“A calorie is a calorie” is an oft-repeated dietary slogan, and not overeating is indeed an important health measure. Rather than focusing on calories alone, however, emerging research shows that quality is also key in determining what we should eat and what we should avoid in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Rather than choosing foods based only on caloric value, think instead about choosing high-quality, healthy foods, and minimizing low-quality foods. Focus on eating high-quality foods in appropriately sized portions.
- High-quality foods include unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein.
- Lower-quality foods include highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods such as potatoes.
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There isn’t one “perfect” diet for everyone, owing to individual differences in genes and lifestyle. Still, in a study conducted by researchers in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health of over 120,000 healthy women and men spanning 20 years, researchers determined that weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and both processed and unprocessed red meats. The researchers concluded that consumption of processed foods higher in starches, refined grains, fats, and sugars can increase weight gain. Foods shown to be associated with weight loss were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt. Researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods) is an important factor in helping individuals consume fewer calories.
Weight gain and loss are not as simple as a linear math equation, but those who burn more energy than they take in tend to lose weight. If they consume more energy than they burn, they tend to gain weight.
So even if we eat healthy food, too many calories translate into extra weight for most people.
When it comes to eating healthy foods, some people figure that ‘if some is good, more is better’. So while it’s highly unlikely that you could over eat a particular nutrient, you can certainly eat too many calories.
This includes "fat-free" or "calorie-free" food. While the label might say low-fat or fat-free, foods that carry these health claims may be high in sugar and other empty calories. Regardless if it's an apple or a cupcake, you've got to watch your portion size.
If you're on a healthy diet track, you've probably heard that you need to eat more fruits and vegetables. The problem is, most of us choose fruit instead of vegetables, and we choose to eat way too much. The recommended USDA intake is 2-4 servings of fruit per day.
But a serving is much smaller than you think. (add pictures of serving sizes)
If you're looking for a nutritional free-for-all, where you can eat to your heart and stomach's content, veg out. Vegetables have more vitamin, minerals, and cancer-fighting agents than fruit. Also, it's difficult to overeat non-starchy vegetables because of their high water and fiber content. However, it’s advisable to limit the intake of high-starch vegetables like corn, potatoes, and peas. These veggies act more like pasta and rice on your insulin response and blood glucose levels.
If you're looking for variety, go for color. Different colored vegetables bring complementary vitamins and minerals to the table. Yellow and orange veggies are high in vitamins A and B. Green vegetables generally offer vitamins A, C, E, and K.
The caveat however, is that you need to avoid sopping your veggies in creamy sauces, butter, cheese, and dressing.
Carbohydrates are our main energy source, but even complex carbs can add up. Whether you eat white or whole-wheat noodles, 1/3 cup is a serving. If you pile your plate with carbs, you'll eat more than a third of what is recommended for an entire day in one meal.
Not sure how much lean protein is needed to fuel, and not overfill your body? About 3-4 ounces of lean meat, a palm-sized portion no bigger than a deck of cards, is all your body needs per meal.
On the other hand, when it comes to eating healthy foods, some people figure that ‘if some is good, more is better’. So while it’s highly unlikely that you could over eat a particular nutrient, you can certainly eat too many calories.
The healthy food that we eat – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and nonfat dairy products – do have a lot fewer calories per bite than the less healthy food that’s full of fat and sugar and they’re also more satisfying. The proteins keep hunger at bay, and the fiber and water in the plant foods help to fill us up.
But we have the capacity to eat a lot more calories than we burn off. So don’t assume – as many do – that portion size doesn’t matter as long as you’re eating only healthy foods.
Yes, even fruit can add up – if you did eat a quarter of a watermelon, it would cost you about 350 calories. Fat free granola might be healthy, but that doesn’t mean you should eat it from a bowl the size of a football helmet. When it comes to calories, you can, in fact, get too much of a good thing.
All in all, the amount of food you eat is just as important as what you eat. Even if you have a fridge full of lean meat and produce, eating bowlfuls of strawberries before you go to bed probably won't help you lean down. A good rule of thumb: make sure you read the labels, and then adjust the recommended amounts to fit your nutrition needs and fitness or physique goals.
In fact, there are plenty of good-for-you foods that people tend to overdo it with. To ensure that you’re getting enough—but not too much—of these healthy items, check out this list.
Avocados are great for your heart (and hair, skin, digestion, and more). That said, each one also contains 322 calories and 29 grams of fat. Feel free to use one-third of a medium avocado as a serving of fat in your meal or snack—but that’s all you need to reap the benefits of the fruit.
This ingredient is loaded with nutrients, including lauric acid, potassium, and fiber—but it’s another food to use with caution. Whether you’re cooking with the oil or using coconut flakes in a smoothie, two teaspoons is a good amount to stick to.
3. Chia Seeds
Absolutely eat chia seeds—they’re loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and protein. Just use one tablespoon on your yogurt, in your smoothies, or sprinkled on your salad.
Bananas are loaded with tons of nutrition—but be careful. In extreme cases, you can even run the risk of potassium toxicity. It’s recommended to eat no more than a couple each week.
A seed, not a grain, quinoa is full of fiber and protein. The calorie profile is similar to that of most grains, with about 110 calories in a half-cup. Use quinoa sparingly, limiting yourself to a half-cup serving size. You’ll reap all the benefits without the added calories.
