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Whether you want to commune with nature or get a healthy dose of retail therapy at the mall, the following winter walks are a fun way to get and stay fit.

Why hibernate and pack on the pounds this season? We’ve got the skinny on places to go, foods to enjoy and John Muir Health experts to consult— all to help you get fit and stay well.

This time of year, losing weight could be at the top of your to-do list—and just what the doctor orders. But what is that likely to entail? Eating less fat and sugar. More fruits and vegetables. Whole grains instead of processed. Lean proteins, such as beans, fish and poultry. Low-fat or fat-free milk products. And more exercise, which not only aids weight loss but also brings a wealth of other health benefits, including improvement in heart health, reduced risk for diabetes and certain cancers, and more.

Here we offer lots of great suggestions about ways to lose weight during these cooler months—and have fun while you’re at it. All you have to do is ... start!

#1 Mitchell Canyon – On the north side of Mount Diablo near Clayton is a scenic and not-too-strenuous hike running along Mitchell Creek through alders, big leaf maples and oaks. From Clayton Road, take Mitchell Canyon Road south to the trail, Mitchell Canyon Fire Road. For a map, go to

#2 Black Diamond Mines – The 6,286 acres of chaparral hills and manzanita-lined canyons that make up the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch offer history, as well as natural beauty. Once a bustling coalfield that supported five mining towns, the preserve is now a great place to birdwatch as you hike. For more information, go to

#3 Old Briones Road Trail – Inspiring views await you at the top of this wide-open trail, but you’ll feel like you’ve gotten off easy because it’s not all that long or steep. The trail starts at the end of Briones Road, which is just off of Alhambra Valley Road in Martinez, or start at the Bear Creek staging area in Orinda. For a map, go to

#4 The Sunvalley Striders – Walk the length of the Sunvalley Mall in Concord five times, and you’ve gone about a mile. Register online or at Guest Services as a Sunvalley Strider, and you’ll get a free T-shirt, as well as a 10 percent discount at many of the stores. For more information, go to

Eating Out, the Lean Version

Sheena Lakhotia, the Orinda creator of the Living Lean fitness and nutrition program, partners with local restaurants in Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga to identify Living Lean menu items that her clients can order freely. They just look for the Living Lean logo.

A few of Lakho Tia's smart dining tips:

Q. In your view, what qualifies a menu item as a healthy choice?
The key is getting the right amount of good proteins, carbohydrates and fats without having, for instance, too many carbohydrates that get stored in the body as fat. Order your protein grilled, roasted, steamed or baked. Add a steamed vegetable and a salad.

Q. Are some carbohydrates better than others?
You want whole grains—carbohydrates that are unprocessed and high in fiber. They metabolize slowly, so you don’t develop spikes and dips in blood sugar, which would cause cravings for more carbohydrates.

Q. How important is the preparation of the food?
One of the major issues is how much oil is used. Tell them you want minimum oil.

Research links regular consumption of fruits and vegetables with long-term weight control. John Muir Health Executive Chef Alison Negrin relishes local produce. An alum of Chez Panisse, she ensures that John Muir Health patients get fresh fruits and veggies daily.

Shop for her seasonal favorites at the following year-round farmers markets:

  • Concord, Todos Santos Park, Willow Pass and Grant Street,
  • Danville, Railroad and Prospect streets,
  • Diablo Valley, Oak Grove Road andYgnacio Valley Boulevard,
  • Walnut Creek, N. Locust Street, between Cole and Lacassie avenues,

5 Top Picks for Winter Produce:

  1. Asparagus – Try to find asparagus grown in Brentwood because local
    means freshest.
  2. Greens – Look for dinosaur kale, broccoli rabe, chard and spinach.
  3. Kiwis – Peeled and cut in rounds, kiwis are beautiful and flavorful in fruit salads.
  4. Root vegetables – Beets and turnips are at their sweetest in cold weather.
  5. Winter squash – Comfort-food varieties include butternut, Kabocha and delicata.

This Hearty Soup Fills You Up, Not Out

Butternut Squash Soup

This slimmed-down recipe is from Bahman Tehrani, chef-owner of Lettuce restaurant, a soup-and-salad haven in downtown Walnut Creek.

2 medium butternut squashes
1 tablespoon margarine, plus 3 tablespoons margarine
1.5 teaspoons powdered ginger
0.5 teaspoon nutmeg
1 yellow onion, diced
4 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
6 cups vegetable broth

Cut squashes lengthwise and remove seeds. Melt 1 tablespoon of margarine and add ginger and nutmeg. Brush over cut side of squashes and the insides of the squash cavities. Place skin side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes or until squash is tender and slightly browned. When
cool, scoop out flesh and put it in a bowl.

Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of margarine in a large soup pot. Add onion and apple and sauté until onion is translucent. Add squash to pot, and cook 15 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Puree mixture and add it back to the soup pot.

Stir in broth, bring to a boil, and simmer until soup reaches desired thickness. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 8.

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