How to have a Healthier Mardi Gras

 

Image source: healthycookingblog.com

Mardi Gras season is known for its over-the-top indulgence. From king cakes to beignets and everything in between, the very words “Mardi Gras” translate to “Fat Tuesday”. All of this indulgent food makes it even more challenging to stick to a healthy diet. Luckily, it is possible to partake in the seasonal flavors while still maintaining a healthy diet. Below, we map out some helpful tips for navigating our way through Mardi Gras.

Moderation

Everything in moderation. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. Thinking that all Mardi Gras foods are “bad” will likely send you on the path to over-thinking it and eventually over-eating.  Instead, re-frame your way of thinking. There are healthy foods that you should aim to eat plenty of and unhealthy foods that you should try to avoid most of the time. When it comes to king cakes or beignets, allow yourself to enjoy one slice or piece, but try to fill up on healthy foods that consist mostly of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. By having a healthy eating plan and allowing yourself to enjoy a small portion of dessert, you will be more satisfied and less likely to over-eat.

Choose your beverage wisely

Alcoholic drinks tend to be higher in calories and essentially offer no nutritional value. Some of the highest calorie alcoholic beverages are favorites during Mardi Gras. On average, one 32-ounce daiquiri has 1,800-2,000 calories (mostly from sugar). One (tiny) 9.5-ounce hurricane has upwards of 300 calories!

For a lower calorie option, stick with beer! One bottle of Abita Mardi Gras Bock has only 187 calories. OR if cocktails are your thing, stick to lighter options that combine only fresh juices with a spirit (e.g. a Skinny Margarita). Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drinking water in between alcoholic drinks is a great way to stay hydrated and to reduce the amount of extra calories you consume.

Tradition with a healthy twist

One way to experience the seasonal flavorings without all the added calories, fat, and sugar, is to make healthier versions of your favorite Mardi Gras dishes. Try this homemade king cake recipe. Using ingredients like reduced-fat crescent rolls and reduced-fat cream cheese help to reduce the total fat and calorie content. For dirty rice fans, try substituting cauliflower rice for white rice. Using cauliflower “rice” instead of white rice helps to reduce the number of carbohydrates and calories, while also adding protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals (e.g. vitamin C, vitamin-B-6, and magnesium).

Share it!

If you know that no substitute or healthy version will satisfy your craving for that one king cake from your favorite bakery, then go ahead and buy the king cake…and take it to work! By sharing your king cake with others, you will still be able to enjoy it, but without the temptation of having to eat the whole thing by yourself.

Another way to cut back on excess calories is to share your favorite dish as an appetizer when you go out to eat. Or, you can order your favorite Mardi Gras entrée for lunch and box half of it up right away. Presto! Now you don’t have to cook anything for dinner AND you just found a way to enjoy your favorite Mardi Gras dish while also cutting the calories in half.

Burn it off!

One of the best things about Mardi Gras is the parades! Walking to and from the parades is a great way to burn calories. One hour of moderate intensity walking burns about 200 calories. If you include moderate intensity dancing (and you KNOW there will be dancing because… Mardi Gras), add another 300 calories burned per hour.

The best way to enjoy Mardi Gras season is to have a healthy eating plan as outlined above, stay active, and have fun! 

News Roundup: Panic Attacks

Recently a very popular television show, “This Is Us” aired an episode showing a character on the show having a panic attack. The internet was quick to respond, with many people stating that they appreciated the realistic depiction of what it is like to have a panic attack.

This week’s news roundup brings a collection of articles related to panic attacks, how to tell if you are having a panic attack, and how to help someone having a panic attack. 

This Is Us’ touches on the issue of panic attacks in recent episode.  TODAY. “About 6 million adults in the U.S. experience panic disorder in a given year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. On the show — don't worry, we won't spoil anything major — Randall, played by actor Sterling K. Brown, experiences a panic attack, also sometimes called an anxiety attack.”

How to tell if you are having a panic attack. US NEWS.Anyone can experience a panic attack, anxiety specialists say, although people who suffer from these sometimes don’t recognize the source of their discomfort. Panic attacks are easily explainable – and with the guidance of a physician or therapist, they’re also treatable.

