Ask the Nutritionist: Add cartenoid-rich winter squash, sweet potatoes to cold-weather menus
Q. How do pumpkin, winter squash and sweet potatoes compare nutritionally? What are healthy ways to prepare them?
A. Pumpkin and winter squash (including acorn, butternut and hubbard) are in the same plant family, and their nutrient content is similar. As with sweet potatoes, the deep orange color of pumpkin and winter squash signals that they are very high in compounds called carotenoids. In laboratory studies, carotenoids function as antioxidants and aid in controlling cell growth, which could mean they help reduce cancer risk. Human studies link higher consumption of foods containing carotenoids with lower risk of some cancers.
All three vegetables are also packed with potassium, which seems to promote good blood pressure control. All are good sources of vitamin C, too, with sweet potatoes containing the highest amounts. Sweet potatoes are richer in natural sugars and starches than most vegetables, making them higher in calories. One-half cup of sweet potatoes has about 90 calories compared to 30 to 40 calories in ½ cup of pumpkin or winter squash.
Many recipes with these vegetables include so much butter, margarine, sugar or syrup, they become quite high in calories. However, those additions are not necessary to enjoy their wonderful flavor. For a quick-and-easy way to boost nutrients and color to your meal, add puréed frozen or canned winter squash or pumpkin to soup, stew or even smoothies. (Just be sure the canned pumpkin is pure, unsalted pumpkin and not sweetened pumpkin pie mix.)
Cubes of fresh squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes are delicious in stir-fries and stews, and mix well with many different flavor combinations. All three choices are also terrific roasted in the oven, either alone or with other vegetables, drizzled with just a bit of olive oil; and you can cook them by steaming as well.
Q. I've been having salad for lunch all month and haven't lost a pound. What's wrong?
A. Salad is a terrific way to make vegetables a large part of meals. That's great for overall health and can support an overall weight management program.
Several possibilities could explain why simply switching to salads at lunch hasn't helped with weight loss. Maybe the salads haven't reduced your calorie consumption at lunch as much as you assume. Or maybe your salad doesn't have enough protein and fat, which may lead you to snack more throughout the day.
To limit calories in your salad, fill most of your plate with dark leafy greens (such as spinach, romaine or other mixed salad greens) and plain chopped vegetables (such as carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes). Include about a ½ cup (picture a rounded handful) of unsweetened fresh fruit, such as pineapple or berries, too, if you like. If salad is your main dish, include protein from one or more of the following: a ½ cup of kidney or garbanzo beans, turkey, seafood chunks, chopped hard-boiled egg, or plain tuna; or ⅓ cup of nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you want cheese, use just a little for flavor in combination with a smaller portion of one of these leaner sources of protein. Just 1 or 2 tablespoons of parmesan or feta gives plenty of flavor.
Finally, watch salad dressing portions. Aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of regular dressing. At a salad bar, a typical four-tablespoon sized ladle of regular dressing adds about 140 to 320 calories. A smaller ladle the size of a ping-pong ball contains 2 tablespoons. If you use bottled dressing, measure out the serving size so you can see the portion size and you'll know how many calories it is.
For even lower calories, dress your salad with lemon juice or vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of plain olive oil (often in a cruet at salad bars). A little bread with your salad is fine, but a giant muffin or too many breadsticks can wipe out a calorie cut you created by choosing a healthy salad.
Also consider what you're eating the rest of the day. Are you "rewarding" yourself for healthy lunches with high-calorie treats at other times of the day or on the weekends? If you're making a real cut in calories at lunch without raising calories from other sources or cutting back on your physical activity, you should see a change in your weight or waist before long. Small cuts take a while to show results, but can be among the best sustained.
• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research.