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Redesigning March Madness: 7 Simple Tweaks to Better Health in March

While I understand the struggles most face, as a nutrition practitioner for more than 30 years -- and from my own personal experience -- I have learned that swapping or changing one tiny habit can make a huge difference in your health.
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March Madness and National Nutrition Month are upon us, so while working on your brackets, why not dust off your New Year's health goals? Perhaps seeing all those great players demonstrate amazing physical strength can be a great motivator for getting back in shape. While I understand the struggles most face, as a nutrition practitioner for more than 30 years -- and from my own personal experience -- I have learned that swapping or changing one tiny habit can make a huge difference in your health. Changing lifelong habits can be very difficult and challenging, but not impossible. Here you will find seven easy and inexpensive habits to start practicing while trying to keep up with your March Madness brackets.

Rise and Start Your Engines
I'm sure many of you have heard the tired expression that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." Well, I'm here to remind you again that it truly is! Eating breakfast provides essential nutrients you may not get later in the day. Studies show when you skip breakfast, essential nutrients are typically not replaced at other meals later in the day. When rushed, a quick pick-me up meal could be a six-ounce Greek yogurt topped with strawberries and granola, or a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and a sliced banana. Either choice, just make sure to get some fuel in your engine!

Take a Trip Across the Mediterranean
Perhaps a trip across the Mediterranean might not be in your budget right now, but for much less, you can eat as if you were on vacation. A classic Mediterranean meal may include vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, and spices. A meal example might include fatty fish (such as salmon), cooked with a little olive oil, and topped with a vegetable or fruit salsa and brown rice or quinoa. This type of meal can provide a well-balanced diet full of nutrients to keep your heart healthy, lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Home Cooked Meals Reign
Nothing beats a home-cooked meal -- at least that's what my two college kids tell me every time they come home for the weekend or a holiday. Studies suggest that cooking a meal and eating at home results in fewer calories, fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than meals eaten out. While cooking may be considered a laborious task to some, the benefits outweigh the negatives time and time again.

Power Up With Fiber and Antioxidants
Antioxidants are powerful nutrients that can help us fight diseases we are exposed to every day. A simple and delicious habit such as eating 8 medium strawberries every day provides fiber, essential nutrients such as vitamin C, and phytochemicals. In recent years, quinoa has become a popular grain for all the right reasons. Quinoa's label gives us plenty of reasons to rave. One cup of home-cooked quinoa has only 222 calories and boasts 8 grams of protein and plenty of potassium. Below is one of my favorite recipes, which combines strawberries and quinoa -- delicious and nutritious!

Get Moving, Even at Work!

Moving your body as much as you can during the day not only helps lower risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, but it helps increase blood flow throughout your body. If you work sitting down all day, try to stand up at least every hour to stretch, as this will increase blood flow to your brain. Also, if your office is only a few stories high, instead of taking the elevator, opt for the stairs. You can also incorporate play and exercise into your daily routine by participating in everyday activities such as walking the dog, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, or even playing with your kids or grandchildren. Remember, it's not the intensity that matters, it's the consistency; doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity can help you live a happier and healthier life.

Make Good Choices Every Day
Making healthier food changes is beneficial, and those simple choices really do matter. For example, one half cup frozen yogurt topped with a half cup of berries equals 150 calories, while an ice cream sundae with drizzled chocolate and some whipped cream is a whopping 450 calories. You be the judge.

Rest is Best
Here lies one of the long-lost secrets to increasing energy. Resting can repair your body so it functions properly day after day. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that adequate sleep has a direct connection with good health as it supports mental health, physical health, and quality of life. Conversely, someone who gets insufficient sleep will have a difficult time making decisions, managing their own emotions and behavior, and even has a higher risk for obesity. So even if you feel that you don't need seven hours of sleep, your mind and body will thank you later for getting enough shut-eye.

Quinoa, Black Bean & Strawberry Salad

Strawberries are perfectly paired with protein-packed quinoa

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¾ cup quinoa, uncooked
1 (14.5 ounce) fat free chicken or vegetable broth (1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (8.75 ounce) can or 1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups strawberries, cut in quarters
4 to 5 cups baby spinach

Strawberry dressing
1/2 cup strawberries, quartered
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste, optional

Preparation:

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and cook until lightly browned.

Add quinoa, broth and seasonings. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.

Stir in corn and black beans and let cool, or store overnight in refrigerator.

In the meantime, mix all strawberry dressing ingredients in a blender. Blend for 30 seconds or until all the ingredients are well blended. Set aside in a small pitcher.

When ready to serve: Fold in strawberries and cilantro. Serve cold over a bed of baby spinach and drizzle strawberry dressing over plated quinoa salad.

Makes:
4 to 6 servings (1 cup each)

Calories: 308
Fat: 12 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 416 mg
Carbohydrates: 45 g
Fiber: 9 g
Protein: 11 g