How to help someone who is having a panic attack. NEW HEALTH ADVISOR.  “Anyone who has experienced a family member or friend with a panic disorder knows first-hand how disrupting and frightening the episode can be. Knowing how anxiety impacts their life, you want to be supportive, so here are some suggestions on how to help someone having a panic attack.”

 

 

 

News Roundup: Food Costs

Preparing meals and eating healthy may seem difficult on a budget, but recent research has shown that the idea of healthy food being more expensive is not necessarily true. This line of thinking is mostly based on assumptions. Not only is healthy food affordable, but government programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) are beginning to nudge recipients towards healthier options.

This week’s news roundup brings a collection of articles related to the cost of food, how to shop healthy on a budget, and challenges our perception that a healthy lifestyle has to be expensive.

The Cost of Food Influences Your Perception of How Healthy It Is.SHAPE. “According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, something really funky is going on with how consumers view the health level of a food relative to its price. Basically, the researchers found that the higher the price of a food, the more likely people were to think it was healthy.”

Why Healthy Food Doesn’t Have to Cost More. Consumer Reports. “When we have little or no information about a product's nutritional value, we tend to rely on price as an indicator of its healthfulness. This may be in part because the notion that healthy foods are always more expensive appears to be widespread.”

Could You Cut Your Food Bill by a Third? BBC. “If you're feeling the pinch, there are easy ways to keep more pounds in your pocket next time you head to the shops. You can save yourself more than 50% on many popular foods, or one-third on your weekly shop. With just a few changes to your buying, cooking and eating habits you can cut down your costs without cutting the flavour and nutritional value of your food.”

Food Stamp Restrictions May Encourage Healthy Eating, Discourage Grocers. NPR. “Cookies, cake, potato chips, ice cream, soda and even energy drinks — these are some of the foods and beverages deemed to cause obesity, cavities and other health problems and thus would not be eligible for purchase with food stamps, under a "junk food" bill wending its way through the General Assembly. Monday, it passed out of the House by a vote of 55-39.”

How can Mindfulness Meditation Benefit my Physical Health?

 

As previously discussed on the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog, there are many mental health benefits to practicing mindful meditation. Increased resiliency, better sleep, slowed cognitive decline associated with aging, and improved math and social skills in children, are just a few of the mental health benefits. This may come as no surprise, considering that mindful mediation has long been used to calm the mind and improve focus and attention.

In more recent history, research is starting to show that mindful mediation also yields physical health benefits for the body as well (e.g. strengthened immune system). Although this type of research is still in its infancy, there are some promising results so far. Below, we discuss what the research tells us about the physical health benefits of mindful mediation.

Reduced Blood Pressure

One study published in 2011 showed that mediation helped reduce blood pressure for young adults at risk for hypertension. Participants in the study were divided into two groups. One group received a weekly seven-step course training in meditation for 3 months. The second group, a wait list control, would not be offered the seven-step training until the end of the 3-month period.

The results showed that participants who were immediately offered the mediation course experienced a decrease in blood pressure when compared to those who hadn’t received the intervention yet. The reduction in blood pressure was also directly correlated with a decrease in in psychological stress and an increase in coping.

Reduced Acute Respiratory Illness (e.g. the flu)

In 2012, researchers examined the effect of a mindfulness mediation program or an exercise program on reducing instances if Acute Respiratory Illness (ACU), such as the flu. Participants were divided into one of three groups: mindfulness mediation, exercise, or control. The mindfulness mediation group received mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training over an 8-week period. The exercise group participated in an 8-week physical activity program that consisted of group and at-home moderate-intensity exercise sessions. Lastly, the control group was monitored and received no intervention.

At the end of the 8-week period, the results showed that the mindfulness mediation group had less instances of ARI, as compared to the exercise and control groups. The authors of the study theorize that the MBSR training led to increased awareness of physical, emotional, and cognitive manifestations of stress. Which, in turn, led to a healthier mind-body response to stress.

Reduced Severity of Symptoms for Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

For this study, women with IBS were assigned to one of two groups: mindfulness meditation or a support group. Women in the mindfulness mediation group received 8-weekly training sessions involving intentionally attending to present-moment experience and cultivating non-judgmental awareness of body sensations and emotions.  The support group attended 8-weekly meetings with other women who also had IBS.

