Photo: Brian Leatart; Illustration: Leon Lawrence
Instead of focusing on what not to eat, Doyle says, look for ways to include more tasty whole foods in your diet. Among her suggestions:
Pick the least-processed foods. An apple is a whole food, applesauce is slightly processed, and apple juice is the most processed of the three, Doyle says, so the most healthful choice is the apple.
Halve the nuts. If the recipe calls for nuts, use half the amount, but toast the nuts. That intensifies the flavor and saves on calories.
Think about portions. Strive to have half of your plate made up of fruits and vegetables.
Try add-ins. Add fresh or dried fruits such as chopped apples, raisins, kiwi or orange slices to green leafy salads.
Add beans. Try rinsed and drained canned beans in soups, stews and salads. They are a low-fat, high-fiber protein, Doyle says.
Whole grains are the best choice. Select whole-grain products over processed ones. Consider whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur, Doyle says.
Spice up your grains. Add vegetables or dried fruits to grain-based dishes such as rice or couscous.
Replace the white flour. Substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half or more of the white flour in recipes. Make muffins using oatmeal, bran or whole-wheat flour.
Buy leaner cuts of meat. Look for the ones with the words “loin” or “round” in the name.
Go skinless. Cook poultry with the skin on to keep it moist, but remove the skin before eating to reduce the fat.
It’s a classic American dinner: A juicy steak with a side of baked potato smothered in butter and salt. Add some rolls and later a slab of chocolate cake topped with ice cream, and your taste buds are in heaven.
That meal might be fine once in a while, but a lot of your favorite foods are temptations that can wreak havoc on your health and waistline.
The government’s latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were released earlier this year, outline key recommendations that hammer home some familiar nutrition messages: Reduce your intake of solid fats (butter, beef fat), dietary cholesterol, sugar, sodium, fatty meats and high-calorie, refined foods such as cookies and cakes.
So what the heck is left for us to eat that can send us into that same taste-bud heaven?
That’s the kind of question that makes nutritionists want to weep.
“I hear this question all the time,” says Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. “But the bottom line is, there is a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, many types of whole grains, lots of different lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and low-fat dairy options — and unlimited combinations and recipes for those foods that people can eat.”
And these are the types of foods that the guidelines recommend people build their healthy diet around. They contribute to optimal health because they are packed with a wide variety of nutrients and are low in sodium, added sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat, says Doyle, co-author of The Great American Eat-Right Cookbook, written with Jeanne Besser. “But we’ve become a nation of people who eat a lot of processed foods, and we tend to eat the same foods over and over again,” she says. “We tend to make the same recipes. We don’t branch out, which is one reason we feel so limited.”
Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, says the problem is that some people think Cheez Doodles count as a serving of dairy and that the pickles and lettuce on their fast-food burgers are their vegetables for the day. They’d feel they had more choices if they stopped building their meals around convenience and fast foods and moved back to the basics, he says.
Most people want to hear that they can eat more of something, and that something should be more fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy, he says.
“I’ve never known anyone who got overweight eating more fruits and vegetables or drinking fat-free milk,” Ayoob says. In fact, the guidelines recommend ramping up your intake of them.
Barbara Rolls, professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan, agrees that people need to go back to basics.
“Even if you axed out many highly processed foods and fast food, there would still be plenty left to eat,” she says. And cutting back on those foods would go a long way toward helping people slash the amount of sodium in their diets, another key recommendation in the guidelines.
Rolls doesn’t buy the excuse that people aren’t eating their fruits and vegetables because produce is too expensive. “Bananas are darn cheap. So are apples and seasonal fruits and vegetables,” she says. “Going generic and shopping smart can make lots of nutritious foods affordable.”
Doyle adds, “People don’t think anything about spending $3 on a pound of candy, but they don’t want to spend a dollar on bananas.”
Preparing your own meals requires some slicing, dicing, peeling and cooking, but when you consider this time as an investment in your health, those few extra minutes are worth it, she says.