Want to Fight the Cold and Flu Season?


As the dreaded cold virus has been lingering around my house for days, I thought it was the perfect time to discuss foods/lifestyle choices that may help boost our immunity towards the cold and flu virus. Many factors play a role in whether or not you will fall victim to the dreaded cold or flu, including your diet. Of course foods alone won’t guarantee your health, but providing your body with all the essential nutrients it needs does help keep your body strong.


Here are some tips to promote a healthy immune system this season:


  1. Fruits and vegetables. You have heard it time and time again; by eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables; at least 4-5 servings per day, will give you the vitamins and minerals needed to keep your immune system strong. Studies have shown that foods high in antioxidants like blueberries, blackberries, red berries, dark green vegetables, beans, or artichokes all play a pertinent role in fighting disease. All fruits and vegetables are superfoods, so focus on VAIRETY and COLORFUL!

  2. Zinc and Vitamin C. Again, you can get these two nutrients from eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Zinc is also found in beans, fish, oysters, shrimp, pumpkin seeds and nuts. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, cantaloupe, pineapple, broccoli, and cauliflower. Research has shown that zinc and vitamin C both play a role in a healthy immune system, but don’t be so quick to grab a supplement. The best way to get a good balance of vitamins and minerals is from the food you eat, not a pill.

  3. Hydration. Most of need about 64oz of water per day to help maintain a healthy balance of digestion, circulation, and transportation of nutrients. Water also oxygenates our blood and flushes out harmful toxins from the immune system.

  4. Exercise. There are several theories on how exercise may increase your immunity to certain illnesses. Experts say: exercise helps to remove bacteria out of the lungs which may reduce your risks of certain illnesses and/or enables the production of white blood cells to circulate more rapidly in the body. Even though we don’t know the full extent of exercise on immunity; exercise has been proven time and time again to be beneficial to our body in a multitude of ways.  It is recommended that most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a weeks.

  5. Wash your hands. This is the easiest and most obvious tip of the day. The CDC recommends to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds at a time.    




Center For Disease Control and Prevention

US National Library of Medicine: Exercise and Immunity

Cooking Healthy On a Budget

budget foods



So you’ve decided to commit to the kitchen…preparing food yourself instead of ordering out is a big step towards the betterment of your health. You control the fat, salt and sugar content of your foods, and this is much healthier than letting a restaurant do it for you.

 How do you do it without breaking the bank? Here are some tips for saving money at the grocery store:

 • Shop for those lean cuts of meat with a discerning eye. - Meat typically gets marked down on the third and fourth days following the packing date.  By law, the packing date is printed clearly on all packages, so if you see a nice pork tenderloin that’s on day two, there’s a good chance the meat man will mark it down tomorrow in an effort to sell it. Just make sure when you’re buying that cheap meat that you cook it that day, or freeze it right away.

 •The same goes for vegetables. - Produce ripens quickly, and that’s ok, we just have to be ready to use it. Fruits and vegetables that may have a tinge of over-ripening to them are still fine for consumption, and most likely marked down. Again, just make sure you’re cooking or freezing them right away. There’s also a super top secret at almost every market…it’s called “the quick sale” rack or bin. Ask your grocer about it, in a hushed voice, because you do not want everyone knowing about this gem. You never know exactly what is going to be there, but there’s  good stuff sometimes.

 • Buy in bulk. - Anytime you can get a two-for-one deal, it’s a good day. Whether it’s a whole chicken, milk, or whatever, just make sure it’s something that has a nice long shelf life (eggs), or you can freeze the extra.

 • Fresh is best, but you gotta do what you gotta do. - Yes, we prefer that fresh vegetables be used, because the nutrient content is superior to that of canned vegetables. BUT, sometimes you can save a buck by purchasing frozen…they are a close second to fresh when it comes to nutrient content, and many times it’s cheaper than fresh.

