The warm, strong taste of chili provides delicious comfort to your stomach and winter-worn soul. From chilly fall days to cold winter evenings, chili offers a cozy satisfaction at suppertime for many Wisconsinites. Our town shows its love for chili each year with the River Falls annual Chili Crawl. Chili is often associated with the colder climate of the Midwest, but it actually originated in the 1800s when cowboys traveled from Texas to Mexico, New Mexico, and California. Lucky for us, the popularity of chili made its way up to the Midwest, where it has undergone all sorts of variations and signature creations. To create a healthy and delicious chili, start by adding the perfect spices, then select tasty and nutritious ingredients, and finally, make sure to watch the sodium. Adding the Perfect Spices Some like it hot! Or spicy, I should say. If you haven’t heard that spicy food is good for you, today’s the day. There are powerful little plant molecules in spicy foods that give special health benefits by improving blood vessel function and lowering blood pressure. Spices can be both a taste-boosting salt substitute and a special health kick! Besides the “spicy” spices like cayenne pepper, green or red chili pepper, or tabasco peppers, you can add less spicy seasonings that still have health kicks. For example, garlic may lower blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol. One study showed that garlic can protect against the common cold. Experiment with your own favorite spices. Other options that pair well with chili are cumin, oregano, coriander, allspice, clove, or onion or carrot purees. Sometimes even looking up the health benefits can inspire you to add a new spice into your chili. Select Certain Ingredients People often have their own “signature creation” or “personal specialty” of dishes like chili. Don’t get me wrong, I love some savory beef, creamy sour cream, and tasty cheese in my chili, but keeping your health in check while still enjoying your bowl of chili the way you like it is important. The USDA recommends eating two to three cups of vegetables each day - however, less than 9% of Americans are meeting that standard, according to the CDC. Chili is a fun, easy way to meet this recommendation. There are many vegetarian and bean-based chili recipes that can easily be looked up online or in a cookbook that offer as much as half of your daily vegetable recommendation in a single bowl. This can be done by focusing less on the recipe and more on adding the vegetables you enjoy. Some ideas of vegetables and beans that go well with chili are peppers of any kind, onions of any kind, tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, squash, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Monitor Sodium We all know that consuming too much salt or sodium is not good for us, but limiting sodium can be a challenge, especially with comfort meals like chili. Reducing our sodium intake is important for our health because it affects blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke risk. The American Heart Association recommends that people limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, but the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg in a day. There are several ways to monitor the sodium in your tasty batch of chili. Did you know that just a single teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium? That’s more than the daily recommended intake. Instead, choose salt-free seasonings like garlic powder, chili powder without added salt, cumin, roasted red pepper, black pepper, or onion powder; use spices with the word “powder” after the spice instead of the word “salt.” Experimenting with different spices and herbs provides the taste without all the sodium. Another way to lower sodium is to read the labels on canned foods. Adding beans, vegetables, and tomato sauce from cans saying “no added salt” or from frozen bags is a great way to add fiber to your chili, lower salt, and help fill you up in a healthy way. Adding spices, herbs, and heat will bring out the flavors of these products while avoiding salt. The possibilities are endless when you’re open to experimentation and want to improve your health. --By Lucy Ramquist 

Editor's note: Lucy Ramquist is a 2011 River Falls High School graduate. She earned a bachelor's in biology and pre-professional health science at UW-Eau Claire. Ramquist is pursuing a master's in food and nutritional science with a human nutrition emphasis as well as a bachelor's in dietetics at UW-Stout. She loves trying cuisines from around the world and adds that it's all about moderation, balance and experimentation. You can reach her at ramquistl6061@my.uwstout.edu.The warm, strong taste of chili provides delicious comfort to your stomach and winter-worn soul. From chilly fall days to cold winter evenings, chili offers a cozy satisfaction at suppertime for many Wisconsinites.Our town shows its love for chili each year with the River Falls annual Chili Crawl.Chili is often associated with the colder climate of the Midwest, but it actually originated in the 1800s when cowboys traveled from Texas to Mexico, New Mexico, and California.Lucky for us, the popularity of chili made its way up to the Midwest, where it has undergone all sorts of variations and signature creations.To create a healthy and delicious chili, start by adding the perfect spices, then select tasty and nutritious ingredients, and finally, make sure to watch the sodium.Adding the Perfect SpicesSome like it hot! Or spicy, I should say.If you haven’t heard that spicy food is good for you, today’s the day. There are powerful little plant molecules in spicy foods that give special health benefits by improving blood vessel function and lowering blood pressure.Spices can be both a taste-boosting salt substitute and a special health kick!Besides the “spicy” spices like cayenne pepper, green or red chili pepper, or tabasco peppers, you can add less spicy seasonings that still have health kicks.For example, garlic may lower blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol. One study showed that garlic can protect against the common cold.Experiment with your own favorite spices. Other options that pair well with chili are cumin, oregano, coriander, allspice, clove, or onion or carrot purees.Sometimes even looking up the health benefits can inspire you to add a new spice into your chili. Select Certain IngredientsPeople often have their own “signature creation” or “personal specialty” of dishes like chili.Don’t get me wrong, I love some savory beef, creamy sour cream, and tasty cheese in my chili, but keeping your health in check while still enjoying your bowl of chili the way you like it is important.The USDA recommends eating two to three cups of vegetables each day - however, less than 9% of Americans are meeting that standard, according to the CDC.Chili is a fun, easy way to meet this recommendation. There are many vegetarian and bean-based chili recipes that can easily be looked up online or in a cookbook that offer as much as half of your daily vegetable recommendation in a single bowl.This can be done by focusing less on the recipe and more on adding the vegetables you enjoy.Some ideas of vegetables and beans that go well with chili are peppers of any kind, onions of any kind, tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, squash, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Monitor SodiumWe all know that consuming too much salt or sodium is not good for us, but limiting sodium can be a challenge, especially with comfort meals like chili.Reducing our sodium intake is important for our health because it affects blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke risk.The American Heart Association recommends that people limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, but the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg in a day.There are several ways to monitor the sodium in your tasty batch of chili. Did you know that just a single teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium? That’s more than the daily recommended intake.Instead, choose salt-free seasonings like garlic powder, chili powder without added salt, cumin, roasted red pepper, black pepper, or onion powder; use spices with the word “powder” after the spice instead of the word “salt.”Experimenting with different spices and herbs provides the taste without all the sodium.Another way to lower sodium is to read the labels on canned foods. Adding beans, vegetables, and tomato sauce from cans saying “no added salt” or from frozen bags is a great way to add fiber to your chili, lower salt, and help fill you up in a healthy way.Adding spices, herbs, and heat will bring out the flavors of these products while avoiding salt. The possibilities are endless when you’re open to experimentation and want to improve your health.--By Lucy Ramquist 

Editor's note: Lucy Ramquist is a 2011 River Falls High School graduate. She earned a bachelor's in biology and pre-professional health science at UW-Eau Claire. Ramquist is pursuing a master's in food and nutritional science with a human nutrition emphasis as well as a bachelor's in dietetics at UW-Stout. She loves trying cuisines from around the world and adds that it's all about moderation, balance and experimentation. You can reach her at ramquistl6061@my.uwstout.edu.

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