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Have yourself a healthy little Valentine’s Day | Lifestyles



Christine Bryant Times Correspondent

Nothing says Valentine’s Day more than a big heart-shaped box of chocolates.

For those with a sweet tooth, Valentine’s Day is a feast like no other. For those who are dieting or still working on achieving their New Year’s resolutions to eat better, it can be the day where the best-laid plans go south.

However, there’s good news for those who are tempted to indulge. Nutrition experts in the region say it is possible to have a sweet Valentine’s Day without busting your diet or New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier.

Here are eight ways to enjoy the day without compromising your health goals.

1. Opt for dark chocolate.

No need to cut out chocolate this Valentine’s Day, says Bonnie Kuss, a community dietitian with Methodist Hospitals. Simply opt for darker chocolates instead of milk and white chocolates.

“Darker chocolate tends to be lower in sugar and calories, and higher in antioxidants and minerals like magnesium and zinc — important for anti-inflammation and heart hearth,” she said.

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Dark chocolate can have a richer flavor as well, Kuss says.

“The richer flavor means you’re likely to feel more satisfied eating a small amount of dark chocolate than the same amount of milk or white chocolate,” she said.

Aim for 70% cocoa or higher for the best benefits, she says.

2. Think outside the box and swap ingredients.

If you enjoy baking for your loved one, swapping out ingredients for more healthful ones can turn a calorie-rich treat into a nutrient-dense treat, says Kristal Twardy, a registered dietitian and health coach with Franciscan WELLCARE.

For example, making black bean brownies instead of regular brownies can offer the opportunity to try something new while enjoying a traditional dessert.

“Black beans take the place of the typical white flour we might use when making brownies,” Twardy said. “Black beans are a nutrient-dense food full of vitamins and minerals, are naturally low in fat, and provide protein and fiber to the brownies.”

Another option is to create homemade yogurt and fruit bites by mixing a low-fat, low-sugar vanilla Greek yogurt and chopped strawberries or other fruit together. Put into a heart-shaped silicone ice cube tray and freeze, Twardy says.

3. Enjoy angel food cake over cheesecake.

When faced with the decision of what cake to get for dessert on Valentine’s Day, choosing angel food cake over cheesecake can help wipe away any feelings of guilt.

“This choice comes down to calories and saturated fat,” Twardy says. “One slide of angel food cake may contain about 120 calories and very little fat. Top with fresh fruit and light whipped topping for a tasty treat under 200 calories.”

On the other hand, one slice of cheesecake can contain around 400 calories or more, around 24 grams of fat and about 15 grams of saturated fat, she says.

“While all fat isn’t bad, saturated fat is a fat we want to limit, and cheesecake is high in saturated fat,” Twardy said.

4. Surprise with homemade ice cream.

Making homemade banana ice cream at home is a great way to surprise a loved one and turn a not-so-healthy food into a healthy treat.

“Homemade banana ice cream is basically frozen bananas, almond milk or low-fat milk, cocoa powder and nut butter put into a food processor for a tasty frozen treat,” Twardy said. “It contains whole real nutrient-dense foods and no added sugar.”

Regular ice cream, on the other hand, is usually loaded with both added sugar and saturated fat, she says.

5. Have a movie night-in.

What’s better with a movie than popcorn? Yet many types of popcorn are loaded with butter and salt—two no-nos for optimal heart health.

Not to worry, Kiss says. Popcorn by itself is healthy since it’s high in fiber. Plus, a generous serving size of three cups is only about 110 calories.

However, plain popcorn isn’t exactly an ideal indulgent Valentine’s Day treat, so Kuss has a couple of ways to turn plain popcorn into a special treat.

One way is to spray popped popcorn with olive or canola spray, then add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder. Shake it all up in a bag or toss on a baking sheet.

Another option is to spray popped popcorn with olive or canola spray, then add 1 tablespoon of dry ranch dressing, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Shake it all up in a bag or toss on a baking sheet.

