by Krystal White
Longer days, warmer temperatures and signs of new life in nature remind us to take care of our physical health. Research has demonstrated that eating more whole foods (think strawberries) and less processed foods (think strawberry Pop-Tarts) can lead to better behavior, happier moods and more productivity.
We all know that we should be getting more fruits and vegetables, but with busy schedules, stressful work loads and picky eaters, our eating habits easily fall short of our green intentions. Take for example how we all tend to get sluggish in the afternoons.
Capt. Rachel Morgans, a registered dietician from the 212th Combat Support Hospital, encourages people to understand their bodies’ natural cravings for fuel and plan accordingly.
“Many people reach for chips or candy, or think they’re making a good choice by going for 100 calorie Snack Packs — all of which are simply refined carbohydrates and likely to lead to a sugar crash,” she said.
Morgans suggests stocking yogurt, fruit and nuts to enjoy as afternoon snacks.
“The fiber, good fats and protein will take longer to digest, give you lasting energy, and keep you more alert and satisfied until dinner,” she said.
Spring is the perfect time to get your “veggies on.” Food has been shown to impact our moods, from turkey feasts that often make us feel sleepy, to chocolate that enhances our sense of positivity. Eating more vegetables, loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and water, can help fill you up (reducing your tendency to munch on tempting treats) as well as boost moods and put more spring into your step.
“Eating vegetables with beans or a healthy meat makes a power meal,” Morgans said. “The combination of fiber and protein slowly fuels your body, keeping a person more level.”
Vegetables can be easy to hate. Some people, particularly children, detest their bitter flavor. Researchers have shown that up to 25 percent of the population are “super tasters,” who naturally may despise vegetables. If you follow a few tips, however, getting your veggies down may not be such an ordeal. You can add them to foods you already enjoy, choose naturally sweeter ones or dip them in fun sauces. Here is a whole day’s menu to get your veggie on.
Sweet and subtle, you’ll hardly notice the spinach! This also makes a great breakfast.
Thaw 1 cup frozen spinach, add to blender with 1.5 cups of skim milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, a sprinkle of cinnamon and two packets of Splenda (a no-calorie sweetener). Once mixed, add to 1 cup of quick oats or 2 packages of instant lower sugar oatmeal. Add water to preferred consistency. Prepare in Tupperware overnight and heat in the morning with a dollop of peanut butter on top.
Oatmeal contains a lot of soluble fiber. This will lower blood sugar levels, which will reduce irritability, and keep them down. It also helps reduce hunger. Spinach has high levels of folic acid and magnesium, and both of these nutrients are linked to mood. A deficiency of either of these nutrients can help cause depression and anxiety.
BLACK BEAN, TOMATO, PEPPER, CORN SALAD
A sweet and salty lunch
Find a salad bar and mix together a 1/2 cup of black beans, a 6 cherry tomatoes, a heaping of mixed peppers and corn. Toss with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of hot sauce for a satisfying lunch.
Black beans are rich in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that provide neuro-protective benefits like bolstering short-term memory and reducing mood-killing inflammation. Their skins are also loaded with iodine, an essential nutrient that helps regulate your thyroid. Tomatoes (technically a fruit) are high in lycopene (which, combined with an oil, has been shown to reduce various types of cancer). Peppers are high in vitamin C. Corn is a sweet vegetable higher in carbohydrates, as well as protein (a large ear of corn has almost 4 grams of protein).
MANGO CARROT SHAKE
A balanced snack (or breakfast, if a sweet start is desired)
Blend 1 cup frozen mango, a jar of baby carrot food, 1 whole fresh orange, a container of Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon shredded coconut and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Prepare the recipe the evening before and enjoy mid afternoon the next day.
Mangos are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin B6, which help you feel alert. Carrots are high in vitamin A and oranges are high in vitamin C. Culturing of yogurt increases the absorption of calcium and B-vitamins. The lactic acid in the yogurt aids in the digestion of the milk calcium, making it easier to absorb.
Coconut is a healthy fat in moderation and may lower heart disease risk factors. More than 50 percent of its saturated-fat content is lauric acid. A recent analysis of 60 studies published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reports that even though lauric acid raises LDL (bad) cholesterol, it boosts HDL (good) cholesterol even more. Overall, this means it decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Cinnamon reduces LDL cholesterol levels and regulates blood sugar.
A great dinner companion (to serve with tacos or burritos)
If you like guacamole, you’ll love this! Trim the ends of 25 asparagus spears and chop. Place in 1/2 cup of boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain under cool water.
Blend the veggies with 1/2 cup salsa, 3 garlic cloves or 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, a few tablespoons of fresh cilantro, and 2 chopped green onions. Process a few times on pulse mode until incorporated.
Widely available in the KMC during springtime, asparagus is an excellent source of tryptophan, which serves as a basis for the creation of serotonin — one of the brain’s primary mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Asparagus also boasts high levels of folate, a nutrient that may fight depression.
AVOCADO CHOCOLATE PUDDING
A tasty dessert
Blend 8 tablespoons cocoa powder with 1 1/2 cups skim milk, 1 chopped banana, 3 chopped avocados, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 4 tablespoons honey. Freeze for 20 minutes.
Avocados are healthy in antioxidants, vitamin c and healthy fats. Chocolate contains serotonin and improves endorphins, that feel good chemical. Banana is naturally sweet and also high in potassium and vitamin B6, which improve your nervous system.
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Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center who specializes in community assets and developmental disorders.