You already know that healthy eating is important overall, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to lose weight. There are many diet trends out there and you might not know what a true nutritious diet looks like.
Dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD, offers some basic tips to keep in mind the next time you shop or order a meal at your favorite restaurant.
1. Don’t deprive yourself rather than eat smarter
“Just as overeating can ruin your weight loss efforts, you can starve yourself on a diet of rice cake and soda,” says Kippen.
Repeated weight gain and loss – called weight cycles – is a common result of yo-yo dieting. Weight cycles can be linked to chronic inflammation and can increase your risk for chronic disease.
Whether you are trying to lose weight or keep it off, don’t starve yourself. You can reduce the amount of food you eat a bit if you choose quality over quantity and follow the tips below.
2. Look beyond the calorie count
Eating for a healthy, vigorous life involves more than just adding calories or points daily.
“Food is more than numbers,” says Kippen.
Choose foods based on their nutrient density – that is, foods that are high in calories, high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
Foods rich in nutrients provide the information your cells need to function and can help prevent disease. Best of all, they also make you feel more happy!
3. Do not replace vegetable-based foods with vegetables
Don’t fall for the veggie chips, crackers or pasta that are gaining attention outside your grocery store. In the end, most vegetarian chips, for example, are a mixture of vegetable powder (also called “flour”) with added starch and are compared to tortilla chips.
If every once in a while you crave veggie chips that will satisfy your craving for a crispy snack without regret, check the ingredients first. Try good quality vegetarian chips made with just one or two ingredients. The veg and a little salt listed are the best, and there are some great dehydrated options that don’t have the extra calories or starch that other crisps have.
“Personally, I love carrot crisps and beet crisps because they are full of flavor and very satisfying,” says Kippen.
Now go to the produce section and buy real vegetables. They are a rich source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C (which help you feel full!) That you won’t find in processed crisps. Eating fresh vegetables doesn’t have to be painful, either.
“Prepare on baby vegetables to save effort and time – baby carrots or baby peppers are great options,” Kippen says. “Just rinse off and they’re good to go. And unlike crisps, they’ll keep you full and provide little or no calories.
For optimal health, you should include non-starchy vegetables into every meal of your day. Include spinach to a breakfast smoothie or salad to your lunch. For dinner, try the cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, or zucchini pasta.
4. Choose whole fruit instead of juice
Fruit drinks are one of the main sources of added sugar in the American diet. They are higher in sugar than whole fruits, cause blood sugar levels to rise and trigger the secretion of insulin, the fat storage hormone. This spike in blood sugar is quickly followed by a crash that can lead to exhaustion, brain fog, hunger, and sugar cravings.
Fruit juice is also rid of the fibers found in whole fruit. Fiber is one of the four under-consumed “deficit nutrients” in the Standard American Diet (SAD) and is crucial for a healthy gut and heart.
Instead of fruit juice, focus on consuming whole fruits such as berries, kiwis, and apples.
5. Limit sugar consumption
Excess sugar is a major contributor to obesity, type II diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. One study has linked excess added sugar to an increased risk of death from heart disease.
The problem is, sugar is ubiquitous in the food supply – often hidden on the ingredient list, in many forms.
To help reduce your sugar intake, choose foods in their most basic form. This means, for example, choosing steel cut oats rather than packets of instant oatmeal.
Getting into the habit of reading labels is a great way to get the most out of what you put in your shopping cart. For example, there are simple instant oatmeal options that do not contain sugar, which is always the best solution.
Kippen says, “There are awkward words that actually mean “sugar” to watch out for and avoid, like brown rice syrup or cane juice. Ignore them and go for foods with simple ingredients.”
6. Avoid low fat products
To set the record straight, eating foods high in fat does not translate into more body fat in all situations. In fact, fat is a major source of fuel for your body. They help you absorb carotenoids and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. They can also help increase satiety and keep you full for longer.
These healthy properties of fat are often lost when processing many “low fat” foods, which are not necessarily low in calories and are often high in sugar. There are low fat options that are very healthy. Fat free or low fat milk, for example, are wonderful options that do not contain added sugars.
The most important rule is still to read the list of ingredients. Many reduced-fat salad dressings probably contain all kinds of unhealthy ingredients. Even many low-fat strawberry salad dressings may have extra ingredients you don’t want.
“When dressing your veg, go for extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar,” suggests Kippen.
The key is to choose foods that are high in healthy fats, like extra virgin olive oil, almonds, chia seeds, and sardines.
“These tips should help you, whether you eat in or eat out,” Kippen says. “And when you shop for groceries, remember to choose the least processed foods with the fewest ingredients.”