WATCHING YOUR CHOLESTEROL? TRY THESE HEART-HEALTHY LUNCH TIPS
September is National Cholesterol Awareness month, and time to refocus on healthy eating. Summer and vacation time is coming to an end, when we may have let our eating habits slide, and allowed ourselves to indulge. A 2016 study found following a 1-3 week vacation, adults gained an average of 1lb that persisted up to 6 weeks.
September is also time for back to school when many of us start packing lunch boxes again. Whether at home or on the go, finding the time to pack or eat a healthy lunch can be a struggle. Fast food options are generally not the best choice, although some may be better than others.
Here are some ideas for getting back on track with tips for packing a heart-healthy lunch.
LOOK FOR WAYS TO ADD FIBER
Adding fiber to our diets is healthful in so many ways. It helps to promote a healthy gut environment, regulates our digestive system, and reduces the risk of bowel disorders and colon cancer.
Studies show diets high in fiber result in lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease. A high fiber diet also helps to control blood sugar and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The recommended intake of dietary fiber is 20-25 grams per day for women and 30-35 grams per day for men. By including a fruit or vegetable, or by adding seeds or nuts to a meal, you can achieve about 1/3 of those needs. Try adding 1 or 2 of these to your next lunch:
|Food||Grams of fiber|
|Chia seeds, 1 ounce||10|
|Raspberries, 1 cup||8|
|Apple with skin||4.5|
|Almonds, 1 oz||3.5|
|Strawberries, 1 cup||3|
|Tomatoes, cherry, 1/2 cup||2|
|Whole wheat bread, 1 slice||2|
|Carrot, raw, 1 med||2|
|Spinach, raw, 1/2 cup||1|
CHOOSE LOWER FAT PROTEINS
Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. We need protein in our diets to repair and make new cells and build and maintain muscle mass. Protein is also important for bone growth and skin integrity.
Protein-containing foods should make up about 20-25% of our daily calories. In other words, an 1800- calorie diet should include about 360-450 calories from protein. At 4 calories per gram, that translates to around 90-112 grams of daily protein or 30-40 grams per meal.
Choose lower fat proteins such as:
-3 oz skinless chicken breast: 21 grams of protein
-One-half cup of water-packed tuna: 25 grams of protein
-6 oz low-fat greek yogurt: 15-20 grams of protein
-One-half of low-fat cottage cheese: 14 grams of protein
-1 large egg: 3.5 grams of protein
-1 cup cooked quinoa: 8 grams of protein
-1 cup low-fat milk: 8 grams of protein
OPT FOR WATER OR A LOW-SUGAR BEVERAGE
Water comprises about 50-60% of our bodies and is essential for many of our bodily functions. Water hydrates us by replacing fluids we lose naturally through perspiration and elimination. It also helps to regulate our digestive systems and helps with nutrient absorption.
Sugar-sweetened beverages not only contribute calories but, in excess, contribute to fat stores, insulin resistance, and the risk of diabetes and heart disease. In addition, sugar-sweetened beverages don’t satisfy hunger and therefore don’t reduce food consumption. They add calories to other foods rather than replacing them.
Fruit juices, even without added sugar, contribute more calories than when the fruit is eaten whole. When we consume fruit in its juice form, the serving size is generally larger, and we also lose the beneficial fibers that help to lower blood sugar.
Try these healthy ideas to add some interest and flavor to your water:
-Add berries or slices of fresh fruit to enhance the taste
-Switch it up and drink plain seltzer or carbonated water for some fizz
-Add a squeeze of lemon or lime
-Add sprigs of mint
-Make iced tea
SUBSTITUTE HEALTHIER FATS
By focusing on lowering our dietary fat intake, we help to reduce our risk of obesity and heart disease, as well as some cancers. However, some fat is necessary and has an essential role in our nutrition and health. Dietary fat helps our body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and contributes to building cell membranes. Fat serves to protect nerves, influences muscle movement, and is a source of energy. Dietary fats, however, are not all created equally.
Healthy fats, such as poly and monounsaturated fats, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and may improve cholesterol levels. On the contrary, saturated and trans fats, such as those found in red meat, butter, and whole milk dairy products, as well as most commercial cookies, snacks, and baked goods, can raise cholesterol and LDL levels. Coconut and palm oils are also saturated fats.
Healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats include:
-Plant oils, such as olive, avocado, or sesame oil
-Walnuts and almonds
-Peanuts and cashews
ALLOW YOURSELF A WHOLESOME SWEET
You can still enjoy a sweet treat even when trying to eat healthily. In fact, dark chocolate has some surprising health benefits. Dark chocolate is defined as having between 50-60% of cacao and has less added sugar than milk chocolate.
Cacao contains flavonoids which are beneficial compounds that are heart protective and may lower blood pressure. Flavonoids have antioxidant properties that help to protect cells against dangerous free radicals and harmful inflammation. The darker the chocolate and the higher the cacao content, the more flavanols, and less sugar are present.
Honey is primarily pure sugar, however, it also has some health benefits. Honey also has flavonoids and other protective antioxidants. The darker the variety the higher the concentration. Studies find honey may be heart protective, by reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol and LDL levels.
Here are some heart-healthy sweet treat ideas to try:
-Dark chocolate-covered almonds or walnuts
-Frozen yogurt bark with berries or dark chocolate chips
-Baked apple with cinnamon sugar sprinkle
-Dark chocolate-covered blueberry clusters
-Honey drizzled roasted pumpkin seeds
-Dark chocolate chips, raisins, and dry roasted peanuts trail mix
Start September off with a plan to get back on track, and begin by packing a healthy lunch. Look for ways to add some crunch and increase the fiber content. Choose lean animal proteins or try a plant protein such as quinoa. Choose healthy fats and make water your go-to beverage by enhancing the flavor with berries or slices of fruit. And don’t forget to allow yourself a healthy sweet treat.
September is a good time to have your cholesterol numbers checked and to discuss your risk factors with your healthcare provider. For further meal planning advice, consider a consultation with one of our registered dietitians. Appointments can be made by calling 240-449-3094.