 • There’s few things in this world that are cheaper than dried beans. - Beans are ridiculously cheap, and dried beans are even cheaper than that. Beans are also easy to throw in a crockpot with plenty of water or broth for a meal or side dish that requires little thought. Combine these beans with a little rice (also inexpensive) for a complete protein.

 The best tip I can offer about cooking on a budget is don’t get frustrated. Food prices fluctuate all the time due to droughts, worker strikes, and who knows what else. If you’ll just keep an open mind and try out new recipes, you’ll be a thrifty pro in the kitchen in no time. Try this Cooking Light Chicken, Butternut Squash, and Roasted Potatoes recipe for a healthy and frugal fall dinner.


Slow Down with a Slow Cooker



As we near Christmas and New Year’s the hustle and bustle of the holidays can become overwhelming. All the chaos can be stressful and rob us of the joy of this time of year. Sometimes, we need to just slow down and use simpler, more hassle-free ways to celebrate. This is a great time to pull out the slow cooker that is hiding somewhere in your kitchen cabinet or pantry. You can assemble the recipe in the cooker in the morning and then let it cook throughout the day while you go about your other holiday activities.  Afterward, you can come home to a meal that is well on its way to being ready to serve. Slow cookers can also be handy for preparing, holding and serving hot items for holiday gatherings and parties.

            There are tons of tasty and healthy recipes available on the web. These range from traditional soups, chilies and stews to items you may never have thought about preparing in a slow cooker. In fact, almost anything can be cooked in a slow cooker. You could use it to cook your appetizer, entrée, sides, bread or even the dessert. Check out the links below to gather recipes and be inspired:




Although slow cookers can certainly make cooking a great meal or preparing for a party easier, there are some safety guidelines to follow when using one: 

·         Take time to read and follow the instruction manual for your specific appliance.   

 ·         Thaw meat or poultry properly in the refrigerator prior to placing it in the slow cooker.

 ·         Fill the cooker ¼ to ¾ full and keep the lid on throughout the cooking process to help keep heat in and the food at a safe temperature.

 ·         If the power goes off when you are not at home and you do not know how long it was off, throw the food out even if it looks completely cooked.  If you are at home during a power outage, finish cooking the food immediately by some other means.

 ·          Store leftovers within 2 hours of removing them from the heat of the slow cooker.

 ·         Do not reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. If you want to hold food in a slow cooker bring it to a safe temperature on the stove or in the microwave first. 

Do you have any great slow cooker recipes for the holidays that you would like to share?

Save Room for Dessert! Benefits of Cocoa Powder

cocoa powder

Natural cocoa and cocoa products have attracted a great deal of attention due to its beneficial effects on immune system and cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have shown that cocoa powder significantly helps to reduce serum cholesterol and triglycerides levels and increase white blood cell counts. Cocoa powder is also rich in flavonoids which is a plant based substance that functions as an antioxidant and helps us fight back against cold and flu season.

A tip for choosing your cocoa powder: opt for dark, unsweetened cocoa powder. According to recent studies, the darker the powder, the more beneficial compounds it contains. Try spinkling cocoa powder over a bowl of oatmeal or into your favorite serving of fruit or yogurt. 

During this time of year, I want all the cold/flu fighting components I can get! So yes, you heard me right; save room for dessert this year, and try out the recipes below that are made with 100% natural cocoa.


Perfectly Minty Hot Cocoa serving size 4:

3 tablespoons crushed hard peppermint candy

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup 100% natural cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups (1 qt.) skim milk

1/3 cup hot water

Serve with peppermint candy stick, if desired and Miniature marshmallows

1. Stir together sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; stir in water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Add milk; stirring constantly, heat to serving temperature. Do Not Boil.


2. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Beat with rotary beater or whisk until foamy. Serve topped with marshmallows


Banana Fudge Pops:

1 ripe, medium banana

6 wooden ice cream sticks

6 paper cold drink cups (5 oz. each)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5-oz. can) evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups orange banana juice

1/2 cup sugar

¼ cup 100% natural cocoa powder


1   Slice banana into blender container; add juice. Cover; blend until smooth. Add sugar and cocoa; cover and blend well. Add evaporated milk; cover and blend.



