Patient Testimonial: Alyson Mitchell

patient testimonial

 

If you feel as though your life is on hold because of your weight, you’ll want to read Alyson Mitchell’s weight loss journey. It may just inspire you to make the commitment to stop waiting for a better life and start living the life you deserve now.

Alyson’s Story

Prior to her gastric sleeve surgery with Dr. Dirk in July 2016, Alyson had been battling her weight since she was in high school. Later, as a wife and mother, she found that being overweight was negatively affecting her mood and keeping her from being outgoing with her husband and kids. “The best way to describe my life before surgery was it was on hold,” she says. “Looking back, I wasn’t myself — at least not to my full potential.”

Alyson also found that much of day-to-day life was a challenge. She was hindered by her constantly worries about what she should wear, how she looked and how she felt. Even the activities she loved — like going to the beach, swimming and shopping — became sources of stress rather than enjoyment.

Although Alyson had been able to lose weight on her own, it always managed to creep its way back, and then some. One of the last times she had lost the weight was after her dad passed away. Within about six months, she had gained at least 50 pounds or more. “I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. I knew that I could try to lose it again, and that I would be able to, but I was just tired! Tired of gaining it all back.”

 

That was the turning point for Alyson. She talked to her husband and met with Dr. Dirk to schedule gastric sleeve surgery. She says the first week or so after surgery was extremely hard, but that she eventually began to feel better. Her biggest challenges following surgery have been learning her new limits regarding how much to eat, what to eat and how often to eat.

Now, she feels truly amazing and is thankful to Dr. Dirk for helping her to finally change her life and feel truly happy and confident. Prior to surgery, Alyson weighed 207 pounds. She currently weighs around 130 pounds.

“I am so happy that I chose to have this procedure done. I have energy, I feel happier and healthier. Going to the beach is way more fun, and my two girls and husband get the happy version of me back — the one that is not self-conscious about every little thing.”

Her advice to anyone considering weight loss surgery? “Do it for yourself, nobody else. Take the time to decide if it is right for you without telling everyone. If you do decide to do it, do it 100 percent. Follow the rules and guidelines, and you will have truly successful results!”

Read more inspirational success stories from Dr. Dirk’s patients here.


How to Avoid the New Year’s Slump to Reach Your Goals

reach goals

 

At this point in January, you may find that you’ve lost motivation and have gotten off track in sticking with the health resolutions you set for this year. Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up over it. You are far from alone! According to U.S. News, 80 percent of goal-setters drop their New Year’s resolutions by February.

So how do you pick yourself back up and stop yourself from throwing in the towel completely? Below are five tips to get you back on track so you can feel good about accomplishing your goals come December.

1. Revisit your “why”

There will be plenty of days when you don’t feel like doing what it takes to get healthy. The couch may be calling you to stay cozy instead of lacing up your sneakers and getting outside for a walk in the cold. When this happens, you need to know your “why” — the true, deep reason you want to achieve your goal.

For example, are you looking to lose weight? While looking better and being able to wear certain clothes are certainly good benefits of losing weight, they may not be strong enough reasons for you to commit to healthy eating and exercise over the long term. Getting healthy so you can be around to enjoy your grandchildren or to have the energy to give back to a cause you truly care about are some deeper reasons that may pull you off the couch time and again.

In a nutshell, when you have a strong connection to the reason for your goal, you are much more likely to be successful in reaching it.

2. Be realistic

Make sure your goals are attainable and avoid an “all or nothing” mentality. For example, don’t resolve to NEVER eat ice cream or French fries again. Instead, avoid these foods most of the time but allow yourself to mindfully indulge (and enjoy doing so without guilt) from time to time.

3. Break down big goals into small steps

Set small, attainable goals to work on each week that will help you work toward your larger goals. For each goal, write down every possible action you can think of that you will need to take to reach that goal. Then put the first few actions, or steps, on your calendar. Once those are done, add the next few steps and so on.

