As the seasons change, so should your diet. Once the summer heat has melted into colder temperatures, your tongue won't be calling out for cooling, refreshing foods any longer. Instead, your body will be begging for hearty, comforting meals, because it's preparing for hibernation and believes it needs a little extra insulation. In order to satisfy its demands, you're probably frequently tempted to dig into the likes of macaroni and cheese, creamy mashed potatoes, or meatloaf - only to kick yourself later when the numbers on the scale have crept up.
But you can satisfy your body's need for warmth and bulk without expanding your waistline. After all, fall is harvest time and vegetables abound. Naturally low in calories, the season's produce is known for their filling quality and healthfulness.
Fall vegetables are often considered hearty because they're densely packed with nutrients,"" says Stephanie Gailing, MS, nutrition education consultant in Seattle, WA. For instance, one cup of cooked Swiss chard contains almost 390 percent of the daily value of vitamin K, while one cup of kale provides 240 percent of the daily value for vitamin A. For a winter treat, whip up a scrumptious soup. Not only will it take the chill out of your bones, it can also help ward off winter weight gain. ""Soups made with lots of vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which will fill you up while keeping calories to a minimum,"" says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition for the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Overcooking not only leaves vegetables mushy and unappealing to the palate, it can also suck out some of their nutrients. To cook vegetables to perfection, follow Stephanie Gailing's, MS, simple tips.
- Decrease the water. If your veggies are drowning in water when they're cooking, they'll turn out soggy and will lose some of their nutrients. Only use an inch or less of water. And because the water contains nutrients that have seeped out from the veggies, save it for use in soups. Better still, don't cook them in water at all. Steaming will allow the vegetables to retain all of their nutritional value.
- Minimize cooking time to keep veggies tender but crisp. If a recipe calls for 10 to 15 minutes, set your timer for 10 minutes and check the veggies.
- Do a color check. As a vegetable cooks, its color will intensify. Swiss chard, for instance, turns a brighter green. That color change signals that it's ready. If the color loses its vibrancy and looks dull, this indicates the veggie is overcooked.