Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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Healthy Eating and Portion Control

Researchers at Louisiana State University have concluded that a low calorie diet can lower your insulin levels, reduce your core body temperature, and reverse signs of aging. However, those same researchers urge people to avoid going overboard when it comes to restricting calories. Consuming less food and using low calorie meal plans can undoubtedly be beneficial to your health. However, you should set realistic and healthy expectations for yourself.

If you regularly eat around 2000 calories a day, switching to a 500 calorie a day meal plan won’t be healthy or realistic. On the other hand, switching to a 1500 calorie meal plan wouldn’t be detrimental to your health or particularly difficult for you to do, especially if you were armed with the right strategies.

Strategies To Help You Plan Low Calorie Meals

If you’ve made the decision to change your diet and adopt healthy low calorie meal plans, you’re going to have to change the way you eat and what you eat. First and foremost, you should adjust your food portions. By learning to visually identify some simple serving sizes, you can better control your portions. When eating a typical serving size of meat, it should be about 3-4 ounces or the size of a deck of cards. A standard serving of grains or raw vegetables is about the size of a tennis ball or your fist.

Your low calorie meals don’t have to be the same as everyone else’s, particularly if you aren’t trying to adhere to any particular diet. If your primary goal is to reduce your caloric intake, you should plan your meals based on what you like. You may want to make a list of all the low calorie foods you normally enjoy eating and include those in your healthy meal plans.

Online tools can help you plan out your meals and count the calories you consume. Your goal should be to calculate all the calories you plan to consume each day as a part of your overall meal planning efforts. Excellent free online tool: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/SuperTracker/default.aspx

Drinking water throughout the day will help curb your appetite. And drinking a glass of water before each meal has been proven to reduce food intake. When you reduce your caloric intake, hunger is going to be your biggest hurdle. Drinking more water will help you overcome that hurdle.

Plan to eat two or three low calorie snacks a day, and bring those snacks with you to work or wherever you go throughout the day. Some ideal snacks are baby carrots, apple slices, grapes, and whole-wheat pita bread with hummus. Eating snacks throughout the day will help prevent overeating at meals and keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Which One is Yours?

Lower Calorie Italian Dinners

Pasta with Sundried Tomato Pesto and Shrimp

 Serve with a Garden Salad.

Ingredients:            

PESTO:

  • 1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or basil
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

PASTA AND SHRIMP:

  • 10 ounces multigrain angel hair pasta
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

To make the pesto:

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let soak for 10 minutes, or until softened. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Add the walnuts and garlic and process briefly to combine. Add the whole tomatoes, parsley, oregano or basil, cheese, and oil and process until smooth. Add just enough of the reserved tomato soaking liquid to form a paste; process until smooth.

To make the pasta and shrimp:

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain and place in a serving bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque. Sprinkle with the black pepper and salt. Place in the bowl with the pasta and top with the pesto. Toss well to combine. 

Stuffed Boneless Pork Chops  

Serve with Braised Fennel (recipe below) 

4 servings (serving size: 1 pork chop)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced and divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 5 sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil, diced
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 cup block-style fat-free cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions:

Preheat broiler.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add half of the minced garlic cloves; sauté 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, tomatoes, and spinach; sauté until moisture evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in cheese and lemon rind.

Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each pork chop to form a pocket. Stuff about 1/4 cup spinach mixture into each pocket. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper over pork. Arrange pork on the rack of a broiler pan or roasting pan coated with cooking spray; place rack in pan. Combine remaining garlic, lemon juice, mustard, and oregano in a bowl; stir well. Brush half of mustard mixture over pork. Broil 6 minutes; turn pork. Brush remaining mixture over pork; broil 2 minutes or until done.

Serve with

Braised Fennel 

Ingredients

  • 3 medium fennel bulbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Slice the fennel into 1/2″ thick pieces (try to keep each piece with some of the root base so it stays together.)

On medium-high, heat a large saute pan then add olive oil. After oil is hot, add fennel and caramelize on all sides (3-4 min side.)

Add stock, wine, thyme and bay to fennel and reduce heat to medium-low.

Cover and gently simmer for 25 min., or until fennel bulbs are tender, (you may need to add more stock as you simmer).

Salt and pepper to taste.

Pan-Roasted Fish with Mediterranean Tomato Sauce                                                                                                                                                         

Use any firm white fish fillet. Serve with quick cooking brown rice and sauteed kale.

Serves 4 (serving size: 1 fillet and 1/2 cup sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups chopped seeded plum tomato or 1 -14 oz can low sodium diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) fish fillets, skin on

Directions

1. Heat the 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomato to pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in capers, Dijon mustard, and minced garlic; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley, chives, oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper; keep warm.

2. Heat remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add fish to pan, skin side down; cook 3 minutes or until skin is browned. Turn fish over; cook 3-4 minutes. Pour sauce over fish. 

Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Roasted Vegetables              

Add a garden salad to round out this meal.