4. Track your progress

Keep track of and celebrate each small success to help you stay motivated. If your end goal is to lose 25 pounds, focus on 5 pounds at a time. Each time you lose 5 pounds, acknowledge and celebrate this smaller step toward your larger goal. Some ideas to celebrate might be going to the movies with a friend or buying yourself some new fitness gear.

One great way to track your progress is by keeping a food and/or exercise journal. You’ll be able to look back in your journal to remind yourself of all your hard work and see how far you’ve come. This is a great tool to keep you moving forward whenever you feel you’re losing steam or getting frustrated.

5. Enlist help

Decide how you will deal with the temptation to skip your workout or grab a few cookies before dinner. Think about what works best for helping you to stay on track.

It may be as simple as reminding yourself of your “why” and thinking about how giving into temptation will derail you from the better future you want to create for yourself. If you need outside support and accountability, have a trusted friend or family member who you know you can call to help you when you’re facing temptation. Have a friend who is also working toward health resolutions? Propose that you’ll be each other’s accountability partners!

The key is to not let yourself get down when you occasionally get off track — life happens! Take it one day at a time and do the best you can each day. Remember, you still have 11 months to work toward your goals. Apply these tips and you’ll find yourself making great progress in no time.


Why Giving Up Diet Soda Should be Your New Year’s Resolution

soda

 

With 2018 right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. While it can be tempting to commit to as many positive changes to your lifestyle as you can imagine, it can be overwhelming to try and address too many areas of concern all at once. Instead, set manageable goals, stay focused and take one resolution at a time. Doing so will be of benefit whether you’re someone who gets excited by the idea of making resolutions — or someone who lowered your New Year’s expectations a long time ago.

A Great Resolution to Get Started

If getting healthy is one of your main goals for 2018, we suggest starting with a New Year’s resolution to give up soda — specifically, diet soda. While diet soda may appear to be a healthy choice on the surface, it’s actually quite the opposite. Below are some of the main reasons you should remove diet sodas from your diet.

Artificial Sweeteners Have Negative Effects on the Body

Artificial sweeteners possess a greater intensity of flavor than real sugar. Consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda, can gradually dull our senses. The result? Naturally sweet foods, such as fruits and vegetables, stop tasting as appetizing.

Additionally, artificial sweeteners have been shown to have the same effect on the body as sugar. Like sugar, these artificial sweeteners trigger the release of insulin, sending your body into fat storage mode and leading to weight gain.

Drinking Diet Soda Can Lead to Weight Gain

Just because diet soda is calorie-free doesn’t mean it will help you in your weight loss efforts. In fact, researchers from the University of Texas found that, over a 10-year period, diet soda drinkers experienced a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink diet soda. Even worse, study participants who drank two or more diet sodas a day experienced a whopping waist circumference increase of over 500 percent.

Drinking Diet Soda is Associated with an Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that drinking just one diet soda a day can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 36 percent. Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe a group of conditions — including high blood pressure and elevated glucose levels — that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Diet Soda Has Zero Nutritional Value

In addition to not consuming any calories when you drink diet soda, you’re also not putting any nutrients into your body. And your body needs nutrient-rich foods to stay healthy and function optimally. Replace diet soda with beverages that offer actual health benefits, such as antioxidant-rich green tea and mineral water.

Conventional wisdom to the contrary, there’s nothing healthy about diet sodas. Stop relying on their empty promise to help you slim down and stay fit. Make avoiding diet sodas your number one New Year’s resolution. You’ll begin feeling better before you know it. And, with those improvements, you’ll be that much more prepared to take on your other resolutions — one by one.


The importance of exercising after surgery

exercising after surgery

Whether you’ve undergone weight loss surgery or another kind of surgery, exercising after surgery is important for a quicker recovery and a more successful outcome. Exercise is a critical part of the healing process, and it has many benefits for people

Why it’s important to exercise after surgery

After surgery, it’s common for muscles to weaken and joints to become stiff from lack of use. For each week you don’t exercise after having surgery, it can take twice as long to regain strength in that area.

