When it comes to stepping up your nutrition game, there is no need to “cleanse,” “detox,” or subsist on so-called “super foods” (don’t fall for that marketing gimmick; all whole foods are “superfoods,” and an orange is just as good for you as a goji berry).
Small, nutrition-focused tweaks to your dietary habits can reap many health rewards. Check out these swaps to boost the nutrition of your meals and snacks.
Mayonnaise is the iceberg lettuce of condiments — it delivers calories, and very little in the way of nutrition. The next time you want a creamy spread on a sandwich or wrap, mash half of a ripe avocado and add a few drops of lemon juice. Along with a flavor boost, you’ll get heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, potassium, and vitamin K, which is a crucial nutrient for blood clotting.
Granola and yogurt go together like peanut butter and jelly, but with certain yogurt and granola choices, you could be downing the sugar equivalent of a can of soda, which is 10 teaspoons. Muesli is a dry cereal made from toasted whole oats, wheat flakes, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. It’s usually free of added sugars (always read ingredient lists to double check) and is much lower in added oils than most granola. In fact, many varieties eschew added oils altogether. A typical serving of muesli delivers 4 to 6 grams of fiber and 6 to 8 grams of protein.
Whether it’s in smoothies, on cereal, or just to drink out of the glass, stay mindful of the amount of added sugar that’s in your favorite non-dairy milk. Flavored varieties like vanilla or chocolate can have between 3 and 7 teaspoons of added sugar. “Plain” varieties offer anywhere from 1 to 2 teaspoons. Your best bet is always to choose unsweetened.
This swap is most useful for people who eat a lot of rice. To make cauliflower “rice,” simply process cauliflower florets until they achieve the consistency of grains of rice. Then, sauté the cauliflower in a pan with some garlic, onions, and your favorite spices, for a rice-like side that offers high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and folate, and fewer than 50 calories per cup.
This swap comes in most handy when baking. Isolated sugars are sweeteners like agave nectar, coconut nectar, honey, and maple syrup. While these are a source of empty calories, date paste delivers sweet flavor along with fiber. You can make date paste at home by blending pitted and soaked dates, preferably the Medjool variety, with a small amount of water. In a pinch you can use organic baby dates or baby prunes.
Let’s be perfectly clear: Spinach is in no way unhealthy or “bad.” However, if it’s a green you’re eating to up your calcium intake, you’re out of luck. Spinach is high in oxalates, which are plant molecules that inhibit the absorption of calcium. Try bok choy as a side dish instead. It’s just as tasty as spinach when you sauté it in garlic and olive oil. It’s also low in oxalates, and 1 cooked cup provides 15 percent of a day’s worth of calcium.
It isn’t just fast food that’s nutritionally problematic. Unless you go to a very health-conscious establishment, restaurant meals are higher in sodium and calories than anything you can make at home since restaurant kitchens tend to be quite liberal with oils, salt, and portions. Plus there are bread baskets and extensive dessert menus, two factors that rarely come into play when eating at home.
Some recent research suggests that artificial sweeteners negatively affect metabolism and are not as rewarding to our brains as sugar. Flavored sparkling waters are free of both added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Reach for one of these instead of the sweetened variety when you’re in the mood for a flavorful and refreshing carbonated beverage.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list beans as a food we should be eating more of. Roasted chickpea snacks, which are now easy to find on many supermarket shelves, make it easy to get your fill on the go. They provide the satisfying salty crunch of chips and pretzels, but are packed with fiber, protein, and heart-healthy minerals like magnesium and potassium.
All chocolate is not created equal. The higher the cocoa content of a chocolate bar, the higher the amount of minerals and flavonoids (plant pigments with antioxidant activity). And the lower the sugar content. When selecting a chocolatey treat, look for bars with cocoa content of at least 70 percent. You’ll find this information listed on the front of the package. Don’t fret over dark chocolate’s high saturated fat content. One of the main saturated fats in chocolate is stearic acid, which won't increase your “bad” cholesterol levels.
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