At the end of the 8 weeks, the mindfulness meditation group had reduced severity of symptoms from IBS as compared to the support group. The mindfulness mediation group also experienced improved quality of life and reduced stress.

For more on mindfulness mediation and free guided practices for beginners, check out mindful.org.

Game Time Tips

 


The Super Bowl is synonymous with food. Well, maybe booze AND food. And we’re not talking about health food, of course. On Super Bowl Sunday, Americans eat 1.3 billion chicken wings and 11.2 million pounds of potato chips. We drink 325 million gallons of beer.  This calorie-fest combined with several hours of sedentary behavior (i.e. sitting on the couch and watching the game) is not exactly conducive with the healthy eating habits many of us have or aspire to have.  Although Super Bowl Sunday will most likely always be a day of indulgence, there are things we can do to help curb some of the worse unhealthy eating behaviors. Below, we offer some tips to help us all have a healthier Super Bowl Sunday. Don’t worry, we can still have our wings (and beer).

Legal Substitutions

For those of us making our own Super Bowl party dishes, we can use this as an opportunity to add in some healthy ingredients to our dishes. For example, these healthy chipotle chicken sweet potato skins have less calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat. Swapping out sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and chicken for bacon adds more protein, fiber, vitamin A, Potassium, and vitamin B-6.

This healthier spinach artichoke dip contains less calories and saturated fat than traditional spinach artichoke dip. By adding white beans and reducing the amount of cream cheese, this dish keeps its creamy texture that people love…and packs more protein and fiber than the its regular recipe.

Take Home Tip: Healthy ingredient swaps make a difference!

Scan the Playing Field

One way to keep from over-indulging on the food buffet is to control our portion sizes. According to mindful eating expert Brian Wansink, it is best to survey all food options first, then make our plate. This helps us identify which foods we really want and which foods we could do without. People who follow this technique tend to consume more appropriate portions than people who simply make their plate as they go along the buffet of options. This technique works whether you are eating at a restaurant buffet or at a home Super Bowl party.

Take Home Tip: Survey the options first, then make a plate.

Trick Plays

Instead of breaded, fried wings, soaked in sauce, try baked or grilled wings. Changing the cooking method from deep frying to grilling or baking is a simple way to reduce excess calories from saturated fat. These ginger garlic shrimp with tangy tomato sauce are also a good addition to the lineup. By using marinade instead of breading, the shrimp retain a savory flavor without the added calories.

Take Home Tip: Bake or grill meats instead of frying them.

1st Snap…Peas

Now that we’ve identified some healthier versions of chicken wings, lets focus on building a healthy, yet filling plate. At least half of our plate should be fruits and veggies. One quarter of our plate should be lean protein and the other quarter of our plate can be whatever we want! Normally this last quarter would be filled with whole grains, but hey, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and trying to eat “perfectly” will likely result in deviating from the plan entirely and over-indulging. Everything in moderation.

Research shows us that we eat for the volume we want, not the calories we want. This is why it’s so important to load our plate up with lean protein, fruits, and veggies. For example, try this white bean dip or these mini turkey burgers with gorgonzola. These foods will help us to feel full and satisfied versus eating high fat and high carbohydrate foods that will likely cause an energy rush followed by an energy crash.

“In other words, volume trumps calories. We eat the volume we want, not the calories we want.”

― Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Take Home Tip: Load up with fruits, veggies, and lean proteins.

Avoid Holding Penalties (Alternate Beer with Water)

Calories from mixed drinks and beer can really add up.  Cutting out alcohol is not an option for most people during the big game. Instead, we recommend to swap out light beer for regular beer. According to Fooducate, a 12-ounce regular beer has 150 calories, whereas a light beer has only 110 calories. Accordingly, a regular beer has 13 grams of carbs compared to a light beer, which has only 5 carbs. By switching to light beer we save around 40 calories and 8 carbs with each beer. Most importantly of all, don’t forget to drink water in between each alcoholic beverage. This will not only help increase satiety (the feeling of being full), but it also helps to prevent dehydration.

Take Home Tip: Stick to light beer. Alternate alcoholic beverages with water.