Adding spices to your food allows you to enhance flavor without using excess salt and fats, but the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that spices contain substances that fight disease and improve your health.
Research shows that cinnamon can improve blood sugar by stimulating insulin receptors and improving glucose absorption by cells. Some studies suggest that it may help lower blood sugar in those with diabetes. The oils in cinnamon have also been found to help fight bacteria. Add cinnamon to your morning coffee, stir it into yogurt or oatmeal, and sprinkle it over fruit salad.
The oil in coriander seeds has antibacterial properties that may be effective at destroying dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness. It is also full of multiple phytonutrients. Animal studies have linked coriander with reduced blood sugar and cholesterol. Sprinkle coriander in scrambled egg whites, add it to salad dressings, or mix it into soups and stews.
Crushed Red Pepper
Peppers contain capsaicin, which contributes to the spicy heat. Capsaicin is also responsible for many of the health benefits of hot peppers. Hot peppers have been found to produce a slight increase in metabolism and a brief reduction in appetite that may help with weight loss over time. Studies also show that hot peppers may reduce blood cholesterol, and they are linked to lower risks for heart attack and stroke. Stir crushed red pepper into soups or pasta sauces, and sprinkle it over roasted vegetables.
Gingerol is responsible for the many health benefits of ginger. Ginger has been found to fight inflammation, which may help reduce arthritis pain. Research shows that it may also help protect against some cancers by blocking the growth of cancer cells. While fresh ginger contains more gingerol, dried ginger is still a healthy spice. Blend it into smoothies, stir it into oatmeal, and add it to sauteed vegetables.
Turmeric is a spice often found in curry powder as well as yellow mustard. It contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is responsible for its multiple health benefits. Turmeric has been found to reduce joint inflammation. Research shows that it may also help block the growth of cancer cells. The antioxidant power of turmeric has been found to reduce total cholesterol, which may lead to a reduced risk for heart disease. Blend turmeric into smoothies, add it to stir-fries,and mix it into dry rubs for poultry or fish.
Living a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean that you have to cut out all special occasions. It’s okay to responsibly enjoy happy hour with friends and coworkers from time to time. When you do, aim to make it a healthier event so that it doesn't throw you off track. Here are a few ways you can join the fun without disrupting your progress.
Know the facts.
Before you decide to gather for a drink, it’s important to understand how alcohol impacts weight loss. Not only do alcoholic drinks add calories, they can affect how efficiently you burn body fat and they can also stimulate appetite. Understanding how alcohol can interfere with reaching your goals will help you make healthier choices and prevent the risk that you will overdo it on drinks.
Order a classic.
Fruity and frozen drinks or those mixed with regular soda cause calories and simple sugars to add up. If you want a cocktail, stick with the classics. Traditional daiquiris, martinis, and spirits mixed with club soda allow for a cocktail without the cost of blowing your daily calorie budget. Order a classic martini instead of a cosmopolitan and you will save 70 calories or more.
Stick with smaller portions.
Many craft breweries and tasting rooms provide options for smaller portions that can help you stick to your plan. Order a half pint or tasters of beers for less volume and fewer calories.
Seek out session beers.
It is difficult to estimate the calories in a beer without knowing the exact recipe, but generally when the alcohol content goes up so do the number of calories. Fortunately, session beers provide a lighter option. Session beers are less than 5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). As a comparison, a 12 ounce Budweiser is 5 percent ABV and contains about 145 calories.
Pick wine over sangria.
Stick with plain wine instead of sangria. A five-ounce glass of Merlot contains about 115 calories. Sangria is made with wine, but many varieties have added fruit juice, syrups, liqueurs, and some even contain flavored sodas like ginger ale. All these additions cause the calories to soar to over 200 for one glass.
Work in water.
Alcohol is dehydrating so keep your water intake up even if you only have one drink. Drink a glass of water before and after your cocktail. Dehydration can zap your energy levels making you feel sluggish and unmotivated for tomorrow morning’s workout.
Select the snacks.
Consuming alcohol lowers inhibitions making it much easier to engage in mindless snacking. If your table decides to order a few bar bites, take charge of the situation and order some healthier items. Check for options like grilled chicken satay, sautéed shrimp, or lettuce wraps. If none of the offerings meet your healthy eating plan, order a side salad or a cup of broth-based soup. Ignoring your hunger will only make you cave in when the high-calorie appetizers get passed around the table.
Committing to take your lunch to school or work every day is just one step in the right direction. Once lunch time arrives, the meal needs to be appealing so that you won’t pass on it in favor of going out, and it should also be balanced in nutrients to keep your energy up throughout the afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you pack a healthy lunch that you will enjoy eating.
Pack a filling meal.
Taking a small lunch in an effort to save calories is a plan that can backfire. Your hunger may overwhelm you soon after the meal. Take enough food so that you feel comfortably full after eating. Choose foods that supply protein, fiber, and healthy fat. They will take longer to digest, keeping you full and satisfied. They will also help to sustain energy levels longer than a meal filled with simple carbohydrates.
Include something new in your lunch at least once per week. Try an exotic fruit or splurge on a infused-olive oil for your salad. Eating healthy food should be something you look forward to. Adding variety to your meals makes you less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
Keep it balanced.
As you pack your lunch, keep a mental list of all of the components of food that benefit your health -- protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and plant phytochemicals. Select combinations of foods that will supply all of these beneficial nutrients. The more balanced your meals, the greater your food variety and the more nourished your body will be.
Include some foods that will help satisfy cravings and keep you from mindlessly snacking throughout the afternoon. Include a small square of dark chocolate or a mixed fruit salad for dessert. Instead of chips, satisfy your craving for something crunchy and salty with lightly salted air-popped popcorn or roasted chickpeas.
Make it interesting.