Additionally, the recovery time stated by your surgeon depends on whether you follow your post-surgery exercise program. Not exercising often results in a recovery period that’s longer than anticipated.

The benefits of exercise after surgery

Exercising after surgery provides numerous benefits for patients, depending on the specific surgery and the person’s unique situation.

While the following benefits are often seen in patients who exercise after having bariatric surgery, many of them are also seen in patients who exercise after having other types of surgeries.

  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced abdominal fat
  • Stronger muscles, bones and lungs
  • Reduced risk of disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced triglycerides
  • Higher good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol
  • Improved blood sugar control
  • Improved insulin control
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Increased energy
  • Improved balance
  • Improved appearance
  • Improved motivation and mental alertness

How to ease into exercise following surgery

Before beginning any type of exercise after surgery, you’ll want to check with your doctor and ask when it’s safe for you to start, what types of exercises are safe and how much exercise you should begin with.

While the appropriate time to begin exercise following surgery will vary, a walking regimen is the best place to start once you get the OK from your doctor.

When you first begin, your walks don’t need to be long or intense. Start with a short, casual stroll around the block. Do this every day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking each day, whether by increasing the distance you walk or the amount of time spent walking. In addition to increasing the duration of your walks, you’ll also want to slowly increase your speed as your fitness level improves.

The main point is to start walking as soon as your surgeon says it’s safe to do so and then start slowly, working your way up gradually.

Types of exercise to do after surgery

All exercise programs should include components that focus on endurance, flexibility and strength. This is also true for post-surgery exercise.

1. Endurance

As mentioned above, walking is a safe bet following most surgeries. As the walking gets easier, increase the length and intensity of your daily walks. Eventually, you can check with your surgeon about incorporating riding a stationary bike and/or swimming into your exercise regimen.

2. Flexibility

Stretching is an important part of an overall exercise program and offers many benefits. Stretching helps to improve flexibility and coordination, as well as increase blood flow to your muscles, which results in less soreness and more energy.

Begin with basic stretching exercises provided by your surgeon. You could also try a beginner’s yoga class, which is great for increasing flexibility, in addition to building strength.

3. Strength

Strength exercises are the third part of a well-rounded exercise routine. However, these exercises should not be started until you have been doing your endurance and flexibility exercises for a while and your surgeon approves adding them to your routine. Speak with your doctor about using exercise balls or weights.

Keep the post-surgery benefits above fresh in your mind so they’ll motivate you to stick with your exercise routine on the days you’re tempted to skip it. Making physical activity part of your daily routine will become easier and easier over time and will eventually become a habit that you won’t have to think twice about.


Artificial sweeteners are not as sweet as they seem

artificial sweeteners

For years, people have used artificial sweeteners to lose weight. Once they begin a diet, they switch from consuming sugar to using products such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and steviocide (Stevia) in hopes of satisfying their sugar cravings without interfering with their weight loss efforts.

But do artificial sweeteners really help with weight loss? According to a recent ABC News article, they don’t. In fact, studies show the opposite: Over time, artificial sweeteners are actually linked to weight gain.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain

Thirty studies from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that followed groups of people using artificial sweeteners over several years have recently been newly reviewed. The new analysis of these studies looked at the long-term heart health, stroke incidence and blood pressure levels of more than 406,000 people who said they use artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.

Instead of finding that consuming artificial sweeteners had positive effects, the analysis found that regular consumption of these sweeteners was associated with:

  • Modest long-term increases in weight and Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Higher risk of obesity
  • Higher risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Higher risk of stroke

Even people in studies that took place over a shorter period of time did not show any consistent weight loss after six months.

Why Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Help Weight Loss Efforts

In the ABC News article, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief women’s health correspondent, states that any sweetener can trigger the same response from the brain, whether it’s regular table sugar, honey or an artificial sweetener. Ashton says that all sweeteners trigger the reward centers in our brains, ultimately leading us to want more — so we end up eating more.

