According to a recent Gallup poll on eating habits, Americans eat worse during November and December. Really this shouldn't be surprising since so many holiday celebrations fall during these months. But, what is surprising is that according to the polls, we have been eating worse than in previous years all year long. In fact, Americans have been eating worse over the past five years.
January presents the perfect time to turn those statistics around and start making healthy eating choices.
This month I have chosen a recipe to share with good health specifically in mind. Hoppin' John is a traditional Southern dish that is served on New Year's Day to bring luck for the coming year but it's a nutritional winner all year long.
While the origin of the name is uncertain, there is a lot of symbolism in this dish as the black eyed peas represent coins and the greens symbolize paper money. Typically this dish contains bacon or ham hocks but in order to keep this dish in the healthy eating category, we will use seasonings and load the dish with nutrient-dense vegetables in place of the high fat, high sodium meat.
Let's take a look at the key ingredients.
Black eyed peas: Don't confuse the legume with green peas or even The Black Eyed Peas the hip hop group. These beans are a great source of lean plant-based protein and complex carbohydrate. Cholesterol free, high in fiber and high in potassium, they're also low in sodium, heart healthy and can help build denser bones with the combination of nutrients including magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. All beans can have a prominent place on your healthy plate. One cup of cooked dry beans count as a one cup vegetable serving from the vegetable group in the nutrition guide by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one cup will also count as two servings of a lean protein source.
Brown rice: Rice is a staple in many ethnic pantries and brown rice in particular is a whole grain because it contains all three layers of the grain kernel: the germ, endosperm and bran. Brown rice contains five times the amount of fiber as white rice and brings vitamin E, thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, iron and riboflavin to the plate.
Okra: Okra just may be the new kale. Okra is low in calories and carbohydrates but a good source of vitamin A, folate, magnesium and fiber. It's an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as a source of calcium and iron. But if you choose collard, kale or turnip greens in your Hoppin' John, you're still getting high amounts of folate and vitamins A and C, calcium and fiber.
Hoppin' John is one option for filling your plate with healthy food choices and it keeps your food budget in line. As the saying goes: "Eat poor for one day; eat rich for the rest of the year. Rice for riches, peas for peace."
Here's to eating well and living right in 2014.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.