Four Reasons I’m Zealous about Zucchini!

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Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

Gorgeous, grilled zucchini!

My new love these days is zucchini. It’s a vegetable I haven’t been all that excited about in the past, but lately it’s been calling my name! I’ve been cooking with it and trying new recipes for my family. Now we are all loving zucchini. My favorite new zucchini dish that I’m sharing with you today is a recipe for lasagna made with zucchini instead of pasta noodles. The advantage is that with the zucchini replacing pasta, there are much fewer carbs in this dish. Remember that carbs turn into sugar in your body and cause weight gain and other illnesses like cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other awful things. Also, replacing the super carby pasta with a cool vegetable like zucchini means gaining lots of nutritional advantages which I will highlight for you next. Last, I will share my zucchini lasagna recipe with you.

1. Nutrition– Zucchini and all summer squash is 95% water, which is naturally low in calories (33 for a medium zucchini), a gram of protein and less than a gram of fat. It has 6 grams of carbohydrates but two of them are fiber, this makes it a low glycemic food which will not spike blood sugar, but will instead provide a steady source of glucose to your system.

2. Vitamins– Zucchini is a great source of two antioxidant vitamins which help boost immunity and supports healthy aging, 35 milligrams of vitamin C (between 39-46% RDA for adults) and 392 IU of vitamin A (13-27%).

3. Potassium– One of the main electrolytes in your body needed in proper balance (2 to 1) with sodium . The typical American diet tends to be very high in sodium which throws the balance off and leads to high blood pressure. A medium zucchini has 512 mg of potassium, or 11% of your daily needs.

4. Very versatile vegetable– Raw zucchini gives an extra crunch to salads, It can be cut into strips or rounds for dipping in hummus. It’s great in stir fries and soups. Also, who doesn’t love zucchini bread or muffins? I definitely do! In about a month, they will be abundant in backyard gardens, so you’ll have plenty of this veggie to work with soon.

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Delicious, nutritious zucchini lasagna!

Zucchini Lasagna

  • 1 LB ground beef
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium zucchini
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Slice and salt your zucchini first!

Slice and salt your zucchini first!

The first thing you want to do is thinly slice your zucchini lengthwise with a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin (I don’t) slice it as best as you can. Lightly salt the zucchini and set aside for 15 minutes to get as much of the water out of it as you can. Then blot with paper towels.

Brown your ground beef!

Brown your ground beef!

In a large pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil, and then add the ground beef and brown. Add the tomatoes, basil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes.

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

Gotta grate the cheese, please!

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella and egg.

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Grill the zucchini and start the layering of the lasagna!

Now, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, spray your baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, grill the zucchini for 2 minutes each side to make it less soft, and start layering the lasagna. Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce, 1/3 of the zucchini, and 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Then, 1/3 zucchini, 1/3 cheese, 1/3 meat sauce and repeat one more time until the pan is full. Cover with foil.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven!

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake 20 more minutes uncovered. Add some more grated parmesan to the top and bake for 10 more minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes and serve.

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Beautiful piece of lasagna!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that it was DELICIOUS! in fact, my family ate it in 1 sitting! They kept going back at it like savages until it was gone. According to my calculations one slice is 300 calories, compared to 400 calories for a slice of regular lasagna. And the health benefits are by far greater than the caloric savings as I mentioned above. It’s a win-win, my friends! Try it and let me know how you like it! Eating foods like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

LIFT your way to weight loss- and a healthier body!

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That will be me-as soon as my weights are delivered!

That will be me-as soon as my weights are delivered!

So I had a birthday this past weekend, and like most women I hinted at what I wanted for a present. Most of you think I probably asked for jewelry or a new purse, but what I wanted, and received, will probably surprise you. I got a set of weights and a weight bench! Not what you thought, right?! Well, it was the perfect present for me and should be for you too. Let me tell you why.

As we get older, and who isn’t getting older I ask you, our metabolism begins to SLOOOOW DOOOOWN! And we also begin to lose muscle mass too. All that muscle that goes away begins to turn to…. fat unfortunately. Now of course the cornerstone of preventing this from happening starts and ends with a healthy diet. As they say, “you can’t train away a poor diet”, and I truly believe that as all of my previous posts attest. However, I notice that even though I do eat a healthy diet, and carefully control both the amount and kind of calories I am consuming, my body is starting to change in ways I don’t care for.

Weights3

I also exercise 5 times a week for 45 minutes per session so it’s not that I’m not exercising, it’s what I’m doing, or in this case not doing that is making the (not so good) changes in my body. I mostly (90%) of my exercise time, do cardio- either biking or kick boxing. I’m not saying that cardio isn’t good, in fact it is essential for a healthy heart and body. What I am saying is that it’s NOT ENOUGH! I must begin integrating weight training into my workout routine and I will, as soon as my weights and bench are delivered (I’m waiting excitedly like it’s Christmas again!).

Here’s the great thing though, even though the salesperson at the fitness store tried to upsell us to the $3,000 machine, we gave that a pass and picked up some basic weights, a bench, a long bar and two dumbbell bars for $350! These are good quality items too, not something that will fall apart or be unsafe for me to use.

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I know some of you have a membership to a health club (that may or may not ever be used :)), and if you do that’s great because I highly recommend a session with a personal trainer so that he/she can help set you up with a workout routine based on your strength and fitness level. However, if you’re a home exercise person (like me!) you can get yourself set up for a few hundred dollars with a quality weight bench and set of weights. I just have never been one of those people who likes to work out with a bunch of other people watching me. I feel self conscious and pressured somehow.

If you’re at home and doing it on your own my suggestion is to start out LOW AND SLOW. Use the lightest weights you are comfortable with and do very few repetitions at first. For instance, start with 10 reps each of-  bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, shoulder presses, squats, calf presses, and inclines for abdominals, beginning with light weights. Do this twice a week and start to add weight and more reps as the weeks go by.

I definitely want abs like this!

I definitely want abs like this!

Another great benefit to strength training is that it is a cardiovascular workout too; when you work out with weights you’re heart is pounding and you are sweating, ie, great cardio workout! Weight training improves insulin and leptin sensitivity (thereby getting rid of that pesky fat that gathers around our mid section) and boosts human growth hormone (HGH) levels, which is known as the fitness hormone. It helps with greater balance too, which decreases as we get older. It also improves bone density, cardiorespiratory fitness (that heart pounding, sweating thing I talked about), improves blood pressure, blood glucose control, aerobic capacity, gene expression, and telomere length- wow who knew! This is all in addition to increasing strength and muscle mass, and improving your body composition (that means looking HOT again!).

So anyway, this is what I’m excited about these days and I will be sure to keep you posted as to my progress. Let me know if you are going to try to integrate weight training into your fitness routine, and we can do this TOGETHER! Strength training is DEFINITELY good for your entire body and will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