When people use “diet” products like sodas, food or sweeteners, they tend to eat more calorie-heavy foods as a “balance.” The medical world has known for quite some time that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain, and some experts believe that the chemicals in artificial sweeteners may create a reaction in the human body that causes weight gain.

What does this mean for people looking to lose weight? It’s pretty simple. Forget the “diet” foods and drinks and focus on learning proper portion control and eating a healthy, balanced diet.


5 Essential questions to ask during your weight loss surgery consultation

essential questions

 

The decision to have weight loss surgery is a big one, and it can’t be taken lightly. You’ll need to change your habits and commit to a new, healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you won’t see results after the surgery or be able to keep the weight off for good.

Because weight loss surgery is not a quick fix, you need to take control and learn as much as you can about the surgery as early as possible. It’s important to go into the first consultation with your weight loss surgeon with a prepared list of questions.

Here are five questions you’ll want to ask during your initial weight loss surgery appointment. It’s a good idea to write these questions down in a notebook and bring it with you so can refer to your questions and write down answers.

1. What is your experience?

Experience plays a big role in how skilled a person is at their job, and it’s no different for surgeons. This is a good question to start with, since it will help you better understand the surgeon’s background and skill set.

Of course, experience isn’t the only factor you need to consider. A surgeon who has performed a lot of surgeries isn’t always the most skilled. But a surgeon with more cases under their belt will often be a doctor you can be confident in.

2. Which weight loss procedures do you perform?

Many surgeons don’t perform every bariatric procedure that’s available, and there’s usually a reason why they don’t offer certain ones. Once you’ve found out which surgeries your surgeon offers, ask if there are any procedures they don’t perform and why. A lot of times you’ll find that, after offering a certain type of procedure, the surgeon found that too many patients weren’t seeing results, so they stopped offering it.

Usually, you’ll want to go with a surgeon who has enough options. If only one type of procedure is offered, do your research to see if that procedure is the best choice for you before moving forward. If not, it’s best to find someone who offers one that’s a better fit for your needs.

3. Which procedure would you recommend for me?

Any good, honest bariatric surgeon will tell you that there isn’t one procedure that will work for everyone. To answer this question, the surgeon will need ask you about your lifestyle, risk tolerances, exercise and dietary habits and medical history.

Your surgeon won’t choose a procedure for you — they will give their professional opinion about which procedure(s) will be most suitable for you and explain the benefits and risks of each procedure.

4. What kind of resources do you offer before and after surgery?

Weight loss surgery is a long process that you’ll need to be mentally and physically prepared for both before and after the surgery. The most successful weight loss surgery patients change their habits, take time to learn how to keep their weight off and have a good support system in place.

Your weight loss surgeon should be able to provide you with resources that will help you be successful over the long term. For example, does the surgeon provide a follow-up program after surgery to keep you accountable with sticking to the diet and other lifestyle changes that are critical to your success? Do they run support groups or recommend a good support group? Can the surgeon provide resources to help educate close friends and family members about how they can support you throughout this process?

5. What are your complication rates?

There’s no beating around the bush here. While complications vary depending on the specific procedure, they can and do happen. However, according to a study published in the July 2010 issue of JAMA, serious complication rates during bariatric surgery are relatively low. Serious complication rates were listed at 3.6 percent for gastric bypass and 2.2 percent for gastric sleeve surgery (sleeve gastrectomy).

If your weight loss surgeon’s rates are around or lower these national averages, you’re in good hands.

Stay informed

The questions above will give you the information you need to make the best decision for you. Remember to continue to write down all your questions and the surgeon’s answers before and after surgery. You’ll find this helpful for keeping track of questions and concerns you have throughout the entire process.


Spices with health benefits

spices with health benefits

Do you use spices regularly in your cooking? If not, you should start. Here’s why.

The Benefits of Using Spices

Not only do spices add a ton of flavor to your food, but they offer great health benefits. Here are a few ways spices are good for your health:

1. Aid Weight Loss

Spices can help to increase your metabolism, helping you to lose weight. For example, studies have shown that capsaicin (found in chili peppers), may cause the body to burn extra calories for 20 minutes after eating.