Depending on what’s in your morning cocktail, the calories can go down really easily—and unlike with solid foods, your body won’t register that it’s full in the same way. Make your smoothies at home, and assess if you would normally eat all of the food going into the blender in one sitting.
The trick to making better food choices is learning how to “trade up” – nutritionally speaking. You want to look at the foods you’re currently eating, and see if you can find some healthier choices that you can make instead. As you continue to make better choices, they’ll become new habits – and, over time, your better choices will be the foods you crave.
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Healthy Swaps, Healthier Food Choices
Instead of …
Try this instead …
Refined flour breads, cereals, flour tortillas
100% whole grain bread, cereal, corn tortillas
Sodas, fruit juices
Plain or sparkling water with lemon, lime or a few pieces of fresh fruit
White rice, noodles, potatoes
Brown rice, quinoa, millet, whole grain pasta, soba noodles, sweet potatoes – or omit altogether and double up on veggies
Cakes, cookies, pies, pastry, ice cream
Fresh fruit, frozen fruit (cherries, bananas, mango have a satisfying, chewy texture), nonfat yogurt with fruit
Snack chips, crackers
Edamame, raw vegetables with hummus, brown rice cakes, nuts or soy nuts
Mayonnaise, salad dressings, sauces, gravies, sour cream
Mustard, mashed avocado,lowfat salad dressings, salsa, lemon juice; plain nonfat yogurt
High calorie coffee drinks
Nonfat latte or cappuccino, herbal tea, hot protein shake
Fatty meats, sausages, etc.
Lean meats, poultry breast, seafood, soy meat substitutes
Enjoy your food but eat less
You can enjoy your meals while making small adjustments to the amounts of food on your plate. Healthy meals start with more fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
Know What You’re Eating. When you grocery shop, take time to read labels – look at ingredients and look at the nutrition facts.
- Take your time. Be mindful to eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Use hunger and fullness cues to recognize when to eat and when you’ve had enough.
- Use a smaller plate at meals to help with portion control. That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating.
- If you eat out, choose healthier options. Preparing food at home makes it easier to control what is in your meals.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way. Indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish—fruit! Serve a fresh fruit cocktail or a fruit parfait made with yogurt. For a hot dessert, bake apples and top with cinnamon.
- Drink water or other calorie-free beverages, 100% juice, or fat-free milk when you are thirsty. Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages contain added sugar and are high in calories.
- Make treats “treats,” not everyday foods. Limit sweet treats to special occasions.
- Keep it Simple. The closer a food is to its natural state – in other words, the less processed it is – the more nutritional value it tends to have. You’ll also be getting less fat, sugar and salt.
For example, look at the difference in nutrition value of a serving of a fresh apple (80 calories, vitamins, minerals, fiber) compared with applesauce (100 calories, less vitamins and minerals, more sugar, less fiber), apple juice (115 calories, even less vitamins and minerals, and no fiber), apple pie (300 calories, less than a serving of fruit, and lots of added fat and sugar), and apple chips (450 calories, almost no apple, but plenty of fat and salt).
By using healthy-cooking techniques, you can cut fat and calories. Consider, for instance, that each tablespoon (about 15 milliliters) of oil you use when frying adds more than 100 calories. To put it in perspective — adults should limit fat calories to no more than 20 to 35 percent of total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 400 to 700 calories from fat a day. By switching to roasting, you not only eliminate added fat but also allow any fat in the food to drip away.
The healthy cooking methods described here best capture the flavor and retain the nutrients in foods without adding excessive amounts of fat or salt. Use them often to prepare your favorite dishes.
Braising involves browning (searing) the ingredient first in a pan on top of the stove, and then slowly cooking it partially covered with a small quantity of liquid, such as water or broth.
Broiling and grilling
Both broiling and grilling expose food to direct heat. Both methods allow fat to drip away from the food.
To poach foods, gently simmer ingredients in water or a flavorful liquid, such as broth, vinegar or wine, until they're cooked through and tender.
Like baking, but typically at higher temperatures, roasting uses an oven's dry heat to cook the food. To maintain moisture, cook foods until they reach a safe internal temperature but don't overcook them.
Sauteing quickly cooks relatively small or thin pieces of food. If you choose a good-quality nonstick pan, you can cook food without using fat. Depending on the recipe, use low-sodium broth, cooking spray or water in place of oil.
One of the simplest cooking techniques is steaming food in a perforated basket suspended above simmering liquid.
A traditional Asian method, stir-frying quickly cooks small, uniform-sized pieces of food while they're rapidly stirred in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. You need only a small amount of oil or cooking spray for this cooking method.
Using herbs and spices
Creating meals using spices and herbs is one of the best ways to add color, taste and aroma to foods without adding salt or fat.
Create healthy eating habits
Most of the parents think that forcing their children to eat their vegetables or simply to finish their plate will help them develop a taste for healthy foods. Well, this is not true. Children also know when they are hungry and how much they want to eat. Forcing children to eat reinforces poor eating habits such as eating when they aren't hungry or cleaning the plate when they're already full. Rewarding your child for eating, punishing your child for not eating, or forcing your child to eat can reinforce poor behavior. Besides causing an unpleasant mealtime environment, these behaviors can create a picky eater or result in your child becoming overweight.
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