Last week, I introduced this month’s Small Step – Substitutions. It’s about making smart choices with foods. Which seems like it should be easy. But, as we’re all too aware, the health 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 little added. For complex carbohydrates – consume in the closest to raw as you can with little to no alterations. Fats – don’t remove them from the healthy carbs and proteins you eat. And keep them natural, not manufactured.
Healthy Swaps 101
All well and good, right? But healthy eating can be more time consuming and expensive than unhealthy eating. Below you’ll find examples of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks starting with the unhealthiest and progressing through healthy, healthier to the healthiest. At least 80% of the time, choose the healthiest of the healthy options that you can afford in cost and time, remembering to stay true to proper serving sizes.
- 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 healthy doses 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, D, E and K contained in the cereal and 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 fresh or unsweetened dried fruit. This gives you all the macro and micronutrients you need. The only down side is even the healthiest cold cereals and quick hot cereal packets may contain some unwanted ingredients such as industrial oils, added sweeteners and simple carbohydrates. Select brands carefully to find options 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: Two whole eggs – cooked the way you like – with a slice of whole grain toast, topped with a smear of grass-fed butter or natural nut butter, and whole fruit on the side. 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 & half or cream so you can keep added sweeteners to a minimum.
- Lunch: Have water, milk or unsweetened iced tea with lunch instead of a soft drink.
- Unhealthy: Sandwich made with large slices of white bread, processed meats, 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 olive 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 olive oil and vinegar.
- Dinner: Drink water or milk with dinner
- Unhealthy: Processed meats or breaded and deep fried foods; processed grains or starches.
- Healthy: Grilled, roasted, baked or lightly sautéed beef, pork, lamb or poultry; brown rice, whole grain pastas or baked or roasted potatoes; raw, stir-fried or roasted vegetables. You can do a meatless version of this meal with egg, cheese or unprocessed beans 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 olive oil and vinegar and raw, stir-fried or roasted vegetable.
- Snack: Snacks are often necessary to avoid becoming hungry between meals. Like meals they should contain protein, complex carbs and fats.
- Unhealthy: Anything highly-processed and prepackaged.
- Healthiest Examples: raw fruit or veggie with natural nut/seed butter or unprocessed cheese; glass of whole or 2% regular or chocolate milk; serving of Greek yogurt (see above) with fruit or granola; popcorn popped in extra-virgin coconut oil and dusted with fresh parmesan; whole grain toast with natural nut/seed butter; raw veggies with guacamole; whole grain pita with hummus. Always drink water throughout the day.
And eating like great-grandma and grandpa isn’t enough. Remember, that generation did lots of manual labor, both at work and home, that most of us no longer do and they didn’t sit nearly as much as we do today. 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 and sit less to get the full benefits of subbing in healthier foods.