As a side tip, Kuss says to opt for darker popcorn kernels if available since those tend to have more vitamins and minerals.

6. Create a heart-shaped charcuterie board.

Whether you’re having a Valentine’s Day party or celebrating with a night-in, charcuterie boards are all the rage.

To create a heart-healthy version, kiss suggests making it loaded with color and selecting certain types of cheese and meats over others.

“Choose hard or semi-firm cheeses — gruyere, parmesan and gouda — over soft cheese — brie, herbed cheese dips, blue cheese,” she said. “Hard cheeses tend to be lower in fat and higher in protein, and also less likely to cause stomach discomfort due to lower lactose levels.”

Add only one to two dried meat options to reduce overall sodium, she says.

“Prosciutto and low-sodium salami or turkey pepperoni are better heart-healthy options,” Kuss said.

Add unsalted or spiced nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts for some healthy omega-3 fats, and instead of dried fruit, opt for fresh fruit.

“Fresh fruit is lower in calories and sugar, and higher in fiber,” Kuss said.

When selecting crackers, opt for whole-grain or seed varieties.

“These tend to be lower in fat and higher in fiber,” she said.

7. Choose color and split dessert.

Like many across the region, a date night out often is part of celebrating Valentine’s Day. If heading out to eat, kiss recommends thinking colors when choosing what to eat that evening.

“Instead of the breaded or fried appetizer, opt for spinach salad with fruit and nuts, and always get dressing on the side,” she said.

Choose the salmon over a red meat option, and try roasted vegetables like peppers, broccoli or carrots for an anti-inflammatory boost of heart-healthy fat and fiber.

When it’s dessert time, indulge a little, but try splitting the dessert instead.

“Chances are the dessert is rich enough to share with your dinner date and this will save you from excess calories, sugar or a food coma,” Kuss said.

8. Enjoy that box of chocolates over time.

For many, Valentine’s Day just isn’t Valentine’s Day without a box of chocolates. That’s OK, kiss says.

“Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a big box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, and yes, everything is OK in moderation,” she said.

However, eating too much can leave someone feeling uncomfortable, groggy, bloated and even inflamed, especially those who have certain health conditions, she says.

Kiss suggests enjoying that box of chocolates — just over time so that it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

“To prevent overindulging, keep your serving size to three pieces, about 250 to 350 calories,” she said. “Not only is this the recommended serving size, but it also leaves room for a little more food items from other food groups without going overboard.”

Choose three different flavors to enjoy variety, and make at least one a dark chocolate option for better health benefits, Kuss said.

“If you can’t keep yourself away, wrap the chocolates in plastic and store them in the freezer for up to four months,” she said. “You can also chop them up to freeze and save to use in your next batch of cookies or brownies so you’re not tempted to eat them all at once.”

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Whole Grain Benefits

For the 55-and-over crowd, March 27-April 3, 2022 | Local News



For information about services available to older adults, contact Pam Jacobsen, director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and Helen Mary Stevick Senior Citizens Center, 2102 Windsor Place, C, at 217-359-6500.

RSVP and the Stevick Center are administered by Family Service of Champaign County.


  • Active Senior Republicans in Champaign County’s monthly meeting will be held at 9:30 am on April 4 in the Robeson Pavilion Room A & B at the Champaign Public Library. This month’s speakers will be Jesse Reising, Regan Deering and Matt Hausman, Republican primary candidates for the newly redrawn 13th Congressional District.
  • Parkland Theater House needs four ushers each night for “The SpongeBob Musical,” opening April 14. There will be nine shows in total — April 14-16, April 22-24 and April 29-May 1. For details, call or email Michael Atherton, Parkland Theater House Manager, or 217-373-3874.
  • Parkland College also needs four volunteers for commencement. The commencement ceremony will be in person at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at 8 pm May 12. Volunteers needed from 6:30 to 8 pm For details, contact Tracy Kleparski, Director of Student Life, at or 217- 351-2206.
  • The Milford High School National Honor Society and Student Council is hosting a Senior Citizens Banquet at 6 pm April 22. The event will be held in the MAPS #124 Gymnasium (park at south doors at Milford High School. To RSVP, call Sandy Potter at 815-471-4213.


