This month’s step is more of a tweak than an all-out change. These substitution suggestions will work in tandem with the new habits you’ve adopted over the last few months.
While January’s Portion Control helps to train us to eat the correct amount of foods in order to avoid over-consumption of calories, this Small Step helps to train the brain to make better quality food choices. Better quality foods tend to be packed with micronutrients while still being relatively lower in total calories per serving than their lower quality counterparts.
One way is to substitute fruits or vegetables for some of your grain or protein portion in a meal. Examples:
For one cup each of cereal and low-fat milk, substitute: 3/4 cup each of cereal and low-fat milk & add fresh berries
- For a full deli meat sandwich, substitute: 1/2 sandwich with extra vegetables; such as lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, shredded cabbage
- For a soup and 1/2 sandwich lunch special, substitute: soup and side salad; be sure the soup or salad (or both) has some protein (poultry, fish, egg, nuts or cheese) and don’t skip the dressing. We need the fat to help us feel satiated and to assist the body in absorbing nutrients. The rules for dressings: stick to the correct serving size (about 2 Tblsp) and choose dressings with an olive oil base over industrially processed oils like corn, sunflower, safflower or soybean oils.
Another option is to substitute all your protein or grain with a higher quality version. General guidelines:
- For breaded or processed meats, substitute: grilled unprocessed meat/poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts or seeds.
- For full-fat dairy, substitute: low-fat dairy – you still get all the benefits of the protein and fat in the dairy but with fewer calories. Do not choose fat-free dairy – the fats in dairy are beneficial and many no-fat dairy products add unhealthy sugars, industrial oils and fillers to replace the natural dairy fat.
- In the grain department, choose them in as close to straight-from-the-farm as possible: quinoa, barley, wheat berries, farro, bulgur, whole oats, potatoes baked in the skins and brown rice are some examples.
- When choosing grains in processed foods (like in cereals, couscous, breads, pasta) look for 100% whole grains as the first ingredient.
Some specific examples:
For a snack of 1 oz cheese & serving of crackers, substitute: 1 oz reduced fat cheese & medium apple
- For a salad with 3 oz of breaded chicken, substitute: a salad with 3 oz of chickpeas, tuna or diced hardboiled egg
- For a 1/2 cup white rice, substitute: 1/2 cup brown rice
- For a cup of cream-based soup, substitute: a cup of broth-based soup
- For a granola bar, substitute: a small banana with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter
What you don’t want to do is eliminate proteins, whole grains and fats. All contain macro and micronutrients your body needs to thrive and help keep you satiated until the next meal. This is about making smart choices, not elimination.
But, remember, portion size is king. Don’t sabotage your substitutions by portioning out more than a serving.
There’s a common refrain among my clients – 150 minutes of exercise every week (the minimum recommended for all adults by the US Dept of Health and Human Services) just to maintain one’s current weight is an unrealistic and unattainable goal for most adults. But most people interpret this number the wrong way. Most imagine that the recommendation refers to structured exercise, otherwise known as workouts, and that the workouts would need to be strenuous to count.
Neither assumption is true. The 150 minutes refers specifically to moderate exercise and it can be in the form of duties within a paid job or household chores. Housecleaning, yard work, dog-walking and professions that require manual labor or extensive amounts of time standing or walking (floor nurses, security guards, chefs, restaurant wait staff, just to name a few) all rack up minutes toward the suggested 150 weekly total. In other words, you don’t have to log 150 minutes sweating in a gym to meet the standard. So, this month try to substitute more movement for what otherwise would be a sedentary or passive activity.
At every chance you get throughout each day choose standing over sitting, walking over standing, and walking further distances or faster paces. Examples: stand while on the phone or folding laundry, take the stairs, park in a space furthest from the door. Can you incorporate walking or bike riding in your commute or errand running? Use half your lunch hour to take a walk. Always use the restroom on a different floor or furthest from you. Acquire a pedometer or wearable fitness tracker to help keep you motivated.
Before you know it, these choices to move more will be incorporated into your life without you ever thinking about it. And, added to non-sedentary activities you normally perform plus structured workouts, make logging 150 minutes (or more) of exercise each week realistic and attainable.
Incorporate these substitutions even if you already exercise. The latest research shows that even those who exercise regularly are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease if they are sedentary for long periods during most days.
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My diet recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.