By Deirdre Imus A healthy diet is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. This is particularly important for children, and individuals already experiencing health problems.
A healthy diet means eating whole food, whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables everyday.
Good eating habits often carry into adulthood, so parents have a special responsibility in helping their children learn the value of healthy foods.
It is no secret that Americans are fatter and unhealthier than we've ever been before. We need to turn this trend around, and that starts in your mind and in your kitchen.
We are faced with more than two hundred food related decisions every day and we all know "old habits, die hard." Changing the way we think about food can take a little time and some effort - but
you can do it.
Here are a few easy ways you can start to green your diet and make a positive impact on your family's health.
1. Green one meal a week by preparing fresh whole foods rather than processed foods, and then work towards one meal a day. Instead of using the microwave or pre-packaged food, prepare ahead with the following suggestions:
--Make a shopping list for the week and a menu for those meals you know you'll be eating at home.
-- Prepare a soup and freeze portions that can be eaten later in the week.
-- For lunch at work, buy or bring a green salad, slice or mash your own avocado over the top and sprinkle some nuts for a quick meal that's complete with protein, good fats and vitamin E. Note: organic chunks of cheese can be substituted for nuts.
-- As a healthy snack, bring a handful of raw organic nuts such as cashews, almonds, walnuts, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts or pitachios, or 100 percent whole wheat crackers.
2. Avoid dangerous pesticides by choosing organic when you can, especially when purchasing the following produce: apples, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, red raspberries, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, celery, green beans, spinach, potatoes, bell and hot peppers, and kale. For more on these, as well as a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides.
3. Green your snacks by avoiding synthetic chemical additives, and ingredients high in sugar, salt and fat. Most grocery stores now carry tasty, healthier options in the health food aisles, so check them out. Try something new such as dark chocolate-covered goji berries, rice crackers, or sea vegetable crackers, along with favorites such as organic yogurts, 100% whole grain crackers and organic chunks of cheese.
4. Organic, 100 percent grass-fed beef and organic chicken are healthier options and don't contain the antibiotics and growth hormones normally found in these foods. They are also higher in omega 3's - an essential nutrient for controlling inflammation and boosting the immune system and cardiovascular health. If you eat meat or fish, choose wisely. Fish may contain dangerous amounts of mercury, PCBs and dioxins. Conventional meats are unhealthy and contain hormones, antibiotics, high levels of omega 6 - which comes from animals being fed genetically modified corn and soy. Omega-6 overload can promote chronic inflammation and may contribute to cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
5. Buy local at farmers' markets whenever possible. The food is generally fresher, and supporting them reduces the energy normally used to transport food.
Deirdre & Wyatt's Year-Round Gumbo
What you need: 5 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil 1 large organic white onion 3 carrots 3 celery sticks 2 large diced tomatoes or 4 San Marzano tomatoes 4 leaves of fresh parsley, chopped 2 sprigs of fresh oregano 1/2 jalapeno, minced 6 cups of water 3 cups of organic veggie broth 2 zucchinis, sliced a bunch of broccoli brown rice elbow macaroni or pasta of your choice optional: Tofurkey sausage, Italian style and/or butter beans
Directions: In a large soup pot on the stove, add the olive oil. Heat it up, add onions, cook on medium for 10 minutes until onions soften. Then add diced carrots and celery. Stir occasionally for another 12 minutes. Dice tomatoes and add fresh basil, oregano, parsley, pepper and jalapeno. Add a pinch of sea salt. Stir all the ingredients and put on simmer - cook for 15 minutes. Cook the pasta al dente and add the soup, stir in and simmer for 5 more minutes. Enjoy!