“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” Sage advice from Brian Wansink, Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you must forsake all indulgences and subsist solely on oatmeal and salads. Instead, what if you just made a few small changes to your eating routine that could lead to gradual, sustainable results? Here are five tips to try when cooking and eating at home, inspired by Prof. Wansink’s good read.
Imagine some classic food pairings: wine and cheese, fruit and nuts, steak and potatoes … iron and vitamin C? For a variety of people, including vegans and endurance athletes, getting enough iron can be a challenge. Even minor levels of iron deficiency can lead to impaired endurance, as well as fatigue, loss of concentration and decreased immune function. While animal-based sources of iron (red meat, poultry, egg yolks and shellfish) tend to be better absorbed than plant-based sources (dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, tofu, some grains and even spices), there are other factors that can improve or inhibit iron absorption.
What if I told you that there was a “pill” that, when you consumed it, helped you get a better workout, which of course leads to more strength and better calorie burning? The same pill would also help you focus at work or home so you could get the important things in your life done better and faster. Oh, and by the way, it’s been shown to lead to an increased metabolism, lower calorie intake at meals and better weight loss. How much would you pay for that pill? $10 a bottle, $20, $40? How about free?
What makes junk food so appealing? Emotional eating aside, it often comes down to two things: taste (sweet, salty) and texture (creamy, fizzy, crunchy). In my humble opinion, if we can mimic those qualities in healthier options, then upgrading eating habits becomes an easier task. So let’s tackle three commonly craved foods: soda, chips, and mayonnaise.
Soda A “refreshing” couple hundred of calories will spike your blood sugar and provide no nutrients. So what keeps us drawn to soda? It’s usually the fizz factor and the sweet taste. Consider which aspects of soda attract you to it, and then find the right substitute.
The Healthy Swaps:
Seltzer or Sparkling Water If you like the fizz, carbonated beverages can serve as a great substitute. Naturally flavored versions are available if you want a taste of orange, berry, lemon-lime and more.
Flavored Water If you prefer getting some taste with your fluids but don’t want the fizz, you can easily add some flavor to your water. You can use lemon or lime (fresh or from the squeeze bottle), or a splash of your favorite juice for a little sweetness. You can even use a splash of juice with seltzer too.
As the temperature heats up, salads become a quick and easy way to keep you cool and hydrated – most fruits and veggies are more than 90% water by weight. Many different fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer, so flavor is at its peak as well (find what’s best in your region here). Unfortunately, three of the most popular summer picnic salads are calorie-bomb side dishes: macaroni salad, potato salad and coleslaw. Here are a few tips (and recipes) to ensure your seasonal salads leave you feeling light, yet satisfied for hours:
1. Make it a Meal
When some people hear the word salad, they think “I’ll be starving in an hour.” But there are many ways to beef up a salad to make it filling for the heartiest of appetites. Add a source of protein like meat, eggs or beans. Use some heartier vegetables like corn, beets and carrots. Add a healthy fat like avocado or a handful of nuts. Then just add in a ton of your favorite veggies – different colors represent different nutrients, so go for a rainbow.
A common tip for eating healthier is to take cooking into your own hands. In theory it sounds good: when you control the ingredients, you control the nutrients and calories. Less butter and salt, more veggies and spices, etc. But when push comes to shove, we often end up staring at a recipe – and a big pile of spoiling ingredients in the fridge – while calling for take-out. If we only had the time, knowledge, energy and/or desire to cook! Here are three tips to make the process easier:
Cutting, dicing, slicing and chopping can take a lot of time. Save time on a busy weeknight by having all of the chopping done ahead of time: set aside a half-hour or so on a Sunday evening to slice and dice the vegetables you’ll need for the week. Then when you’re ready to snack or make a meal, half of the work will be done for you. Pre-cut, packaged vegetables cost a little more at the store, but you may find it worth the cost if it gets you cooking at home more. Buy a big bag of prewashed and cut lettuce so salad- making is a snap. Frozen veggies can be steamed or microwaved in minutes. Frozen fruit can be blended with yogurt or milk (and spinach!) for a quick five-minute morning smoothie, mixed into a bowl of whole grain cereal or scooped on top of some yogurt. You can pick up already marinated poultry, fish or meat from the supermarket and throw it on the grill or in the oven.
