Last week, I introduced this month’s Small Step – Substitutions. This is really about making smart choices with our food. Which seems like it should be easy. But, as we are all too aware, the health and nutrition media is full of contradictions about what foods are and aren’t healthy choices. What common sense was telling us all along, science is finally confirming in the latest clinical studies.
Back to the Basics
Forget the convoluted rules of the past few decades. Think about eating like your great-grandparents, when obesity and lifestyle diseases were rare, and you’ll be making the right food choices. In the case of proteins – consume them whole, with nothing removed and very little added. For complex carbohydrates – consume in the closest to raw as you can with nothing removed and very little added. Fats – keep them in whole food products like carbs and proteins and keep them natural, not manufactured.
Healthy Swaps 101
All well and good, right? But healthy eating can sometimes be time consuming and more expensive than unhealthy eating. Below you’ll find examples of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks starting with unhealthy and progressing to healthy, healthier and healthiest. You want to avoid the unhealthy example more than 80% of the time. But, the rest of the time, choose the healthiest of the healthy options that you can afford in cost and time.
- Breakfast: After an overnight “fast” it’s important to restore your energy supply with plenty of complex carbohydrates. To keep you satisfied until lunch, it should also contain a healthy dose of protein, fiber and fat.
- Unhealthy: Corn flakes with skim milk. Corn flakes are stripped down carbs, which basically amounts to a bowl full of sugar. Adding skim milk gives you a little protein but with no fat, you’ll be starving before you make it to work. Worse, the fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K added to the cereal and D to the milk will literally get flushed away.
- Healthy: High protein, high fiber, whole grain, low added sweetener cereal (cold, such as Kashi or hot, such as oatmeal) with whole or 2% milk. Add to it fresh or unsweetened dried fruit. This gives you a heaping amount of all the macro and micronutrients you need. The only down side is that even the healthiest cold cereals and quick-making hot cereal packets contain some unwanted ingredients such as industrial oils, added sweeteners and simple carbohydrates. Select brands carefully to find the ones with the least amounts of these ingredients.
- Healthier: Whole milk Greek plain yogurt with unsweetened granola and fresh or unsweetened dried fruit added. Greek yogurt has more protein than traditional yogurt. In addition to the protein and healthy fats, yogurt contains pro-biotics to keep the gastrointestinal system healthy. If plain yogurt is too tart for your taste, opt for vanilla flavored Greek yogurt with the least amount of added sugars.
- Healthiest: Whole egg – cooked how you like – served with a slice of whole grain toast, topped with a smear of butter or nut butter. Be sure to also have some whole fruit. And, we all need hydration in the morning – pick your preference of water, coffee, tea or milk. Don’t have juice. And, if you like tea or coffee but can’t tolerate it black, add an ample amount of whole milk, full-fat half and half or cream so you can keep added sweetener to a minimum.
I think you get the idea, here’s how the rest of the day might look:
- Lunch: Have water, milk or unsweetened ice tea with lunch instead of a soft drink.
- Unhealthy: Sandwich made with large slices of white bread and tons of dressing with a side of potato chips.
- Healthy: Half sandwich made with one slice of whole grain bread, unprocessed meat, fish, cheese or cooked egg, avocado slices, lettuce and tomato. If you need “crunch” to satisfy you, opt for a small serving of veggie chips (such as the Terra brand) or whole grain corn chips.
- Healthier: Tossed salad with at least one animal protein. Add seeds or nuts instead of croutons for crunch. Select a vinegar and oil-based dressing.
- Healthiest: Broth based soup and side salad. Be sure the soup or salad has at least one animal protein. Add seeds or nuts to salad to satisfy the “crunch” craving. Dress the salad with oil and vinegar.
- Dinner: Drink water or milk with dinner
- Unhealthy: Processed or breaded meats or bean products; processed grains or starches.
- Healthy: Grilled, roasted, baked or lightly sautéed beef, pork or poultry; brown rice, baked or roasted potatoes or whole grain pastas; raw, stir-fried or roasted vegetable. You can do a meatless version of this meal with egg or cheese as the base protein. Tomato, broth and olive oil based sauces are part of a healthy meal. Cream based sauces, when used sparingly, can also be part of a healthy meal.
- Healthier/Healthiest: Grilled, roasted, baked or lightly sautéed seafood; quinoa or other hearty whole grain; side salad dressed with oil and vinegar and raw, stir-fried or roasted vegetable.
- Snack: Snacks are often necessary. Like meals they should have protein, complex carbs and fats.
- Unhealthy: Anything highly-processed and prepackaged.
- Healthiest Examples: fruit with nut/seed butter; fruit with unprocessed cheese; glass of whole or 2% milk or chocolate milk; serving of Greek yogurt (see above) with fruit or granola; popcorn popped in coconut oil and dusted with fresh parmesan; whole grain toast with nut/seed butter; raw veggies with guacamole; whole grain pita with hummus. Always have water throughout the day.
Remember to stay true to serving sizes. And eating like great-grandma and grandpa isn’t enough. Remember, that generation did lots of manual labor, both at work and at home, that most of us no longer do and they didn’t sit nearly as much as we do now. They were slimmer not only because of what they ate but also because of what they did and didn’t do. We need to move more to get the full benefits of subbing in healthier foods.