Knit or crochet for those in need:

Meditative Movement with Yoga:

  • 9 to 10:15 am Tuesdays and Thursdays.


  • 11 am to noon, second and fourth Tuesdays. Call 217-359-6500.


  • Noon to 3 pm Thursdays.


Card game 13:

  • To sign up to play, call 217-359-6500 and ask for Debbie.

Men’s group:

  • 9 am Monday-Friday. Join us for a cup of coffee and great conversation.


The Peace Meal Nutrition Program provides daily hot lunches at 11:30 am for a small donation and a one-day advance reservation at sites in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Sidney (home delivery only), Mahomet (home delivery only) and Homer.

For reservations, call 800-543-1770. Reservations for Monday need to be made by noon Friday.

NOTE: There is no change for home deliveries, but at congregate sites, you can get a carry-out meal.


  • BBQ pork sandwich, mini potato bakers, corn, creamy cole slaw, bun.


  • Turkey pot roast with carrots and celery, Italian green beans, pineapple, whole grain roll.


  • Savory sausage stew, broccoli, chunky apple sauce, biscuit, surprise dessert.


  • Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and brown gravy, tomatoes and zucchini, apricots, whole-grain roll.


  • Chef’s choice — regional favorites will be served.


If you are 55 and older and want to volunteer in your community, RSVP (funded by AmeriCorps Seniors and the Illinois Department on Aging) provides a unique link to local nonprofits needing help. We offer support, benefits and a safe connection to partner sites.

Contact Pam Jacobsen at or 217-359-6500.


Senior Volunteers.

  • RSVP of Champaign, Douglas and Piatt counties/AmeriCorps Senior Volunteers is your link to over 100 nonprofit organizations. Please contact Pam Jacobsen at or call 217-359-6500 for volunteer information.

Food for seniors. Handlers needed to unload boxes of food for repackaging at 7 am on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. We are looking for backup delivery drivers to deliver food to seniors. Contact Robbie Edwards at 217-359-6500 for info.

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Whole Grain Benefits

The future of nutrition advice



By Lisa Drayer, CNN

(CNN) — Most of us know we should eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

So why would the National Institutes of Health spend $150 million to answer questions such as “What and when should we eat?” and “How can we improve the use of food as medicine?”

The answer may be precision nutrition, which aims to understand the health effects of the complex interplay among genetics, our microbiome (the bacteria living in our gut), our diet and level of physical activity, and other social and behavioral characteristics.

That means that everyone could have their own unique set of nutritional requirements.

How is that possible? I asked three experts who conduct precision nutrition research: Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and Martha Field and Angela Poole, both assistant professors in the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology.

Below is an edited version of our conversation.

CNN: How is precision nutrition different from current nutrition advice?

dr Frank Hu: The idea of ​​precision nutrition is to have the right food, at the right amount, for the right person. Instead of providing general dietary recommendations for everyone, this precision approach tailors nutrition recommendations to individual characteristics, including one’s genetic background, microbiome, social and environmental factors, and more. This can help achieve better health outcomes.

CNN: Why is there no one-size-fits-all prescription when it comes to what we should be eating?

Huh: Not everyone responds to the same diet in the same way. For example, given the same weight-loss diet, some people can lose a lot of weight; other people may gain weight. A recent study in JAMA randomized a few hundred overweight individuals to a healthy low-carb or low-fat diet. After a year, there was almost an identical amount of weight loss for the two groups, but there was a huge variation between individuals within each group — some lost 20 pounds. Others gained 10 pounds.