This is the question I posed to a group of my colleagues – registered dietitians and nutritionists – in the trenches coaching and counseling people in the science, and art, of eating better. So many experts responded with great tips, that I sorted the feedback into categories. In addition to the tips below, you can find additional tips in Change a Habit, Change Your Life, Part 1.
Adjust your portion sizes so you’re satisfied, not stuffed
• “To shrink your waist, shrink your plate! You’ll trick your brain into feeling more satisfied by the generous-looking portions. And if you go back for seconds, your overall portion may still offer fewer calories than if you had served your meal on an oversized platter.” – Jessica Corwin, RD, MPH
• Use smaller plates, bowls, silverware and glasses. Studies show you’ll eat less and you can clean your plate without the guilt. — Multiple experts
• “Gradually get used to being a little hungry between meals. Don’t deprive but eat 10 to 20% less (this may be two less bites at a meal, a half portion less of a side dish or one less piece of bread).” – Roseanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN
• “Eat with your stomach and not your wallet. Just because you paid for something — it doesn’t mean you have to finish it (or you’ll ‘pay for it’ in other ways!)” — Bonnie Taub Dix, MA, RD, CDN
That’s the question I posed to a group of my colleagues – registered dietitians and nutritionists – in the trenches coaching and counseling people in the science, and art, of eating better. Rather than focusing on huge overhauls that may not be sustainable (i.e. no carbs, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, etc.), I wanted to look for keystone eating habit changes that could have a butterfly effect through the rest of your daily routine and get you the health and fitness results you want.
I was amazed — within 24 hours I had over 60 responses. As I began sorting through the feedback, I realized that many of the recommendations fell into a seven broader categories, which I’ll be summarizing and presenting in two posts.
Buckle up, here are the first four:
If your New Year’s resolutions have you making more than one major change to your physical activity or eating habits, I recommend you stop most of them right now. Sounds preposterous for me to ask you to stop making healthy changes, right? Well, what if I asked you how many of those healthy changes do you expect to be doing one month from now? Three months? Six months?
Research shows that it takes, on average, about three weeks to form a new habit . . . and that may be if you’re not trying to break old ones. Many of our habits are the result of “the path of least resistance.” We choose to do what we do, and eat what we eat, based on what’s easiest for us considering our current schedule, priorities, skills and preferences. In other words, you may be really good at whipping up dinner when you get home from work, but during the workday, the vending machine is the closest thing you have to a lunch break. And cooking from scratch every night means you may not be able to make it to the gym or go for a run as often as you like. All actions have consequences, so it’s important to consider whether the new actions you’re taking are leading to the results you want. If you’re making ten changes at once, it’s hard to know which one(s) are sustainable, if any.
Similar to the potato, corn is another one of those foods that gets a bum rap because of how it’s usually served: fried (corn chips/corn dogs), processed (corn syrup), extruded (many sugary cereals) or otherwise fashioned into foods you never thought were made with corn (ketchup, salad dressing, soda, cookies, bread and more). One can of soda is rich in corn, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which shocks our body with an insulin-spiking 120 calories of simple carbs, and no nutrients whatsoever. That’s Mr. Hyde.
Yet there is a brighter, more natural side to corn; the one you see when you take a long ear and slowly peel back layer upon layer of its stringy exterior to reveal a yellow, white or multicolored bonanza of kernels that you can eat straight off the cob. Beyond its juicy crunch and naturally sweet flavor, corn’s got some serious nutrients too. Just one cup (the size of your fist) packs 5g of protein, 4g of fiber, and it has a natural source of many nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese…all into a 130 calorie package. So grab an ear, Doctor Jekyll is in!