 Ingredients:

  • One 1 1/2 pound acorn squash, scrubbed—cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rings, seeds discarded
  • 1 small red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 large plum tomatoes, halved and cored
  • 12 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 4 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash and onion with 1 tablespoon of the oil; season with salt and pepper and spread in a single layer. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil on another rimmed baking sheet; add the tomato halves and garlic and roll to coat with oil. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper and turn them cut side down.

Transfer both sheets to the oven. Roast for about 40 minutes, until tender. Using tongs, transfer the garlic to a bowl; continue roasting the tomatoes for about 20 minutes longer, until very soft. Roast the squash and onion for about 45 minutes total, until tender and golden brown. Remove skin from squash rings and cut the squash into bite-size pieces. Discard the tomato skins and coarsely chop the flesh. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins.

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al-dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain pasta. 

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and add the pine nuts and toast over moderate heat until golden. Add the crushed red pepper and olives and cook for 1 minute. Add the vegetables and stir over moderately high heat until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Return the pasta to the pot.  Add the reserved cooking water, basil and parsley and toss. Serve the pasta in bowls, topping each with 1/2 tablespoon of the pecorino.

Grilled Mustard Chicken Breasts with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

Serve with green beans and store-bought focaccia or grilled bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.                                                                                                                                                        

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lightly cracked fennel seeds
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 oz. each)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil

 Directions:

Prepare a medium-hot grill fire. In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and fennel seeds. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Trim any excess fat from the breasts and then rinse and pat dry. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and rub them all over with the mustard-oil mixture.

When the grill is ready, grill the chicken until one side is nicely browned and grill marks appear, 2 to 3 min. (There may be some flare-ups at first; if they don’t go out, move the chicken off to the side until they do.) With tongs, rotate the breasts 90 degrees (to get a crosshatch of grill marks) and continue grilling until grill marks form and the sides of the breasts are fully opaque, another 2 to 3 min. Flip the breasts and grill in the same way until the second side is browned and the inside has just a trace of pink, another 4 to 6 min. Transfer to a clean cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for about 5 min.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the lemon juice, basil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Slice the chicken on an angle and serve drizzled with the vinaigrette.

Dieting? Low And Slow May Be The Way To Go When It Comes To Dieting

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

If you’re dieting, you know you’ve got to count calories, carbs and fats. But if you really want to take off the weight and keep it off, you might want to pay more attention to the glycemic index, which is essentially a measure of how quickly foods are digested.

That’s because high glycemic foods cause a surge in blood sugar, followed by a crash. That biological reaction releases hormones that stimulate hunger and actually lower metabolism, adding up to a dismal recipe for people who want to lose weight and keep it off. According to David Ludwig of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, “One of the unfortunate aspects of weight loss maintenance is that it takes fewer and fewer calories to just stay the same. As the body loses weight, it becomes more efficient and requires fewer calories,making it harder and harder to continue losing and making it difficult to maintain weight loss without continually dieting.” By some estimates, only 1 in 6 Americans who lose weight are able to keep it off after one year.

But Ludwig and colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that offers some tools you might use to fight back. Researchers compared the low-carb, low-fat and low-glycemic diets to see which one burned the most calories per day. The low-carb diet was the clear winner. The low-fat diet was the loser. But it was the diet in the middle, the low-glycemic index diet, that Ludwig suggests is more promising. It burned more calories per day than the low-fat diet and proved easier to stick to over the long term than the low-carb diet.

Mike Rogers, 43, was a participant who managed to keep off the 40 pounds he lost. He says the difference in the three diets was “enormous,” adding that “the low-glycemic diet reminded me of the way my mom and grandmom cooked while I was growing up; I felt far better on the low-glycemic diet than on either of the other two.”

Still trim, Rogers now eats far more fruits and vegetables than he did in the past, and, when it comes to carbohydrates, he opts for those with a lower glycemic index. That means brown rice versus white, whole grain pasta and steel cut oats instead of “quick-cooking” oats. He pretty much stays away from all processed foods.

Highly processed and refined foods, like packaged items, white bread, white rice, prepared breakfast cereals and crackers have a high glycemic index. “The body can digest these foods into sugar literally within moments after eating,” says Ludwig.

Low-glycemic foods tend to be natural foods like most vegetables and fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains. They actually wend their way slowly through the body’s digestion system, using up more energy and burning more calories in the process. And, best of all, says Ludwig, they actually “increase the metabolic rate and decrease hunger, giving us a biological advantage” in losing and maintaining weight.

Ludwig is quick to caution that his study was short and not conclusive. He’s working now to design a long-term study that looks at diet and weight loss maintenance over a number of years.

Registered dietitian Joy Dubost, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says the low-glycemic diet is hard to follow. In large part, that’s because there are many factors that affect how the body digests food, including the combination of food we eat, food preparation, whether vegetables and fruits are ripe, and our individual differences in how we digest food.

And eating too many low-glycemic foods that are also high in calories, sugar or saturated fats can be problematic.

Dubost urges moderation of carbs and fats. But equally important, she says, is a “part of the equation often ignored”: exercise. She points to research that shows people who were successful in maintaining their weight a year after losing it added a significant ingredient to their daily regimen: at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise every single day.



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