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Eating with a Purpose in Mind

In the United States, you strive to do more with less, get the most bang for your buck. You may search out products and places that are multi-functional or duel performers. Consider multi-purpose products, such as cellular telephones, that also work as day timers, alarms and cameras or face creams that not only moisturize but also exfoliate the skin while nourishing it with vitamins. These days, it’s preferable for many to save time by doing all the shopping at ONE ‘superstore,’ that sells food, clothes, prescriptions and cosmetics.

If you demand multi-purpose stores and products…why don’t you expect the same from the foods you eat? Doesn’t it make sense to choose foods that nourish your body AND perform other functions at the same time? Yes, it does!

“A purposeful diet is one that includes foods that are true multitaskers. Such foods may aid in weight management, help prevent chronic disease, control inflammation, strengthen your immune system, nourish you with energy AND/OR offer mental health benefits.”

Nearly 2/3 of Americans are obese, relying heavily of filling, tasty foods that offer energy but little else. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are on the rise. Whole foods trump vitamin supplements. You cannot bottle flavonoids (substances responsible for the color of produce) that enhance immunity while giving foods like grapes and cabbage a purple hue. For better health, eat fresh foods (in season) available from your local farmer’s markets. Explore the wide variety of healthy foods at many major supermarkets that at one time were only available only at health food stores. What do you have to lose…compared to what you can gain?? Make one substitution per day. Get the most ‘bang for your buck’ with these easy swaps:

Instead of:

A handful of jellybeans » handful of dried apricots

Strawberry milkshake » a fruit smoothie made with non-fat soymilk, frozen, unsweetened fruit and a splash of orange juice

A shmear of mayonnaise » ⅛ mashed avocado

White pasta » cooked pearled barley or quick-cooking brown rice

Other multipurpose foods include apples, grapes, oranges and kiwi fruits, walnuts, almonds and peanuts, fresh spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic and sweet potatoes, fresh fish (tuna, mackerel, halibut, salmon), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame) and legumes (lentils and beans) are just some of the foods that meet the criteria for being multi-purpose. In addition to energy, they provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and other compounds, such as antioxidants. These compounds promote optimal health and help fight disease. Herbs and spices such as cinnamon, tumeric, parsley and basil contain these compounds as well.

Strive to consciously choose foods that provide much more than energy or calories. Every day, aim to eat 2 cups, or the equivalent, of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables, and shoot for maximum variety. In addition, include soy or non-fat milk or yogurt products, a variety of whole grains, such as buckwheat, quinoa, barley and oats, lean protein foods, such as fish, legumes and poultry and unsaturated fats. “Healthier” fats come from foods such as olive and canola oil, nuts and seeds and avocados.

Pear: A Lucious Fall Fruit

In case you missed the chill in the air, the abundance of seasonal autumn produce – crisp apples, colorful squash, and pears should tell you that winter is just around the corner. Why pears? Why now? They are a truly versatile, luscious, flavorful and healthful fall fruit. Most North American pears are grown in Oregon and Washington. Though you can find some variety from August through May as some type is harvested year-round, true ‘pear season‘ begins in September/October. That is when they are most abundantly available, less expensive and flavorful. In case there is any doubt – just look at the range of skin colors among pear varieties. They match the gorgeous hues of the fall leaves: gold, russet, mauve, pale green, ginger, crimson and more.

Pear Varieties

Not a fan? Perhaps it’s because you’ve always eaten canned pears or rock hard, out-of-season green Anjou pears which are available almost year-round in supermarkets. It’s time to broaden your horizons and enjoy new varieties…as there are many. The first pear varieties to explode on the scene in September are Bosc (russet-colored and firm even when ripe), Bartlett (green and red, ultra juicy) and Comice (green with brown flecks, firm flesh). By October you can find Anjou (red and green), Concorde (pale green), Forelle (green skin spotted with red flecks) and Seckel (shiny skin, often mostly a muted green color with a patch of reddish-orange) appear…and that’s hardly a comprehensive list!

Some varieties might be harder to find in your region than others but make it your goal to try at least one new variety this season. You’ll find in-season pears to offer a firm but juicy texture and flavors that range from very sweet to tart. Use this as a guideline, but keep in mind most pears, as with many fruits and vegetables, can be eaten raw or cooked (except Bartlett).

Eating versus Cooking

Best for eating raw: Bartlett (soft, lose their shape when cooked), Comice (also juicy, very sweet, may not cook well), French butter, Anjou and Asian (‘crisp’ flesh, like an apple, good for dicing and adding to salads or using in tarts or crisps)

Best for cooking: Bosc, seckel (tiniest variety, very firm, slightly acidic) and forelle (sweet-tart, snacking or cooking)

Pear Nutrition and Health Benefits

The pear is a relatively low-calorie fruit. One medium-sized fruit, or about 175 grams, offers about 95 calories. Calories per fruit vary according to variety and size. They are fat, cholesterol and sodium-free but high in dietary fiber, providing roughly 6 grams per medium-sized fruit. Pears (and apples) contain an appreciable amount of soluble fiber, which may help to lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels (slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream).

Selecting and Storing

Choose firm, blemish-free, stem-on pears with unbroken skin. They ripen quickly and bruise very easily so handle with care. Store them at room temperature until they reach desired ripeness. Though you can store them in the refrigerator for a couple of days to ‘hold’ them at a certain ripeness, pears are best, and juiciest, when eaten at room temperature. They are ripe when the flesh ‘gives’ gently when pressed at the neck of the fruit.

Comfort Foods Revisited

Comfort foods are foods that make us feel good eating them, like a warm hug. Classic comfort foods include Mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza, mashed potatoes, creamy pasta dishes, cheesy casseroles, stews and rich desserts, for example. If it is comforting and delicious, it can live in this category. Unfortunately, many classic comfort food dishes are high in fat and calories and typically high in carbohydrates, usually refined, which offer fewer nutrients and dietary fiber. However, you can make a few modifications to decrease the fat and calories so you can still enjoy occasionally, without feeling as though you are compromising on your efforts to maintain a healthful diet.

Adjust your comfort foods for health with these 4 tips:

  1. Make substitutions: Swap out ultra-rich, heavy ingredients for lighter alternatives. Even if you substitute only 1/2 of the original ingredient, such as cream (and leave the other half untouched), that is an improvement. Lower fat milk, olive oil in place of butter (typically 3/4 of the amount), Greek yogurt for sour cream, part-skim cheese, etc.
  2. Add healthful ingredients: Try adding healthful ingredients to make the dish more nutritious, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains or beans. Diced or pureed veggies work well in sauces. Remember, even small changes are worth making. Don’t overdue, you still want to preserve the original mouthfeel and flavor.
  3. Serve smaller portions: Consider serving a comfort food dish as a side versus a main dish. Or cut it down by 1/3 to 2/3 and serve with a healthy pairing, such as a large green salad. You are preserving the integrity of the dish but, by cutting down on the amount eaten, are saving on a significant amount of fat and calories.
  4. Save some dishes for special occasions: Some recipes are very difficult to modify while preserving flavor and texture. If you are craving a cheeseburger with French fries, sure, you could opt for a turkey burger with baked potato fries, but it is definitely a different dish. For these types of comfort dishes, eat smaller portions and reserve them for special occasions or celebrations.