[This article was written by Maika Luongo, a registered dietitian on Amwell}
Making sound, healthy decisions every day is not only important for our waistline, but also for our health. The new dietary guidelines stress the importance of overall healthy eating habits; these guidelines are put in place 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!
1. Avoid Soda and Juice: Both drinks are filled with an excessive amount of sugar and empty calories. One can of soda (12 fl. oz.) contains roughly 140-150 calories and 34-39 grams of sugar, while juice can range anywhere from 120-150 calories and 30-45 grams of sugar. (8 fl. oz.). When we drink soda and/or juice, we consumer 8-11 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes! Swap out soda and juice with water. Water not only keeps us hydrated, but it provides several health benefits such as regulating our body temperature, weight loss, maintaining normal bowel function, and providing cushion and lubrication to our joints. Not a fan of water on its own? Try infusing it with fresh squeezed lemon, blueberries, strawberries, or a combination of watermelon and mint.
2, DIY your salad dressing: A salad can be a great healthy choice full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, when your start to add regular salad dressings, you also add unecessary amounts of sodium and fat. Ditch the bottled salad dressing and create your own with olive oil and vinegar (red wine or balsamic are great options), or olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice.
3. Choose your salad toppings wisely: Since we are on the subject of salads, let’s talk about salad toppings. 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 high-calorie salad. Next time you are the salad bar, avoid toppings like, croutons, cheese, olives and bacon bits. Instead, try to make it as colorful as possible. First choose your bed of lettuce: spinach, arugula, or spring mix. keep in mind that iceberg lettuce doesn’t have as much of a nutrient punch (Vitamins A, B2, C, and K) as its salad counterparts.Then top the greens with colorful non-starchy vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, purple cabbage, and endive. During the summer months, you can try some fruitl, such as blueberries, strawberries, and grapefruit slices. Finish off your salad with a llean protein to help keep you you fuller, longer: grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs, beans or tofu.
4. Make your pizza at home: The healthiest pizza is the one you make at home. Why? Because the doughy meal at your local pizza shop can be packed with lots of sodium and fat.Make your pizza at home with whole wheat pizza dough, low-fat or fat-free cheese, a low-sodium pizza sauce and lots of vegetables.. Looking for a sweet kick? Add some pineapple chunks!
5. Limit your sweets. (sorry!): 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 waistline. 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 nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fresh blueberries with natural peanut butter. You could also try to munch on apple slices and natural nut butter.
6. Forget about fried foods. 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.
7. Beware of 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 and calories. Your best bet is to make 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!
8. Put off pretzels. Pretzels are a popular snack, but contain empty calories and very little nutritional value. 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. Here are some great snack ideas to pack in your lunchbag:
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
1 hard-boiled egg with 1 small banana.
9. Get the skinny on dairy products. 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 option
10. Make yourself a balanced plate. In order to get the right amount of nutrients into your diet, it’s important to follow a balanced plate for lunch and dinner.The recommended size plate is nine inches. Fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. This can either be a nice salad or steamed vegetables. One quarter of your plate should be starches/grains, such as 1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa, or barley. The remaining quarter of the plate should be 3-4 oz. of lean protein.
If you are looking to make a diet change, it’s helpful to speak with a dietitian on Amwell who can help you create an individualized, specialized plan of action. We will go over what foods to eat less of, which foods to incorporate into your diet more often, and a calorie plan that will help you achieve your personal health goals.