2.    Pour mixture into cups. Freeze about 1 hour; insert wooden sticks into fudge pops. Cover; freeze until firm. Peel off cups to serve. 6 pops.   

   Chocolate Mousse


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup (1/2 pt.)cold whipping cream


1/2 cup sugar


2 tablespoons boiling water


1/4 cup 100% natural cocoa powder


1teaspoon unflavored gelatin


1 tablespoon cold water




1.    Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl; let stand 1 minute to soften. Add boiling water; stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and mixture is clear. Cool slightly.




2.    Stir together sugar and cocoa in medium bowl; add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bottom of bowl occasionally, until mixture is stiff. Pour in gelatin mixture; beat until well blended. Spoon into serving dishes. 






Detox Diets: What gives?

detox diet

 You have probably heard of or even tried a “detox diet”. It’s currently a popular trend in the world of nutrition. “Detoxing” describes a process that removes toxins from your body. Toxins is a pretty general term; it can mean byproducts of metabolism such as urea, the breakdown of medications, or you may even hear someone say they had a wild weekend and they need to “detox”.  The human body is fascinating because it has entire processes and organs dedicated to the removal of toxins. These organs and processes are at work all the time. Even so, your body can never remove 100% of all toxins in your body, but rather keeps them at a healthy and manageable level.

                In recent years, there has been an influx of diets and cleanses focusing on detoxing that has flooded the consumer market. These cleanses often focus on consuming nothing but juices for a certain period of time; this could be problematic for your body. These juices often contain no protein or fiber, and very little caloric content. Protein is necessary to perform a wide variety of metabolic processes and plays a large role in muscle health. Fiber helps maintain proper gastrointestinal health, lowering cholesterol, and managing blood sugar levels. And calories? We need quality calories to give us energy, and without enough calories it could lead to unhealthy weight loss.

 While juice cleanses aren’t the healthiest options, there are steps you can take to help your body along with its natural detoxing processes:

-          Stay well hydrated and aim for consuming between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day

 -          Consume an adequate amount of fiber

 -          Eat a nice balance of cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, turmeric, and green tea. These foods have been suggested to support the body’s natural detoxification pathways

 -          Consume adequate protein to maintain optimum glutathione levels. This enzyme is critical to detoxification processes

 -          Consult your physician about taking a multivitamin. Certain vitamin and minerals enable metabolic processes that enhance detoxification

 -          Include some fermented foods in your well-balanced diet. Foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi, or sauerkraut help to manage toxins that flourish in gut bacteria 

For more information on detox and fad diets, please visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website: 

Tips to Stay Trim this Thanksgiving




Tips to Stay Trim this Thanksgiving

 The holiday season is almost in full swing as the arrival of Thanksgiving is this week.  For many, Thanksgiving begins the time of the three F’s: Family, Feasting and the beginning of not Fitting into our clothes.  Thanksgiving is a time to get together and be thankful for all the blessings that we have received in the past year.  It is tradition to celebrate this holiday with lots of good food including turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin everything and lots of desserts. 

 For many individuals, Thanksgiving begins one of the biggest challenges of the year, which is controlling our portion sizes while maintaining our pant size.  Many give up their nutrition and fitness goals beginning in November due to time constraints and temptations; that’s not to say eating healthy and maintaining our weight can’t be accomplished during the holiday season.  Check out these tips below to help you stay trim:

 Baking and Cooking Tips

 -          Instead of butter, substitute equal parts of no-sugar-added applesauce

 -          Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk

 -          Use olive oil instead of butter when cooking dishes (even in your mashed potatoes)

 -          Use herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of salt and butter

 -          Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries

 Lifestyle Tips

 -          Increase your physical activity over Thanksgiving and the holiday season to help defeat those extra calories