Most importantly, pack a lunch that you want to eat. A bland salad may make you feel like you are being good, but if you don’t enjoy it, a coworker’s offer to split her high-calorie take-out may be difficult to pass up. Pack food that is interesting and appealing. If you want to stick with a salad, dress it up with shredded cabbage, bok choy, fresh fruit, beans, colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. If you feel like you are in a lunch rut, try some of these ideas.
Sodas and other high calorie drinks increase the calories of your meal without giving you the enjoyment of eating food. A 20-ounce soda contains about 260 calories and a large sweetened iced tea contains 220. If you get refills, those numbers will climb. What’s worse is that they are consumed mindlessly while eating so it is easy to lose track of how many calories you have consumed. Focus on your food during meals and drink water. If you really enjoy sodas or sweetened iced tea, enjoy them in moderation as a treat and not as something to wash down food.
Choose an appetizer or dessert, not both.
It’s tempting to go all out at your favorite restaurant, but ordering three or four courses leads to too much food and calorie overload. Decide which is more important to you and choose one or the other. Doing so will save you at least 100 calories and more likely 300 to 500.
Pick the salad bar.
While buffets are usually frowned upon for portion control, a salad bar can help you enjoy a healthier meal. Make your own salad and add extra vegetables and protein sources like beans. Having control over the dressing is also a good way to save calories. The ladles on the bar usually hold from two to six tablespoons with the average ladle holding four. Stick to half a ladle and you’ll save at least 100 calories for most dressings.
Steer clear of casseroles.
Restaurants provide a variety of side dishes and often at least one plain vegetable. Choose these steamed veggies instead of vegetables that have been added to an au gratin or casserole. Pick the steamed broccoli over broccoli casserole as a side, and you can save over 150 calories.
Substitute your sides.
Even if it costs you an extra dollar or two, substituting a healthier side is always a good option. Ordering a plain baked sweet potato instead of sweet potato fries saves as much as 460 calories depending on the restaurant. Swap a side salad for those fries and you’ll save that much too, assuming you go easy on the dressing.
Leave off the sauce.
A sandwich can be a healthy option, but it’s not uncommon for a large sandwich to be topped with ¼ cup of sauce or dressing. Ask for thousand island dressing, cheese sauce, barbecue sauce, or ranch on the side. This way you can add just a little for flavor and not drown your dinner. A ¼-cup serving of thousand island dressing has 220 calories. If you add just a tablespoon, you will save 165 calories.
Take off the top bun.
Specialty rolls like croissants, bagels, ciabatta, and hoagie buns can be loaded with calories. For example, a ciabatta sandwich roll contains 340 calories. Take off the top bun, eat your sandwich open-faced, and you will cut your meal by 170 calories.
Choose vegetarian versions carefully.
Some veggie sandwiches, burgers, and pasta dishes provide healthier choices, but don’t assume that just because it is vegetarian that it is healthy. These foods can contain the same sauces, cheeses, and buns as those with meat. For example, a grilled portobello burger contains 540 calories. Order the sauce on the side, leave off the cheese and take off the top bun and you can save well over 100 calories.
Mentally portion your meal.
Restaurant portions are large, and while choosing a half order or a lunch portion will help, when this isn’t an option you are left to control portions yourself. Get familiar with what one ounce of meat or one serving of pasta looks like. Use this to mentally portion your meal so you know how much food is too much. If the so-called individual pizza you order contains 1000 calories and you divide it into quarters, you’ll save 250 calories by only eating three quarters of it and saving the rest for leftovers.
Preparing more of your own food at home gives you control over ingredients to reduce unhealthy additives and increase beneficial nutrients. It can feel overwhelming at first, but by making small, gradual changes you can learn to be a better cook and improve your health in the process.
Take it one week at a time.
Cooking does take time and it’s helpful to set time aside over the weekend to plan for the week ahead. First, be realistic about how many meals you can cook at home. There will always be planned nights out or lunch meetings that will eliminate your need to cook. The goal is to make the choice to cook when you can. You might plan to take lunch to work every day or cook dinner three nights a week. Pick an achievable starting point and add more homemade meals over time.
Browse, plan, and shop.
Food blogs, cookbooks, and magazines are helpful resources for finding simple, healthy recipes. Keep a log of the recipes or snack ideas you’d like to try and pick a few new ones each week. Use this as a guide for your weekly shopping list to ensure you have everything you need to stay on a healthy eating plan.
Accept some help.
Cooking at home doesn’t always mean that you have to make everything. When you are crunched for time, consider buying a rotisserie chicken or prepared veggie burgers at the deli. Take it home and pair it with a fresh green salad and a quick homemade dressing. Buying part of the meal prepared and adding some healthy ingredients at home is still better than swinging through the fast food drive-thru.
Find ways to save time.
It’s unrealistic to think that you will have the opportunity to prepare a big meal every single night. Set aside time to prep your food for meals that you want to squeeze in during a busy day. Cut up vegetables for a stir-fry or slice fruit for a smoothie as soon as you get back from the supermarket. Store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your meal. Make no-cook oatmeal or salad in a jar at the start of your week so you’ll have a quick homemade breakfast or lunch when you need it. Also, try doubling recipes that reheat well like soups, stews, beans, and vegetables so you have the leftovers to enjoy for lunch or to use as an addition for later meals.
Enjoy the process.
Cooking more isn’t without frustrations. You will likely have to overcome a learning curve for some recipes, or limit time for another activity to commit to cooking. Focus on the positives of the experience. Cooking empowers you to improve your diet and increase your nutrition. It develops the same kind of self-discipline that is necessary for successful weight loss. Cooking is also an activity that brings people together. Grab your family or a friend and gather in the kitchen to cook, learn, improve your health, and nurture your relationships.