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Increasing Your Health Factor!

Lots of us have special go-to family recipes and meals. The right ingredients and food choices can turn any meal into a healthy one – even those multi-generational family favorites.

For instance, while many recipes include meat, vegetarian chili is a delicious way to add vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help reduce disease risk and promote good health. Bananas complement many different desserts and have soluble fiber, but are most known for their high potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. Additionally, pomegranates are good sources of potassium, vitamins C and K, and antioxidants. One half cup of pomegranates contains seventy-two calories, three grams of fiber, and sixteen grams of carbohydrates, or one carbohydrate serving for a diabetes diet. Plus, they add color and flavor to many recipes.

Another ingredient to give a second look is dark chocolate. You may have heard that dark chocolate is good for your heart. Yes, it contains flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants) which aid in heart health, but that doesn’t mean you should overindulge with that rich chocolate mousse or chocolate fudge pie. To get health benefits, look for dark chocolate labeled 70 percent or more cacao. Cocoa powder also contains flavonoids. Two tablespoons only have twenty calories and a trace of fat, but not all types have the same benefit as dark chocolate. Avoid those labeled “alkalized” or “Dutch-processed,” as many flavonoids are lost in the processing. Instead, select cocoa powders labeled as 100 percent natural and unsweetened.

As you can tell, reading labels and keeping up with science-based research on healthy eating has always been – and always will be – important. The following recipes are a good source of vitamins, potassium, and antioxidants, which can help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

Nutrition information and recipes compiled by Mary-Jo Sawyer, registered dietitian with Massey Cancer Center VCU.

White Bean Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
14.5-oz. can no-salt-added, diced tomatoes
4-oz. can mild chopped green chilies
2 cloves minced garlic
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1/₈ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 15.5-oz. cans navy beans
15.5-oz. can cannellini beans

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes (drained), green chilies, garlic, cumin, oregano, sugar, ground cloves, red pepper, chili powder, and salt. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 more minutes, stirring to break up the tomatoes. Add vegetable broth and bring to boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add navy beans (drained and rinsed) and cannellini beans (drained and rinsed), and simmer until desired thickness is achieved. (Inspired by a recipe from Alex Caspero, RD, at Delish Knowledge)

Quinoa Salad

¾ cup quinoa
1½ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup pomegranate arils
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions


¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/₈ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ medium apple, cored and finely chopped

If not pre-rinsed, rinse quinoa in a fine strainer, and drain well. Place in a medium saucepan, add water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook to boiling over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 15 minutes more, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and pour into a large mixing bowl. Let quinoa sit until it is room temperature. Then, add pomegranate arils, cilantro, mint, parsley, and green onions. Combine with a fork.

To make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir in apple. Pour dressing over salad, and toss with a fork to distribute it evenly. Serve within 2 hours. (Inspired by a recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research)

Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie Bowls

1 cup low-fat milk of your choice
2 bananas (sliced, then frozen)
3 tablespoons peanut butter or other nut butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon chia seeds
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place milk, bananas, peanut butter (or substitute), cocoa powder, chia seeds, and pure vanilla extract in a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into individual cups, or for smoothie bowls, pour into individual bowls and garnish with your choice of optional toppings (O-shaped whole grain cereal, crushed graham crackers, chopped nuts, chia seeds, and sliced bananas). Vary your toppings, but remember, the more toppings, the higher the calories. (Inspired by Liz Weiss, MS, RD, at Liz’s Healthy Table)

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