Martha Field: Individuals have unique responses to diet, and the “fine adjust” of precision nutrition is understanding those responses. This means understanding interactions among genetics, individual differences in metabolism, and responses to exercise.

CNN: How do we eat based on precision nutrition principles now?

Huh: There are some examples of personalized diets for disease management, like a gluten-free diet for the management of celiac disease, or a lactose-free diet if you are lactose intolerant. For individuals with a condition known as PKU (phenylketonuria), they should consume (a) phenylalanine-free diet. It’s a rare condition but a classic example of how your genes can influence what type of diets you should consume.

Angela Poole: If I had a family history of high cholesterol, diabetes or colon cancer, I would increase my dietary fiber intake, eating a lot of different sources, including a variety of vegetables.

fields: If you have high blood pressure, you should be more conscious of sodium intake. Anyone with a malabsorption issue might have a need for higher levels of micronutrients such as B vitamins and some minerals.

CNN: There is research showing that people metabolize coffee differently. What are the implications here?

Huh: Some people carry fast caffeine-metabolizing genes; others carry slow genes. If you carry fast (metabolizing) genotypes, you can drink a lot of caffeinated coffee because caffeine is broken down quickly. If you are a slow metabolizer, you get jittery and may not be able to sleep if you drink coffee in the afternoon. If that’s the case, you can drink decaf coffee and still get the benefits of coffee’s polyphenols, which are associated with decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes without the effects of caffeine.

CNN: How much of a role do our individual genes play in our risk of disease? And can our behavior mitigate our disease risk?

Huh: Our health is affected by both genes and diets, which constantly interact with each other because certain dietary factors can turn on or off some disease-related genes. We published research showing that reducing consumption of sugary beverages can offset the negative effects of obesity genes. That’s really good news. Our genes are not our destiny.

Another area of ​​precision nutrition is to measure blood or urine metabolites, small molecules produced during the breakdown and ingestion of food. For example, having a higher concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) strongly predicts one’s future risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The blood levels of BCAAs depend on individuals’ diet, genes and gut microbiome. We found that eating a healthy (Mediterranean-style) diet can mitigate harmful effects of BCAAs on cardiovascular disease. So measuring BCAAs in your blood may help to evaluate your risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease and encourage dietary changes that can lower the risk of chronic diseases down the road.

fields: The environmental effects can sometimes be on the same magnitude as the genetic effects with respect to risk for disease.

CNN: Our individual microbiomes may be able to dictate what type of diet we should be consuming. Can you tell us about this emerging research? And what do you think of microbiome tests?

Poole: Research has shown that in some people, their blood sugar will spike higher from eating bananas than from eating cookies, and this has been associated with microbiome composition. Scientists have used microbiome data to build algorithms that can predict an individual’s glucose response, and this is a major advance. But that’s not an excuse for me to shovel down cookies instead of bananas. Likewise, if the algorithm suggests eating white bread instead of whole-wheat bread due to blood glucose responses, I wouldn’t just eat white bread all the time.

At the moment, I’m not ready to spend a lot of money to see what’s in my gut microbiome… and the microbiome changes over time.

Huh: Microbiome tests are not cheap, and the promise that this test can help develop a personalized meal plan that can improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol … at this point, the data are not conclusive.

CNN: How will nutrition advice be different 10 years from now?

Poole: I think you will receive a custom-tailored grocery list on an app — foods that you want to buy and foods that you want to avoid, based on your blood sugar responses to foods, your level of physical activity and more.

Huh: We will have more and better biomarkers and more affordable and accurate nutrigenomics and microbiome tests as well as better computer algorithms that predict your response to food intakes.

But these technologies cannot substitute general nutrition principles such as limiting sodium and added sugar and eating more healthy plant foods. In a few years, you may be able to get a more useful response from Alexa if you ask her what you should eat — but like other answers from Alexa, you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt.

