PUBLISHED: 5:03 PM on Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Jumpstart your body with healthy eating, forget the diet
Last week at a gathering, I observed my girlfriends talk about being on diets, future diet planning and workout regimes.

I began to notice I also consistently talk about my New Year's resolutions and ideals of losing weight to anyone who cares. Diets never go away; we obsess, gnash our teeth and grit through the onslaught of media dieting.

As a chef, I've accepted I will never be skinny-it's just not part of my genetic makeup. I love food, and I love to eat it. However, we can still eat "good for you" food and feel great about ourselves.

What we consume everyday is a direct reflection of how we feel mentally and physically. The other day I read in "People" about a man who drank colloidal silver in liquid form for years to cure his acid reflex, and it sure did-even though his whole body turned permanently blue.

This is an extreme example of how what we consume affects us. More importantly, it's long-term practices that can catch up.

Dieting isn't just about looking good on the outside and fitting into your favorite "skinny" jeans. It's about taking care of and protecting your body for the future.

Crash dieting is also a risky after-thought. Not only is it easy to fall back on your old habits after losing weight, it's harder to keep the weight off long-term.

My "diet" goals are to eat healthy, well-rounded meals consistently.

There are surprisingly easy little additions or replacements that can have great long-term effects. For example, instead of your favorite Jimmy Dean sausage, try turkey sausages with herbs and garlic; replace soda with watered down fruit juice or try a non-fat latte instead of whole milk and skip the sugar.

Tired of flavorless chicken breasts? Try seasonal fish fillets-they are low in saturated fat and high in Omega 3s. Instead of frying in butter or vegetable oil, use extra virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, which reduces blood pressure and the affects of arthritis and asthma. Replace cooking fats with fresh lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices for flavor.

Substitute whole-grain bread for white bread, and cut down on pasta and white rice. Most of all, every day make a conscious effort to eat vegetables and colorful fruits, which are high in fiber, vitamins, mineral and phytochemicals (helps your body maintain good health and energy levels, reduces risk of heart disease and cancer and protects aging effects).

We've heard it all before, but no pill can replace the positive effects of a healthy everyday diet. The hardest part is actually taking the time and effort, while still making food taste good. After a long day at work, who wants to cook for more than 30 minutes?

Here are a few ideas:

• Sauté pre-cut broccoli florets in olive oil, chopped garlic and crushed red pepper.

• Steam asparagus and season with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

• Try fresh fruit salsas, which go great with baked chicken, pork or fish (chopped melon, strawberries, peaches or berries mixed with a pinch of cumin, cilantro, green onions and dash of lime juice).

• Add baby spinach leaves, toasted nuts and seasonal fruit to your favorite green salad (skip the Ranch dressing).

• Sear seasoned sirloin steak in olive oil, slice and add to your favorite green salad.

• For taco/burrito night, replace ground beef with ground turkey or chicken or sauté chopped halibut or salmon with taco seasonings.

Greek Tomato-Avocado Salad

Here's a delicious heart-healthy Greek-style tomato and avocado salad that is perfect with fish, shrimp, grilled beef or chicken and absolutely beautiful to look at. It's full of vitamins, simple flavors and easy to prepare. Serves 4.

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

3 Roma tomatoes, halved and cut in wedges

1 ripe avocado, in thick slices

½ English cucumber, sliced

½ cup kalamata olives

2 tbs. crumbled feta cheese

½ tbs. olive oil

1 tbs. balsamic vinegar

5 basil leaves

Coarse ground pepper

On a large platter, scatter the cherry or grape tomatoes, and then the wedges of Roma tomatoes. Lay out the slices of avocado over the tomatoes, the cucumbers and then scatter the kalamata olives. Sprinkle on the feta cheese. Combine the olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl and drizzle over the salad. Tear the basil leaves in medium pieces and scatter over salad. Sprinkle on coarse ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Abby LaForce is owner of Abby's Kitchen, a catering company in Juneau, Alaska.