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Eating for Health Tastes Good

March 30, 2017

MMH Registered Dietitian offers tips to healthy, tasty meals

A plate full of broccoli, limp from extended boiling with a small piece of skinless chicken breast Does that sound yummy or not? 
Probably not. If that's where your mind goes when you think about following a healthy diet, you have good reason to be less than enthusiastic. 
But how about roasted tomatoes, onions and squash-all seasoned with lemon, garlic and olive oil? Accompanied by a grilled filet of fresh caught fish, crisp and glistening on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.
Following a healthy diet does not mean denying yourself pleasure. In fact, it can mean doubling or tripling your pleasure if you follow a few basic principles, according to MMH Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutritionist Mary Mittiga, RDN, CDN. 
Food is best when it's fresh-straight from your garden or the local farmers' market. Visit the market in the morning, then serve and eat the produce for dinner. “Produce is the one food you can never overeat,” Mittiga said. 
If you are focusing on foods that are fresh and local, you are also moving away from the canned, packaged and processed foods that have become so dominant in our culture. Most processed foods rely on additives, colors and flavors designed to attract your attention and keep you coming back to eat more and buy more. 
Read the label. Sugar is probably a major part of the flavor profile. And it comes in numerous forms: fructose, com syrup, high-fructose com syrup and plain sugar (which may be healthiest of the group).  
And then there is fat for a rich "mouth feel," and salt for a burst of flavor that overwhelms the taste buds. Salt, sugar and fat-the magic triad of junk food. Eat too much, and you're increasing your risk of another triad: obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 
Compare that bag of chips in your hand with a fresh strawberry or peach. You may be devouring the chips ... but you're not going to be feeling so good in an hour two. By comparison, the fresh fruit has complex flavors that linger and tease the taste buds. Eat a plateful of berries or cherries, and you are taking in only a few calories and numerous vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that will protect you from hypertension, heart disease and other illnesses. 
The world's healthiest foods are also extremely tasty:
•    berries-raspberries, strawberries, blueberries; 
•    beans-black, red or white;
•    nuts-almonds, walnuts, pistachios;
•    whole grains-wheat, rye, corn. High on anyone's list of 
good nutrition is the sweet potato. The orange color 
(also found in squash and carrots) derives from beta-carotene, 
an antioxidant that strengthens the immune system and protects 
against heart disease, cancer and age-related diseases. 

Bake a sweet potato, then crush in a small amount of butter and eat. Or slice the potato and roast in the oven with olive oil, salt and fresh rosemary. The caramelized flavors are lovely.  Of course, they are sweet, but researchers have found that sweet potatoes increase blood levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone that helps regulate how your body metabolizes insulin. 

The limp broccoli and skinless chicken breast mentioned above are two examples of how not to prepare otherwise delicious foods. A good chef knows how to create delicious dishes starting with the freshest ingredients and then highlighting their flavors and textures through proper cooking and seasoning. 
Roasting is an excellent way to cook vegetables; it concentrates the flavors and makes them more mellow. Toss with a little chopped garlic and roast for about 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Add a little lemon or balsamic vinegar just before serving. Try mixing several vegetables together-tomatoes, onions, bell peppers. The flavors caramelize and meld beautifully with the olive oil. 
Other good cooking methods include saute or stir fry in olive, walnut or sesame oil plus some broth or wine. Be sure not to overcook; the crispy, crunchy mouth feel of a slightly undercooked carrot or green bean is pleasing and indicates that most of the nutrition of the vegetable has been preserved. 
Choosing fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, basil and sage add a healthier dimension to seasoning meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, instead of salt and pepper. Using fennel, celery, radishes and carrots are other flavorful options when baking, roasting or steaming a variety of foods. Nuts, seeds and Parmesan cheese add a nice finishing touch, Mittiga pointed out.  
When you start cooking with fresh, natural ingredients, you will find it exciting to discover what culinary delights you can create: healthy dishes that taste great.