Spring has definitely sprung, and many people are eating lighter these days. That’s because this season is a great time to makeover your diet.
Amy Musselman, MS, RD, CSO, a registered dietitian with Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill., compiled a list of 10 simple healthy food substitutions, which you can read about here. Some of her tips include leaner meats, eating frozen fruits in place of ice cream, and limiting added sugars.
In honor of National Nutrition Month, Brandi Walker had the opportunity to talk more in-depth with Amy regarding some of her other clean eating tips, particularly for those battling cancer.
Brandi Walker: How much of an effect would using these food substitutions have on your health?
Amy Musselman: It is difficult to quantify the exact effects simple substitutions can have on your health. However, making simple healthy nutrition changes may help with better digestion. We’ve all heard the message “Eat your fruits and vegetables,” but we don’t often understand the weight this simple phrase carries. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, we encourage our patients to eat a plant-based diet, largely focused on fruits and vegetables. Beyond those battling cancer, moving to a stronger focus of fruits and vegetables may help with overall health and wellness. This is because the fiber found in these types of foods contributes to gut health. Since humans cannot digest and absorb fiber, think of fruits and vegetables as a gut cleaner, or as a brush that naturally helps to clean the insides of the intestines. The prebiotics obtained from fruits and vegetables (bananas, bran, onions and asparagus) allow for healthy bacteria to thrive in the large intestine. Fiber also helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, thus contributing to better glucose control for those who have diabetes.
Taking it one step further, proper nutrition may help with the chemical reactions within the cells. Phytochemicals and antioxidants protect healthy cells from damage by binding with oxidative molecules, as well as helping our immune system function optimally. For a substitution example, try replacing fried rice with cauliflower, and adding chicken, broccoli, carrots, peas, garlic, onions, leeks and scallions. Not only does this meal sound healthy, it contains all of the following powerful phytochemicals: indoles, beta carotene, isoflavanones, anthocyanins and allyl sulfides.
So, looking at the bigger picture, what does all of this equate to? These simple food substitutions may contribute to improved energy levels, nutrient intake and bowel health. For those who are watching their weight, it may also help with decreased caloric intake.
B.W.: How much does using fresh fruits and veggies bring out the best in your recipes?
A.M.: The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a plant-based diet. This includes five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Meeting this goal can be challenging for many Americans due to our busy lifestyles, but there are many easy solutions to help us pack more of these nutritious foods into our day. For example, I’ve found that using cauliflower for pizza crust instead of flour is a great way to get several servings of vegetables in one sitting. One small-medium size pizza requires one full cauliflower head. Top the pizza with onions, mushrooms, tomato slices and green peppers, and you are well on-track for your serving requirements for the day.
Another way to get more fruits and vegetables into your daily routine is to make food ahead of time to reheat at a later date. For example, make egg casseroles on Sunday evenings, to reheat and eat on weekday mornings as you are rushing out the door. Personally, I fill the casseroles with onions, asparagus, tomatoes and (cooked) cauliflower. This allows you to get at least one serving of vegetables before you even get to work.
And just because we encourage healthier eating and a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to skip the desserts. Try sneaking applesauce into a cake, bananas into pancakes, or pumpkin into cheesecake. This can actually add another dimension to the dessert. The natural sweetness and freshness lightens up the dish not only in calories, but in texture as well.
For those individuals watching their budget, frozen fruits and vegetables still pack in many of the same nutrients as their fresh counterparts. In fact, frozen items often retain more nutrients than fresh fruits/vegetables that have sat on the shelf longer.
Lastly, just because you are eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. Try the following tips to help you watch your budget:
1. Grow a small garden. Must-haves include bell peppers, tomatoes, basil and cilantro.
2. Check out local farmers markets.
3. Buy in bulk, separate into individual containers and freeze.
B.W.: What types of yogurt brands do you recommend for a healthier baked potato?
A.M.: I recommend any type of plain Greek yogurt. Try mixing the yogurt with a small amount of taco seasoning, or stir in garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Top with fresh cilantro or parsley. Remember to look for “Live Active Cultures” on the label to reap the benefits from probiotics in yogurt.
B.W.: What are the steps to making cauliflower pizza crust?
A.M.: Cauliflower pizza crust is a wonderful alternative to flour. The flavor is delicious, but you should expect the consistency to be different than that of flour. I have found that the outside of the crust becomes crispy, but the inside is on the softer side. Get ready to use your fork or consider making mini pizzas.
Recipe included below:
Cauliflower Pizza Crust
1 cauliflower head, riced using the food processor
3 cups shredded low fat mozzarella, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Toppings of choice: Suggest mushrooms, onions, green peppers
Pulse one head of chopped cauliflower into chunks in a food processor until it looks like grain. Microwave the cauliflower for 8 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together the riced cauliflower, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, oregano, garlic salt, garlic, and egg. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Pat mixture out into a 9-inch circle. Brush with olive oil. Bake the crust at 450° for 15 minutes.
Top the pizza with 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Broil 3-4 minutes or until cheese melts.
(Obtained from: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/cauliflower-pizza-crust; modified by Amy Musselman)
B.W.: Where could you find whole grains and other healthier alternatives to replace refined flours?
A.M.: In general, oats, whole grain flour, pumpkin, bananas, Greek yogurt, wheat germ, black beans, avocados, applesauce and zucchini are healthy alternatives for refined flours. If breading chicken or fish, grind up cereals and/or nuts for the coating instead of using flour.
Here is an example of how simple substitutions add up, based on my tip “Use low-fat ingredients for loaded baked potatoes. Top your potato with broccoli, salsa, low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt rather than sour cream, butter and cheese.”
– Initial recipe for loaded baked potato:
o 1 oz. of sour cream = 58 calories
o 1 tbsp. butter = 102 calories
o 1-2 tbsp. cheese = 35 to 70 calories
– Total from topping: 195 to 230 calories
– Recipe with healthy substitutions:
o 1 oz. of plain Greek yogurt = 17 calories.
o 2 tbsp. salsa = 10 to 20 calories
o ¼ cup broccoli = 13 calories
– Total from toppings: 50 to 60 calories
If this side dish was consumed twice per week, total calories “saved” equates to 340. Over four weeks, we can estimate over 1340 calories were saved just on this one dish alone. Imagine how quickly all of the other substitutions can make a difference as well!
For more information on Musselman, visit http://www.cancercenter.com/midwestern/doctors-and-clinicians/amy-musselman/.