2. Improve Heart Health

Research has shown cultures that eat spicy foods have a lower rate of heart attack and stroke. This may be because chili peppers can reduce the damaging effects of bad cholesterol (LDL). Additionally, the capsaicin in chili peppers may fight inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Protect Against Cancer

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, capsaicin has the ability to kill some cancer and leukemic cells. Also, turmeric (a spice found in curry powder and some mustards) may slow the spread of cancer and the growth of tumors.

4. Protect Against Diabetes

Inflammation and high blood sugar levels both largely contribute to diabetes. Spices can improve blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, helping to prevent or improve diabetes.

5. Improve Your Mood

Spicy foods increase your body’s production of “happy” hormones, like serotonin, which can help lessen stress and mild depression.

How to Get Spices into Your Diet

Small amounts of both dried and fresh spices can provide health benefits, so don’t worry if you’re not a spicy food person!

Below are some easy and delicious ideas for using spices in your cooking:

  • Put some slices of ginger or a pinch of cumin in a cup of hot tea
  • Add chopped chili peppers to soups, stews and chili
  • Coat shrimp in cumin and coriander and then sauté
  • Grate fresh ginger into vinaigrette
  • Add red pepper flakes or chopped ginger to stir-fry dishes
  • Make chicken curry
  • Sprinkle ground ginger on cooked carrots
  • Add cumin to brown rice or red lentils
  • Sprinkle ground cloves on applesauce or add to quick bread batters
  • Sprinkle turmeric* on egg salad, add to a chicken or seafood casserole or add to water when cooking rice

*To absorb 2,000 percent more turmeric, pair it with black pepper

Start with the suggestions above and then let them inspire you to experiment with your own ideas. In no time, you’ll be a pro at using spices in cooking and will enjoy the great taste of your food, as well as the added health benefits.


The importance of teaching your kids healthy habits from a young age

healthy habits

Today, about one in three American children is obese or overweight. While these numbers are sad, the truth is that parents can turn this epidemic around by teaching their kids healthy habits while they’re still young.

It’s important to teach your kids about eating healthy and getting lots of physical activity from an early age. This is because people who learn healthy habits as children are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives.

If you teach your child to live a healthy lifestyle when they’re young, they are less likely to grow up to become overweight or obese. It can also decrease their risk of health issues that can develop due to being overweight. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, certain types of cancer and more.

How to be a healthy role model for your child

Here are six simple but powerful ways you can be a strong role model for your kids and teach them to live a healthy lifestyle.

1. Be physically active together

Regular physical activity is important for your kids’ growth and overall well-being. Encourage them to get moving by changing how your kids spend their free time. Instead of letting them spend hours watching TV or surfing the web, get the whole family moving! Ride bikes together, go for a daily walk after dinner or simply head into the yard to kick a ball around or play a game of tag.

2. Drink lots of water

Water — not soda, fruit juice or sweet tea — is the best thing you can drink to quench your thirst, and our bodies need lots of water each day to run smoothly. Plus, water doesn’t have added sugars like fruit juice and soft drinks do.

Make sure your children see you drinking water throughout the day, and give them plenty of opportunities to drink water too. Get everyone their own special water bottles in different colors and patterns to make it more fun.

3. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables every day helps children grow and develop, and it can reduce their risk of many chronic diseases. Always keep fresh fruit on hand for a quick, healthy snack, and include fruits and vegetables with every meal.

4. Introduce new foods often

It’s important to introduce your kids to new foods and flavors regularly. Offer your kids the new food along with something they already like, and encourage them to at least try the new food. If they don’t like it after tasting it, they don’t have to finish it — but it’s important that they at least try.

Be sure to keep serving the foods your kids have tried and don’t like over and over. It can take as many 30 tries for your child to develop a taste for the food! This is a great way to get your child to try out all types of vegetables.