The CNN Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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Whole Grain Benefits

Are Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches Healthy?



In order to assess its nutritional value, first we must discuss the breakdown of this sandwich.

Typically, there are three main ingredients — bread, peanut butter, and jelly — each with different nutritional values.

Nutritional value of bread

Bread can be a part of a balanced diet. The nutritional value of bread depends on the type chosen.

For starters, whole-grain bread is the best option because it provides a higher amount of nutrients. Whole grain kernels have three parts: the bran, endosperm, and germ (1).

Because whole grain bread retains all three parts, it’s higher in protein and fiber compared with other breads. These nutrients slow the absorption of sugar into your blood stream and keep you full longer (2, 3).

Whole grain bread is also richer in key nutrients, like B vitamins, iron, folate, and magnesium. Look for the word “whole” as part of the first ingredient in bread’s nutritional label (2).

Choosing sprouted grain bread, like Ezekiel bread, is also an excellent choice. The sprouting process increases digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients. Studies show sprouted bread has more fiber, vitamin E, and vitamin C, and beta-glucan (4).

Sourdough bread is fine, too. Although it’s not as high in fiber and protein, it has a lower glycemic index than white bread.

Glycemic index measures how quickly food increases blood sugars. In general, foods with a lower glycemic index better support your overall health.

But keep in mind that glycemic index doesn’t tell the whole story. We must look at the meal as a whole — for example, what we add to the bread. Nutrients, like protein and fats, can help lower the overall glycemic load of a meal, and serving sizes also play a role (5).

As a guideline, look for whole grain breads that offer at least 2 grams of fiber per slice. We also suggest using bread that contains 3 grams of protein or more per slice.

If that’s not available, sourdough bread may be your next best option.


Choose breads that are higher in fiber and protein, like whole grain bread or sprouted grain bread. These varieties help slow absorption of sugars and keep you full longer.

Nutritional value of peanut butter

Many people find peanut butter delicious.

Nutritionally, it also delivers. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats, important for all stages of life, especially growing children. Plus, it’s a good source of fiber.

Two tablespoons (32 grams) of smooth peanut butter contain 7 grams of protein, 16 grams of fats, and 2 grams of fiber (6).

Importantly, the majority of fats in peanut butter are unsaturated fats. Research consistently indicates that replacing saturated fats found in animal products with more unsaturated fats (like those in peanut butter) may lower cholesterol and improve heart health (7, 8).

For growing kids, healthy fats are vital for healthy development. Plus, fats help absorb the vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which play a synergistic role in supporting immune and brain health (9, 10).

Contrary to popular belief, conventional peanut butter doesn’t usually have more sugar than 100% natural peanut butter. However, it may have more salt (6).

When shopping, check the nutrition labels to ensure it doesn’t contain additional ingredients other than peanuts.

When enjoying natural peanut butter, the oil will separate from the peanut butter. Not to fret — just give it a good stir! This helps mix the oils with the solids.

Pro tip: You can store peanut butter upside down in the fridge to keep it from separating again!


When available, choose 100% natural peanut butter, as it’s lower in salt. Remember to stir the peanut butter before eating to mix the oils with the solids.

Nutritional value of jelly

The PB&J sandwich isn’t complete without jelly or jam. What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, while jellies and jams have similar nutritional value and taste, there’s a slight difference: Jellies are made with fruit juice, while jam is made with the fruit juice and pulp (7).

Both jellies and jams contain pectin (artificially added to jelly), which has prebiotic effects that may improve gut health (8).

However, both are naturally high in sugar, so enjoy them in moderation. To have more say in the ingredients used, you can try making your jelly at home.

If you’re buying from a store, look for jellies with no added sugar in the ingredients list. Alternative names for added sugars include glucose, sucrose, dextrose, and fructose.


Jellies are high in natural sugars and contain pectins that may have a beneficial effect in promoting good health. Try to choose jellies with no added sugars.

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