Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD
Spring has arrived, and now that the days are longer and the sun is shining spring veggies are coming into season. With this, it is a perfect time for some nutritional “spring cleaning”. While you’re spring-cleaning the rest of your house, don’t forget the kitchen, pantry and fridge. The best way to maintain a heart healthy diet is to have plenty of nutritious foods available.
Here are some tips to begin “spring cleaning” your nutrition:
Focus on Fresh. What better time than spring to load up on seasonal produce that is widely available now. While most produce is available year round, spring is peak season for baby greens, asparagus, fresh peas, snap peas, radishes, artichokes, and spring onions. Berries, apricots and cherries also come into season, which means we can rely less on canned and frozen items and, instead, fill our shopping carts with fresh fruits and veggies.
Clean out the Cupboards. You’ve cleaned out your closets and boxed up the winter clothes, now it’s time to take stock of your pantry. Take inventory of anything packaged and processed, check the expiration date and decide if it is destined for the table or the trash. Be sure to look closely at the Nutrition Facts labels for added sodium and sugars. A 2013 report in the American Journal of Public Health followed nearly 5,000 men and women over 30 years and found that participants' calorie intake from added sugars increased by about 50% during that time period. As sugar consumption increased, so did waistlines. Excess consumption of added sugars and salt has been linked to an increase in disease risk, including heart disease and diabetes. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in dairy foods, vegetables, and fresh or unsweetened dried fruit are not considered added sugars. Rather, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, honey, dextrose and fructose, just to name a few, found in yogurt, cereals, granola bars, and even pasta sauces certainly do. Choose tomato sauces that are low in both added sugar(s) and sodium. Replace sugary breakfast cereals, flavored yogurts, granola bars and reduced-fat peanut butter (which typically replaces healthy fat for sugar) with steel-cut oats, plain yogurt, homemade trail mix and natural nut butter. For more information about added sugars and how to identify them, go to the following link: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/what-are-added-sugars
Color Your Plate. Add color to your meals by eating a rainbow of veggies and fruits. For example, aim to include three or more colors in each meal and one or two colors in snacks. Scramble egg whites or eggs with spinach and red bell pepper. Add strawberries and apricots to green salads. Brighten up sandwiches with shredded carrot and arugula. Blend blueberries or raspberries into smoothies. And remember, half of your plate should be filled with a variety of vegetables and fruits.
Take advantage of the springtime produce with these tips and “spring” into action today:
• Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta and top it with a homemade tomato sauce with spinach and artichokes.
• Make a pesto using spinach, radish leaves and arugula, which is much more flavorful than the traditional pesto. Toss it with some whole-wheat pasta and a lean protein like shrimp or chicken.
• Make a healthier mac and cheese using pureed yellow squash. Simply heat the dish with a little lower fat sharp cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and your favorite spices and toss it with some tricolor pasta.
• Go green and make a salad of leafy greens, arugula, diced radishes, broccoli florets, green onions, fresh spinach, cooked artichoke hearts and fava beans, and top it with homemade strawberry or raspberry vinaigrette (that is low in sodium and added sugar).
• Add spinach to your fruit smoothie for an added nutritional boost.
• Substitute Kale Chips for potato chips.
• Dip raw sugar snap peas into hummus.
• Add finely chopped kale or Swiss chard to tomato sauce.
• Bake or grill asparagus with a touch of olive oil instead of hollandaise, or try squash and red peppers tossed with low- or no-sodium seasoning and olive oil.
• When you’re on the go, pack a snack of dried apricots and sunflower seeds or nuts to keep your energy up.
• Toss sliced cucumbers in a 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. olive oil for a simple salad side dish.
• Try the recipe below for a berry packed smoothie that is sure to put some spring in your step.
Berry Smoothie with Lemon Thyme
Lemon Pepper Salmon