 -          Plan a walk or a friendly game of family football after or before each mealtime gathering

 -          Make sure to schedule some gym time for yourself daily during the holidays

 -          Try to keep stress to a minimum by planning ahead to help with time management

 -          Take time to relax with friends and family to decrease stress

 -          Get enough sleep during the holiday season (6-8 hours at least nightly)

 For other great tips on how to stay trim and eat heart healthy during the Thanksgiving holiday check out:

Sugar Hide and Seek

sugar cubes


The holidays can be a rough time if healthy eating and an active lifestyle are your goals. It’s getting colder out, and we just aren’t as inclined to get outside and get some exercise. Not to mention the two to three month stint of decadent meals and drinks that are at our fingertips as a means of celebration. Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year. The cakes, the cookies, the pies…there’s nothing wrong with sampling a slice here and there, but if I am going to eat something sweet, I make a conscience effort to eat something sweet. But for a lot of folks, we eat things that have been sweetened with sugar and we aren’t even aware. Coffee and energy drinks, yogurt, frozen pizzas, even salad dressings can have a lot of sugar in them (personally, I would rather have a chocolate chip cookie to top off my meal versus a big spoonful of Ranch dressing as my dessert, how about you?).

 The trick here is to be discerning. Sugar goes by many different names in the food industry, such as agave, cane syrup, dextran, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, and the list goes on. There are about 57 different names for sugar that the manufacturer can list on the ingredients portion of a nutrition label.  And whatever the manufacturer chooses to call it, it’s still sugar. The World Health Organization recommends that an adult should only consume 25 grams of added sugars a day- this is about the equivalent of six teaspoons. If you drink one can of soda, you have already blown that 6 teaspoons recommendation out of the water.

 So how do we handle this? Reading the ingredient list on the products you are purchasing is a great start. Where’s the nutrition label located on a sweet potato, you ask? Good news, it doesn’t have one because it’s a whole food. When the World Health Organization is talking about 6 teaspoons of added sugar, they aren’t talking about the naturally occurring sugars in whole foods, only the sugars added in processed or packaged foods. And when we are reading those ingredient lists on those packaged or processed foods, the less ingredients the better. For example:

 Peanut Butter A                                                                                                      Peanut Butter B

                                                                                                                                 Ingredients: Peanuts and Salt.


The peanut butter on the left has sugar listed as the third ingredient, but what’s that listed in front of sugar? Corn Syrup Solids is also sugar, meaning that by volume sugar is the second and third ingredient…sneaky, huh?

Take home message? Don’t let your healthy efforts be waylaid by marketing tactics and wording that’s intended to sell food and not necessarily to keep you in good health. What are your solutions to avoid hidden sugars? Try this whole wheat flour banana bread recipe to satisfy that sweet tooth, courtesy of Cookie and Kate


Tips For Staying Healthy this Fall Continued

Fall Photo

Portion Control

             Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of fall! It is a time to visit with friends and family, the weather is just right, but most importantly you get to enjoy wonderful food! Thanksgiving begins the feasting season and if you’re not careful you may overeat on this day. Since this is a holiday, and it only comes once a year there is no need to deprive yourself. You just need to be conscious and go into the meal with a plan and stick to it. Below are some simple tips to help conquer portion control.

 1. Wait 15 minutes after finishing a meal and only return for seconds if you are still hungry

 2. Use plates with compartments so you don’t overfill your plate

 3.With dessert, either choose your absolute favorite dessert (I’m partial to red velvet cake) and get a small serving of that item or create a “sample plate” of small portions of different desserts

 4. Listen to your body and pause frequently during eating and when you feel full stop

 5. Drink water with your meals to save calories

 6. Finally, remember these following portion sizes tips

  •  3 ounces of lean meat = a deck of playing cards 
  • 1/2 cup of rice, pasta or potatoes = 1/2 a baseball 
  • 1 ounce of cheese = 1 domino
  • 1 teaspoon of butter = 1 dice 

Remember Your Mental Well Being:

