Sometimes we think we are making healthier decisions, when in reality, we can be choosing foods that are high in sodium and fat. Making sound, healthy decisions every day is not only important for our waist line, but also for our health.
The new dietary guidelines coming out in 2015 are stressing the importance of reducing sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat intake; half of starches and grains should come from whole grains; and overall consuming a diet that includes fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, nuts and low in red or processed meats. These guidelines are here to help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease. So what can we do to tighten our belts and make healthier choices?
Here are 10 ways to fine tune your diet and keep it in check!
Salad dressings. A salad can be a great healthy choice full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, when we start adding regular salad dressings we are adding sodium and fat. The serving size of regular salad dressing is 1 Tbsp. which is tough to stick to at a salad bar when they provide ladles to serve, a pour yourself option from a large industrial bottle, or someone else pouring for you who is not measuring or sticking to the serving size. Instead, ditch the bottled salad dressing and use olive oil and vinegar (red wine or balsamic are great options) or olive oil and squeeze fresh lemon juice over your greens. Keep the serving size of olive oil to 2 tsp. max! This will provide approximately 8g of healthy unsaturated fats.
Salad toppings. Since we are on the subject of salads let’s talk about salad toppings! Again our salad can be full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in calories, but when we start adding toppings that are full of fat, we are going to end up with a very calorically dense salad. Some toppings to limit: croutons, cheese, olives and bacon bits. If cheese is a must, choose one that is low in fat or fat-free.Great choices to put on your salad instead? Try to make it as colorful as possible! First choose your bed of lettuce: spinach, arugula, spring mix or romaine lettuce. These compared to iceberg lettuce contain more nutrients such as vitamin A, B2, C and K. Then top with colorful non-starchy vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, purple cabbage, and endive. During the summer month’s you can try some fruit as well, such as blueberries, strawberries, and grapefruit slices. Finally, top with lean protein to keep you fuller, longer such as grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs, beans or tofu.
Pizza. The healthiest pizza is the one you make at home. Why? Because this doughy meal at your local pizza shop can be packed again with lots of sodium and fat. Instead, try making this at home and choose whole wheat pizza dough, limit the cheese (choose low-fat or fat-free), choose a low-sodium pizza sauce and spread lightly, and pack on the vegetables! Add veggies such as broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and eggplant. You can also add fresh basil leaves between the pizza sauce and cheese for more flavor. Looking for a sweet kick? Add some pineapple chunks!
Sweets, candy, cookies, and cake. Let’s face it. We do not need dessert after every meal or even as a snack. These goodies contain lots of sugar and fat which could be detrimental to our weight and waist line. Instead choose fresh fruit such as a small apple, pear, orange or a cup of strawberries. Fruit, compared to candy and sweets will keep you feeling fuller, longer because of the fiber. Need a little bit more than fresh fruit?
Try 6 oz. of plain non-fat Greek yogurt topped with ¾ cup fresh blueberries and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of natural peanut (or any nut) butter, or you could try a small apple, chopped with 1 Tbsp. of natural nut butter. When choosing nut butters, make sure the ingredients listed only contain the nut itself, and when opening, you can see the oil sitting on top where you have to mix and stir with a spoon or knife before serving.
Fried foods. Definitely skip this. Unfortunately fried foods are calorically dense because the oil used to fry is absorbed to the food we are frying, like a sponge. Fat contains the most calories per serving (9 calories per gram) therefore calories add up quick with this cooking method! Instead try baking, grilling, broiling, roasting, or using a non-stick cooking spray or olive oil and lightly grease the pan. During the summer months, do more grilling outside! A delicious healthy meal to try is grilled chicken with bell peppers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes and even pineapple! Make a little side salad too if you need a little more to fill you up.
Heavy creamed soups. When it is cold outside and you are craving comfort food avoid the creamy soups and choose broth based soups instead such as chicken noodle, vegetable, or minestrone. Creamy soups are made with just that…cream which is high in saturated fat therefore in turn very high in calories. Your best bet! Make homemade soups in your own kitchen using low sodium/fat chicken or vegetable broth, lots of vegetables and add some lentils and/or beans for some protein!
Does the recipe call for sour cream by any chance to top it off? Try a dollop of non-fat Greek plain yogurt instead! You’d be surprised at how similar they taste with less calories and fat!
Pretzels. This is another empty calorie snack that provides very little nutritional value except for sodium. Pretzels are refined carbohydrates which are broken down quickly into simple sugars and absorbed readily in our bloodstream which causes a spike in our insulin levels. Despite being low in calories and fat, pretzels provide little satiety as they are low in fiber. Pretzels also contain a good amount of sodium if salted. If you’re looking for something to crunch on that will keep you satisfied choose a snack that’s going to provide nutritional value and benefits. When choosing a balanced healthy snack, always choose a protein and fiber. Some great snack ideas: 12 unsalted almonds with one small apple, 6 oz. Greek Plain yogurt with ¾ cup fresh blueberries, 1 low-fat string cheese (or 1 oz. low-fat cheese) with 17 small grapes, 1/3 cup hummus with 1 cup bell peppers, or 1 hard-boiled egg with 1 small banana.
Dairy products. Dairy products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt have received some bad rap for the past few years. The belief is that if you are consuming these products they are going to put a dent to your weight maintenance/loss goals. The truth is that they can be part of a healthy diet as long as you are choosing non-fat and low-fat options and paying attention to the serving size. When choosing dairy products choose either non-fat or 1%. This is a better choice than 2% or made with whole milk because these counterparts contain more saturated fat. A serving size of cheese is 1 oz. (picture 4 rolling dice to compare size). 1 serving of yogurt is 8 oz., plain Greek Yogurt is 6 oz., and for milk a serving size is 8 oz. or 1 cup.
Balanced plate! In order to get the correct amount of nutrients and portions it’s important to follow a balanced plate for lunch and dinner! The recommended size plate for meals is a 9” plate. First step fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. This can either be a nice salad or steamed vegetables. Some great examples are romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and bell peppers. One quarter of your plate should be starches/grains. A typical serving size here is 1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa, or barley. And lastly, the other quarter of the plate should be 3-4oz. of lean protein.
Some ideas are chicken breast without the skin, 93% lean beef/turkey, fish such as tilapia, haddock, salmon, and tuna. As for breakfast, always pair 1-2 servings of protein with 3-4 servings of carbohydrates. A few breakfast ideas? 1 hard-boiled egg with 1 whole grain English muffin, toasted and 1 ¼ cup whole strawberries, or 1 cup cooked oatmeal topped with ¾ cup fresh blueberries and 2 Tbsp. natural nut butter (almond, cashew, peanut, soy), or ½ whole grain bagel with 1 oz. avocado (1/5th of a medium avocado) spread with 1 sunny side up egg on top garnished with ground black pepper to taste.
Maika Luongo is a registered dietitian for American Well in Boston. Maika enjoys working out, healthy eating, and running. She has completed three Boston Marathons, one NYC Marathon, and nine half marathons ranging from Boston all the way to Key Largo, Fl.
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