Try black bean burgers with a homemade chipotle ketchup. / Getty Images/iStock/LindasPhotography

The new year brings with it a host of promises kept and promises broken, and at the top of the list are resolutions made to improve our health. So you're off and running the first couple of weeks, but by the end of the month, many of us go back to our old habits, consuming too many calories, putting exercise on the back burner and eating fried, fatty foods that clog our arteries, raise our blood pressure, put on weight and do other scary things to compromise our health.

Interestingly, Tennessee and other Southern states consistently rank in the top ten most unhealthy states.

"The finger tends to point strongly in the direction of obesity as being the culprit," says Danielle Townsend, a registered dietitian with Primary Healthcare in North Georgia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity is associated with the leading causes of death including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer, as well as poorer mental health and quality of life.

Townsend admits to struggling with her weight, but she isn't alone. Data from the CDC in 2017-2018 report that 42.4% of adults in the United States are categorized as obese.

"I can tell you that obesity is, in large part, a result of our lifestyle choices," she says.

Poor nutrition, large food portions, imbalance of nutrients and lack of regular physical activity are all factors in leading to poor health.

Science has proven that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can provide numerous health benefits, such as reducing your risk of several chronic diseases and keeping your body healthy.

However, making major changes to your diet can sometimes seem overwhelming with all of the diets that promote weight loss.

"Generally speaking, if a diet cuts out a food group and has you eating 1,000 calories or less per day or promises to help you lose a certain amount of weight in 'just a few weeks,' it's not a realistic, long-term or sustainable way to live," Townsend says.

The most popular weight loss diet remains the keto diet, one that was first developed for children who were not able to tolerate anti-epileptic medications, but it has become a popular diet for people trying to lose weight and get healthy. It has a downside, though. People have had some success with weight loss — consuming just 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day — but that can be accompanied by an increase in serum cholesterol and triglycerides, increased risk of heart disease and decreased muscle mass.

Instead of the keto diet, Townsend recommends a low to moderate carbohydrate diet with a target daily carbohydrate intake of 30-45 grams of total carbohydrates per meal. Most people, she says, cannot continue an extreme, low-carb intake for the rest of their life.

"This is what can lead to false hope, frustration, retroactive weight gain and binge eating," she says, offering two alternatives: the Mediterranean or the DASH diet, two diets that do not cut out certain foods, but place a focus on whole grains, fresh produce, and lean meats and fish, along with meatless meals that include beans and nuts, both foods high in protein.

Also, drink plenty of water — at least 64 ounces per day for most people — and spend 250 minutes every week at the track or doing some kind of physical activity.

"Getting healthy the right way takes much longer, but the odds of keeping [weight] off tend to be greater as well," Townsend says. "What's the saying? Good things come to those who wait. There are lots of things we don't like to do, but we do them because they're good for us. Eating vegetables, drinking more water and increasing steps need to be in that list of things."


Chicken Lentil Soup

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Chicken lentil soup is packed with protein. / Getty Images/iStock/Elena_Danileiko

This is a recipe Danielle Townsend made recently that proved to be not only healthy but packed with protein and delicious.

1 pound dried lentils

3 boneless skinless chicken thighs, all fat trimmed

8 cups water

1 tablespoon chicken bouillon (preferably Better than Bouillon brand)

1 small onion

2 scallions

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

3 cloves garlic

1 medium ripe tomato

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground annato or Spanish paprika

Salt, to taste

In a large pot combine lentils, chicken, water and chicken bouillon. Bring to a boil, cover over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and shred, return to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a chopper or by hand, mince the onions, scallions, cilantro, garlic and tomato. Add to the lentils with garlic powder, cumin, oregano and annato and cook, covered, until the lentils are soft, about 25 more minutes, adding more water as needed if too thick. Adjust salt to taste as needed. Makes about 8 servings.


Swiss Chard-Mushroom Fettuccine

This Mayo Clinic recipe has lots of protein, fiber and healthy carbs, plus Swiss chard is a good source of iron and vitamins A and C.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped shallots or green onions

2 garlic cloves, sliced

8 to 10 small mushrooms, sliced

1 pound Swiss chard, trimmed of stems, washed thoroughly and chopped into 1-inch pieces

6 ounces uncooked whole-wheat fettuccine

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and mushrooms. Saute the vegetables until tender, about five minutes. Add the Swiss chard, reduce heat and cover for about three minutes. Using tongs, turn the chard over so that uncooked leaves are on the bottom and wilted leaves are on top. Cover and cook until completely wilted, about another three minutes.

Fill a large pot 3/4 full of water and bring to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente stage, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Return the drained pasta to the pot. Add the Swiss chard mixture and the reserved pasta water. Toss to mix evenly. Divide the pasta onto warmed plates. Top each serving with cracked black pepper and 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.


Black Bean Burgers With Chipotle Ketchup

These burgers may be made ahead of time and frozen.

1 1/4 cups dried black beans, picked over and rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained

3 cups water

1 bay leaf

2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, peeled and seeded, then diced

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced

1 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 red bell pepper (capsicum), seeded and chopped

1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1 green (spring) onion, thinly sliced

1 egg, lightly beaten

3/4 cup fresh whole-grain breadcrumbs

6 whole-grain hamburger buns

6 slices tomato

6 slices red onion

3 bibb lettuce leaves, halved

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the beans, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender, 60 to 70 minutes. Drain and discard the bay leaf.

While the beans are cooking, make the chipotle ketchup. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the tomatoes, half the yellow onion, half the garlic, the tomato paste, vinegar, chipotle chili, 3/4 teaspoon of the cumin and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced and the mixture is a thick sauce, about five minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a frying pan, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the canola oil over medium heat. Add the remaining yellow onion and saute until soft and translucent, about four minutes. Add the bell pepper and the remaining garlic and saute until they begin to soften, about three minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool. Set the pan aside.

In a food processor, combine the drained beans, onion mixture, brown rice, pecans, green onion and the remaining 1 teaspoon cumin. Pulse several times until the mixture is coarsely pureed. Fold in the beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Form the mixture into 6 patties, each about an inch or so thick.

In the same pan used for the onion mixture, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides and heated through, seven to nine minutes total.

Serve each burger on a bun topped with 1 tomato slice, 1 onion slice, 1/2 lettuce leaf and a dollop of the ketchup.

— Recipe courtesy of Mayo Clinic