5. Eat healthy snacks

Healthy snacks help kids get all the nutrients they need, but not all snacks are created equal. The healthiest choices include fresh fruits and vegetables, reduced-fat dairy products and whole grains. Stock your fridge with things like apple slices with peanut butter, baby carrots with hummus, low-fat string cheese and hardboiled eggs. Limit or avoid snacks that are high in sugar or saturated fats, like chips, crackers and snack cakes.

6. Plan activities that don’t revolve around food

Instead of making eating out at a restaurant your main family outing, try to plan an activity that isn’t focused on food. Go bowling, take a painting class, go to the library and take out a bunch of books or go see a family-friendly play. The options are endless.

Not only will this create strong family bonds, it will also help your children appreciate things other than food, helping them to become well-rounded adults with a healthy relationship with food.

Starting a healthy lifestyle early in life is critical to giving your kids a shot at becoming healthy adults. Use the tips above to put your children on the path to living a healthy life in the long run.


Strategies for keeping your healthy lifestyle on track

It’s been proven over and over again that eating a good, nutritious diet and sticking to a daily exercise regimen is the most reliable way to lose weight and keep it off.

But committing to a healthy lifestyle is no easy feat. It’s a long journey, filled with speed bumps and occasional wrong turns.

So how do you keep up the hard work of living healthy? Here are some strategies to help you stay on track.

Lean on friends and family

Involving a few family members or friends can be crucial to finding the support you need on your journey. Find people who you trust, who you know love you and who will be non-judgmental about your new lifestyle.

Instead of eating a high-protein, low-carb dinner by yourself, invite your people over and share a dinner with them. Talk to your people about how you feel about your progress. Be willing to accept their support, and listen to what they have to say.

Bounce back from bad days

Discipline is key to a healthy lifestyle. But you will have moments of weakness, when you eat too much of something you shouldn’t or miss a few days of exercise. That’s OK.

The most important thing is to not beat yourself up about it. Just wake up the next morning and commit to eating your healthy meals and getting your exercise in. You’ll be surprised how much easier this journey is when you don’t blow your small mistakes out of proportion.

Keep a long-term perspective

On this blog, we’ve talked a lot about steering clear of “lose-weight-quick!” schemes and fad diets that promise fast results.

Here’s the truth: Losing weight and achieving your health goals will take time. Putting in the work over a period of time is the only healthy and effective way to lose weight and keep it off.

By looking at the long term, it’s easier to look past minor setbacks or seemingly slow progress. Keeping your expectations realistic means you won’t psych yourself out of a process that takes time.

Plan, plan, plan 

The sad fact is it’s easy to be unhealthy. When you’re busy with work, errands and family and friends, it can be simpler just to pick up fast food and veg out on the couch. Using your time wisely and getting ahead of daily stresses and tasks can help you keep your health commitments.

One example of this is meal planning. Instead of preparing entire meals every day, use the weekends to prep meals for the week. That can mean cooking enough chicken breast, salmon and/or tofu on the weekends to last you the week, and/or chopping all your veggies and packing all your salads for the week.

And the planning shouldn’t stop there. Always think ahead to make sure that, no matter what’s going on in your life, you can eat healthy and work out. Going on a vacation? Call ahead to find out if there’s a gym you can work out in. Having a dinner out with friends? Have a look at the menu beforehand to pick the healthiest item.

Be positive

Finally, stay positive and don’t dwell on negative thoughts. There will be lots of difficult moments on your health journey, but you’ll be surprised how much easier it becomes when you choose to be positive about it. You’re doing the hard work to improve your life — you have good reason to be happy with yourself.


Healthy summer BBQ recipe alternatives

 

Summer means one thing: backyard barbecues. Whether it’s a Fourth of July celebration, a no-frills get-together with family and friends or an all-out bonanza in the summertime sun, one thing is for sure: good food.

Summer can be a hard time for people trying to watch what they eat. Fortunately, there are ways to have your summer fun while sticking to your diet plan.

Here are our favorite healthy alternative summer recipes.

