A New American Diet
It's no secret: The American diet needs to change. Fast foods, high-calorie desserts, sweet drinks, and more have filled us up -- and out. Most adults and 1 in 3 children in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
Changing the way you eat is pretty easy if you follow a few tips. To start, learn about some of the worst food offenders and how to replace them with healthier choices. Then try some portion-control tricks.
Calorie-Bomb Food Favorites
Most of our calories come from foods high in fat and sugar. Sweets like cookies and cakes, along with yeast breads, top the list. We also load up on calories in chicken dishes (often breaded and fried), sodas, and energy and sports drinks. Pizza, alcohol, pasta, tortilla dishes, and beef dishes pile on more calories. Except for fries and chips, fruits and vegetables don't even make a dent in our daily calorie count.
Just two problem foods -- solid fats and added sugars -- count for about 800 of our daily calories. That's almost half the calories an average woman should have in a day. U.S. dietary guidelines call for limiting solid, trans, and saturated fats. Cut back on fast foods and refined grains, like white bread. While you're at it, cut down on sodium (salt), too. Most of us get too much, putting us at risk for high blood pressure and heart and kidney disease.
Add more nutritious foods to your diet.
- Instead of fatty meats, choose lean protein and seafood. Shoot for at least 8 ounces of fish a week.
- Instead of solid fats like butter or margarine, use olive, canola, and other oils that are good for your waistline and your heart.
- Instead of baked goods and cereals with all white or refined grains, make at least half of your grains whole grains.
- Other healthy choices: nonfat or low-fat dairy foods, eggs, beans, and, of course, fruits and vegetables.
The Pizza Problem
Some of your favorite foods may just need a makeover. Take pizza. It has lots of calories, refined grains, and saturated and solid fats. It might seem like the first food to axe from your eating plan. But with a few tweaks, pizza can fit into a healthy diet:
- Choose a thin, whole-grain crust.
- Pile on veggies and skip the meat.
- Use no cheese or just a sprinkle.
- Have one small slice and fill the other half of your plate with vegetables.
What Are Whole Grains?
The outer shell, or "bran," of a kernel of wheat, rice, barley, or other grain is full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is a top food for good health. It helps you feel full on fewer calories and keeps your bowel movements regular. But to make white (refined) flour from a kernel of wheat, food makers remove the bran. With it goes much of the fiber and vitamins.
What Are Solid Fats?
Solid fats, which have a lot of saturated and trans fatty acids, are usually solid at room temperature. These include butter, stick margarine, shortening, and animal fats. Cream, fatty cuts of meat, many cheeses, bacon, and chicken skin have solid fat in them. Avoid this fat as much as you can.
Fats that have healthier unsaturated fatty acids in them are usually liquid at room temperature, or oils. If oils are hydrogenated, though, they become solid fats. Unhealthy hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are in some margarines, baked goods, and packaged desserts.
Serving the Right Size
Super-sized meals have inflated portion sizes, and us along with them. Start downsizing to healthy portions and your body will, too. Check food labels and restaurant menus for hidden calories. Learn to "eyeball" your food to gauge what’s too much -- and what’s just right.
Shrink Your Plate to Lose Weight
You may have grown up being told to "clean your plate." The problem is that dinner plates in homes -- and at restaurants – have steadily gotten bigger. And so has the amount of food we put on them. If you clean your plate now, you're probably overeating.
Set Out Salad Plates
To shrink your portions -- and your waistline:
- Eat from a smaller dish like a luncheon or salad plate.
- Learn and dish up the right-sized portion.
- Don't go back for seconds or keep platters of food on the table to tempt you.
- Store leftovers in single-serving containers for other quick meals.
Eating Out? 4 Tips on Portion Size
Restaurants typically serve one person enough food for two or three. But you don't have to eat it all. Be smart about how to make restaurant portions work for you:
- Ask if you can order a half portion or something from the child's menu.
- If you order a full-size entree, box up half of it before you start eating.
- Split dishes with a friend.
- Eat a healthy appetizer and soup or salad instead of an entrée.
Your Daily Diet
How many calories you should have depends on your age, whether you're a man or a woman, and how active you are. A woman who is not active should have 1,600-1,800 calories a day. An average-sized man who is fairly active should have 2,400-2,800 calories.
Have a healthy balance of foods each day:
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups of vegetables
- 6-9 ounces of grain, 1/2 from whole grains
- 3 cups of nonfat or low-fat dairy foods
- 5-6 1/2 ounces of protein (meat, beans, and seafood) each week
- No more than 5-7 teaspoons of oils, mostly from plants, fish, and nuts, rather than as added fat
- 160-330 calories from solid fats and added sugars
Learn to Eyeball a Portion Size
You don't need to weigh or measure out your food every time you sit down to eat. Instead, keep a mental image of a deck of cards, a poker chip, a baseball, a hockey puck, a CD, dice, and a lightbulb. This makes it easy for you eyeball healthy portion sizes.
Cut That Baked Potato Down to Size
1 medium potato = 1 computer mouse
That's equal to 1 cup of vegetables.
If you use a mouse every day, it's easy to grab the right size of potato at a grocery store. But a restaurant potato is likely to be twice that big and loaded with toppings and extra calories. To eat smart when you eat out:
- Eat a small portion of the potato and take the rest home for another meal.
- Choose a sweet potato instead. It gives you vitamin C and vitamin A, which keep your eyes and skin healthy.
