that are key to overall health, but they are also a great source of fiber. You can expect to find foods such as collards and other greens, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, acorn squash and more. Don’t be afraid to try a new squash. Simply cut them in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Basil is a nice addition to butternut squash. Cinnamon and nutmeg work well on acorn squash. Sweet potatoes are versatile. Pair them with garlic and cinnamon or throw some black beans, low-fat sour cream and cheese on top. When it comes to greens, they can be chopped and thrown into spaghetti or eaten as their very own dish.
REMEMBER TO KEEP IT LEAN
We all know that lean meats are better for us, but what does lean actually mean? To be considered lean, the food should be low in saturated fat.
Saturated fat in meats is easy to see. The white “marbling” you see in your meats is saturated fat. Saturated fat tends to come from animal sources. Lean cuts of meat include white meat poultry, pork chops or tenderloin, fish (which contains the good, unsaturated fats) and “the redder the better” when it comes to red meats. Lean does not only apply to your meats. Remember, saturated fats come primarily from animal sources. When it comes to dairy products, choose low-fat to get the same amount of calcium and protein minus the saturated fat. When you choose to add fats to food, such as those fall and winter squash, choose liquid oils such as olive or canola oil. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, such as butter and lard, as well as coconut oil (a plant-based saturated fat). Rather than coating foods in butter, use olive or canola oil for a heart-healthy source of flavor.
REMEMBER TO EAT YOUR FIBER
Fiber is crucial for a healthy digestive system and helps aid in blood sugar and cholesterol management. Sources of fiber include whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Adding leafy greens or vegetables to pasta dishes is an excellent way to enjoy your favorite foods while practicing portion control and getting those nutrients and fiber into your diet.
If you are interested in healthy eating or seasonal recipes, visit wilson.ces.ncsu.edu to view the upcoming series beginning Oct. 13.
Cassidy Hall is area agent, family and consumer sciences with N.C. Cooperative Extension.