 With the season change, it's also important to keep your mind healthy. Some people develop seasonal affective disorder, in which The Mayo Clinic describes as a “ type of depression that's related to changes in seasons.” This type of depression usually begins and ends about the same time of year for most people. This should be addressed with your physician if you feel like you may suffer from this condition. There are several treatment options; the first line of defense being light therapy in which a patient is exposed to light that mimics natural light, and this typically increases mood. If that proves ineffective your physician might consider various medications. There are also things that you can do to keep your mental well being healthy. For starters don’t stop doing the things you love whether it be reading, watching movies, hiking, drawing etc.. Another great way to increase your mood is to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the autumn season. So this fall stay warm, happy, and healthy. 


Trick or Treat


Trick or Treat pic

Halloween is just a few days away and it is estimated that Americans spend approximately two billion dollars on Halloween candy each year. According to a poll conducted by Influenster, America’s favorite candy is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and North Carolina’s favorite is the Butterfinger.


Ghosts and goblins may not be as scary as the abundant Halloween candy you may have access to over the next few days. Weight management can always be a challenge, but even more so during the holidays. It only takes an additional 500 calories above what you need daily to lead to a ten pound weight gain per year. A couple of snack-sized candy treats can add up to more than 100 calories and contribute to weight gain. Below are some tips instead of tricks to help survive the potential calorie overload.


  • Consider buying candy the day of Halloween to avoid eating a large portion before the big day

  • Buy candy you don’t like so the temptation to eat it is removed

  • Buy less than what you think you will need to avoid a large amount of leftovers

  • Give your leftovers away or put them out of sight so you are not tempted to grab a bite every time you walk by the candy dish

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth by savoring one small piece of candy to prevent an all out binge

  • Consider handing out non food items this year such as bouncy balls, glow sticks, stickers or bubbles


Keep in mind that the secret to success is calorie intake, which means choosing appropriate portions and remembering that every bite counts. I hope you have a safe and happy Halloween.






Pumpkin Everything


 It’s that time of year again!  The Fall season is upon us and we start seeing that word everywhere, “Pumpkin.”  It seems that many brand name products believe that everything can use a little bit of spice……that is, Pumpkin Spice.  So far this season I have found pumpkin lattes, pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin protein bars, pumpkin chips, pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin Cheerios, pumpkin cookies, and the list goes on. For many consumers it’s all about the pumpkin signaling the beginning of the Fall season.  While many food industries take this ingredient to an extreme, and use it in many sugar filled products, let’s take a closer look at the pumpkin and it’s nutritious side.

  Pumpkin Facts

 ·        A cultivar of a squash plant, but considered a fruit.

 ·        1 cup of cooked, boiled, and drained pumpkin is 49 calories, 2 grams protein, and has 12 grams of carbohydrates.

 ·        Pumpkin is loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene.  Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body.  Vitamin A is important for the maintenance of the immune system, important in growth and development and vision.  

 ·        1 cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A.

 ·        Pumpkin seeds are edible and nutrient rich.  Pumpkin seeds contain plant-based chemicals called phytosterols, which have been shown in some studies to help reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).  These seeds can be roasted as a snack. 

 ·        Pumpkin seeds can help boost your mood.  Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is important in the production of serotonin in the brain that helps regulate our mood. 

 ·        Pumpkins are 90% water.

 ·        Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, by containing 3 grams per 1 cup serving.  Fiber helps keep you feeling full longer, which can help promote weight loss.

 ·        Pumpkin can help refuel athletes after a hard workout.  One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 564 mg of potassium compared to a banana, which has 422 mg of potassium. 

 This delicious fruit can be added to many healthy recipes to provide not only a tasty flavor, but also a nutrient packed punch.  While pumpkin is the taste of the season, make sure you are still conscious of all the other ingredients listed in your food choices.  Continue to pay close attention to those food labels for calories, sugars and fat as you choose your tasty treat. 


 University of Illinois Extension