A Healthy Portion of Pasta
1 portion of pasta is 1/2 cup = 1/2 a baseball
That's 1 ounce, or 1/2 cup, of grains.
For healthier pasta:
- If you eat more than one portion of pasta when you eat out, skip the breadbasket. But count the extra pasta as another portion of your grains for the day.
- Try whole-grain pasta. You'll fill up on less and get extra fiber.
- Instead of Alfredo or other creamy sauces, choose tomato-based marinara.
- Use low-fat salad dressing when you make pasta salad.
Trim Waffles Down to Size
1 portion of pancake or waffle = the size of a CD.
That's a 1-ounce serving of grains.
Skip the plate-sized waffles and stacks of pancakes swimming in syrup and butter. Instead:
- Order a small pancake and an egg. That's a serving each of grains and protein.
- Order whole grains, like a buckwheat or whole wheat pancake. You get for more fiber and nutrition and stay full longer.
- Opt for fresh fruit or sugar-free syrup as a topping.
Your Favorites Can Fool You
Bagels and bran muffins seem like healthy eating choices. But they can be two or three times the healthy portion size. A big bagel and even a low-fat muffin can pile on 300 calories. Spread it with butter or cream cheese, and you've added more fat and calories. Breakfast suddenly becomes a 500-calorie bust.
Size Is Everything at the Bakery
1 small muffin = a tennis ball
1/2 a medium bagel = a hockey puck
That's a 1-ounce serving of grains.
Don't break the bank with bagels and bran muffins:
- To save calories, eat a high-fiber English muffin instead.
- Eat half of a large one or buy smaller sizes.
- Make the bagel whole-grain. The high fiber will curb hunger later.
Watch Your Dairy Servings
1 portion of cheese = four dice
That's a 1-cup serving of dairy.
Cheese is high in calcium. It's also high in fat, with 3 teaspoons of unhealthy solid fat in a serving. One serving of low-fat cheese is one-third the amount of nonfat or low-fat dairy you should have in a day.
- Try low-fat cheeses. They have gotten tastier.
- Watch your portions. Nibble cheese like a mouse.
- Ask for less cheese or low-fat cheese on pizza.
How Much Meat Is Too Much?
1 portion of meat or fish = a deck of cards or the palm of your hand
That's 3 ounces of protein.
Eat lean protein -- fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and beans -- at every meal to help build muscle and lose weight. But you may need less protein than you think. Adults only need 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein a day. That could be one egg at breakfast, a handful of nuts (for example, 12 almonds or 24 pistachios) mid-day, and 3 ounces of meat for dinner.
Baseball-Sized Broccoli and Berries
- 1 serving of fruits or veggies = 1 baseball or a fist
- 1 serving of leafy greens = 2 tennis balls
That's a 1-cup serving of fruits or vegetables.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, eat your heart out. Go for a variety of colors:
- Green, red, and orange foods have lots of nutrition. That includes berries, red bell peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes.
- Dark greens are heart healthy. Try spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, and kale.
Go a Little Nuts for Peanut Butter
1 portion of peanut butter = a golf ball
That's 2 tablespoons or two 1-ounce servings of protein.
Peanut butter and jelly is great comfort food. And snacking on peanuts and peanut butter can control hunger. The trick is to make a little bit go a long way. Peanuts have healthy fat, but it's still fat and can add on calories -- 190 for 2 ounces. Jelly adds more calories.
Rice Lightens Up a Healthy Meal
2 portions of cooked rice = a light bulb
That's 2 servings of grains.
Rice is low in fat and calories. Serve it with a rainbow of healthy vegetables -- like red peppers, bok choy, onion, and carrots -- stir-fried in a little peanut or canola oil.
- Steam rice instead of frying it to keep calories down.
- Try brown rice, which has more fiber than white rice.
- Don't ruin the health benefits of rice by topping it with fried foods or heavy sauces.
It's Easy to Overdo Fats and Oils
1 portion of fat = a poker chip or a stack of four dimes.
That's 1 teaspoon, or 1 serving, of fats and oils.
Watch fats and you'll watch your weight go down. You probably get enough fat in foods like cooking oil, salad dressings, meats, and nuts.
- Spray cooking oil in a pan before frying to give it a light coating of oil, instead of pouring in liquid oil.
- Use heart-healthy olive or canola oil instead of butter.
- At a restaurant, dress your salad with vinaigrette instead of a thick, creamy salad dressing. Ask for it on the side and spoon it on lightly.
A Handful of Chips
1 ounce = 6 large tortilla chips or 20 potato chips
That's 2 teaspoons of oil and 150 calories
Chips tend to be chock-full of the things we need to limit: fat, saturated fat, refined grains, and sodium. Just one ounce can have nearly half of an entire day's fat for a woman.
Read the label: Baked, multigrain, and vegetable chips -- like carrot and sweet potato -- have more nutrients and may have less fat.
Keeping Dessert in Proportion
1 serving = 1/2 baseball
That's 4 ounces or 1/2 cup.
Desserts tend to be full of unhealthy fats and sugar. One cup of ice cream -- twice the size of a portion -- can have 285 calories and 75% of the solid fat an inactive woman should have in a day
- Save your sugar calories for something sweet to eat instead of wasting them on a super-sweetened coffee drink or soda
- Instead of a handful of cookies, have one small cookie and a piece of fruit or a glass of milk.
- When you really want chocolate, eat dark chocolate, which has less sugar.