Spicy Yam Potato Salad

Instead of the traditional mayo and potato-heavy salad, this alternative version relies on Greek yogurt and sweet potatoes. Not only does this recipe deliver a sweet zing (and a kick!), it helps you keep your bad fats and carbs in check.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb yams, peeled and cut into eighths
  • 1 lb red potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths or eighths
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp harissa (or Sriracha if you can’t find it)
  • Salt and pepper

Add the cut-up yams and potatoes and a tablespoon of salt to a pot of room-temperature water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until tender (but not mushy). Drain the yams and potatoes and cool to room temperature.

Mix the spices, harissa and Greek yogurt. Set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to the yams and potatoes. Then mix everything together and season with salt and pepper.

Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad

Backyard BBQs are all about the sides. One simple yet delicious side is this salad that’s packed with complex carbs, nutrient-rich cherries, nuts and, most importantly, fresh flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed if necessary
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fruity vinegar, such as raspberry or pomegranate
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups halved pitted fresh sweet cherries
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3/4 cup diced aged goat cheese, smoked cheddar or other smoked cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add wild rice and cook for 30 minutes. Add quinoa and cook until the rice and quinoa are tender, about 15 minutes more. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch; drain well.

Meanwhile, whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the rice and quinoa, cherries, celery, cheese and pecans and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Baja-Style Rosemary Chicken Skewers

Instead of fatty and cholesterol-packed hamburgers and hot dogs, try a leaner protein that’s just as delicious. Grilled chicken kabobs can satiate your need for flavorful meat. Try whichever seasoning or marinade you prefer. One of our favorite recipes is this rosemary chicken kabob.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 dried chiles de arbol, crumbled (or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thighs), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 8 sturdy 12-inch rosemary sprigs, leaves on bottom half removed
  • Lime wedges, for serving

​In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, chiles, minced rosemary, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil; set aside 1/4 cup of the marinade. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the bowl. Mix well, cover and marinate for 30 minutes.

Light a grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread the pieces onto the rosemary skewers; discard the marinade. Oil the grate and grill the chicken over moderate heat, turning occasionally and basting with the reserved marinade, until golden and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with lime wedges.

Wasabi Salmon Burgers

If your backyard bonanza doesn’t feel complete only with chicken kabobs, then have your burger. But replace the fatty beef with lean proteins, like ground chicken breast, ground turkey or even wild salmon. In fact, one of our favorite burger recipes is this Japanese-inspired salmon burger.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons wasabi powder

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 pound wild salmon fillet, skinned

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Whisk soy sauce, wasabi powder and honey in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

​With a large chef’s knife, chop salmon using quick, even, straight-up-and-down motions (do not rock the knife through the fish or it will turn mushy). Continue chopping, rotating the knife, until you have a mass of roughly ¼-inch pieces.

Transfer to a large bowl. Add scallions, egg, ginger and oil; stir to combine. Form the mixture into four patties. The mixture will be moist and loose, but holds together nicely once the first side is cooked.

​Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the patties and cook for 4 minutes. Turn and continue to cook until firm and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Spoon the reserved wasabi glaze evenly over the burgers and cook for 15 seconds more. Serve immediately.

Frozen Greek Yogurt Fresh Fruit Bars

Lastly, dessert. Set yourself up with healthy dessert alternatives and you can eat as much as you’d like. Yogurt pops are an excellent substitute for full-fat ice cream, and adding fresh fruit, especially berries, can boost the nutrient profile.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries (or a mix of all three)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt

In a large bowl, combine the berries, honey, lemon juice, water and Greek yogurt. Using the back of a spatula, lightly mash the berries to release their juices and stir until well combined.

Fill a popsicle mold with the yogurt mixture according to instructions. Freeze until the fruit bar is firm, 3 to 4 hours (or depending on instructions). Makes six popsicles.

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that your diet has to go on a break. Try these healthy recipes, and you can enjoy summertime with friends and family while staying true to your health journey.