The holidays are meant to be celebrated with delicious foods, but too much celebrating can deter you from your fitness goals. Make the season more nutritious with a few simple steps that will lighten up holiday meals.
Go Heavy on the Herbs and Spices
It’s easy to turn to butter, cream, and salt to flavor food. While these ingredients in moderation can fit into a healthy diet, you can save yourself hundreds of calories by turning to herbs and spices for flavor. Fresh thyme, rosemary and a little garlic mixed into mashed potatoes can help you reduce the salt and butter while still keeping it delicious. For sweeter dishes, like sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce, add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. The more flavorful the dish, the less sugar or butter you will need to add to make it satisfying.
Keep Things Simple
The more options that are available, the more foods you are going to want to try, whether you are truly hungry or not. Pick a few favorites and keep it simple. Despite the fact that these foods may be higher in calories, you can still follow a healthy eating plan when it comes to nutrients and food groups. Make sure you have protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fat and plenty of vegetables. Serve appropriate portion sizes to limit calories. Also cut fat and calories by keeping preparations simple. Roasted root vegetables and dark leafy greens are the perfect side dishes for a holiday meal. Balance healthy, simple recipes with the heavier holiday favorites.
Make Easy Swaps
There are simple swaps you can make that will save calories, sodium, and saturated fat. If you snack on nuts with pre-dinner cocktails, add in some unsalted, raw varieties. For recipes that call for butter when sautéing, try substituting half or all of it with olive oil. Add pureed fruits like banana, applesauce, or fresh pineapple to naturally sweeten recipes like sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, or baked goods like muffins. Use whole grain bread in stuffing and choose whole grain rolls. When making cream sauces, try substituting some of the cream with unsalted chicken or vegetable stock. They will thicken in a similar way and once it's mixed into casseroles, it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Cooking more of your own food is one way to control what you eat. When you know how much salt, fat, and other ingredients are added, you can better track your intake to meet your fitness goals. While healthy cooking isn’t as complicated as it may seem, it is easy to fall into a few traps. These cooking mistakes may affect your view of healthy foods and prevent you from maximizing the nutritional value of your meals.
You don't experiment with reducing cooking oil
Follow the recipe the first time you prepare a dish. If it becomes a favorite, try experimenting. Many stovetop recipes for sautéed vegetables use two tablespoons or more of oil. While sometimes this is necessary, other recipes cook just fine with less, which will save you 120 calories per tablespoon you are able to reduce.
You salt before you taste
Many recipes save adding the salt for the final step, after the food is fully cooked. Do you toss in all the salt before giving it a taste? Everyone's preferences for salt are different, and as you decrease your sodium intake, it's likely that your taste buds will be happier with much less. Try adding half the salt suggested by the recipe, and then taste the food. You may find that extra salt isn’t necessary.
Your oven over-bakes
Sometimes the reason you don’t like a food is simply because it hasn’t been prepared correctly. Fish can easily over bake and become tough, roasted vegetables can cook unevenly, and cakes using fruit purees in place of fat or alternative flours can dry out. By getting to know your oven, you can work around these obstacles to make healthy foods that taste delicious. Calibrate your oven temperature and identify hot spots that tend to overcook food. You can learn to lower temperatures when necessary and rotate pans to always get the best results.
You don't weigh and measure
Unlike baking, cooking doesn’t always require an exact balance of ingredients, but a little too much freedom in your technique could mean extra calories. Adding oils and sauces to pans without measuring, not portioning out an appropriate serving of pasta, and tossing in extra toppings like nuts and seeds can cause your final dish to contain more calories than listed by your recipe. Use your measuring tools to ensure you don’t turn an otherwise healthy dish into a high-calorie meal.
Loading up on artificial sweeteners is not the healthiest way to reduce calories. While research is ongoing, some studies show that due to their intensely sweet flavor, these additives can change the way you taste food. Over time this could influence the ability of fruits to satisfy sweet cravings and make other healthy foods taste less appealing. If you want to reduce your intake, read ingredient labels closely, and beware of foods that contain hidden artificial sweeteners.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
The first step to identifying artificial sweeteners is to know the many names that they go by. There are five approved for use in the U.S. Keep your eye out for acesulfame potassium (K), aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
Where to Look for Artificial Sweeteners
As these sweeteners became more popular, they were added to a variety of foods. Even foods that are not labeled “diet” or “sugar free” may contain artificial sweeteners. Though many consumers seek to reduce intake, they still remain in some unexpected places.
Chewing gum. While a “sugar-free” label often indicates that a product contains an artificial sweetener, it is easy to overlook with all of the sweet, fruit flavors available. If you often use gum to curb your appetite, but also want to reduce sweeteners, chewing sugar-free gum may not be the best option.
No-calorie waters. There are many sparkling and non-sparkling waters that are calorie free with natural fruit flavors, but read labels closely. Many use artificial sweeteners similar to diet sodas to sweeten the drink without adding calories.
Salad dressings. It’s easy to check the ingredient lists on salad dressing bottles at the supermarket, but when you order a salad at a restaurant, the ingredients are less clear. Some dressings contain artificial sweeteners, even if they don’t taste overly sweet. Ask about ingredients when dining out or look them up online before you go.
Fruit juice. When drinking juice, choose 100 percent fruit juice without added sugar. It’s tempting to try to save calories with “light” versions of juices, but many contain artificial sweeteners. Try mixing half a serving of juice with sparkling water for a refreshing, lower calorie spritzer.
Frozen yogurt. Many frozen yogurts and ice cream bars contain artificial sweeteners so take a close look at food labels. When you swing into a shop for a treat, keep an eye out for no-sugar-added varieties, which often means that artificial sweeteners have been added.
Research shows that chocolate may improve heart health, but not all varieties are equally nutritious. Find out what type to pick and how it can promote good health.
Why is chocolate healthy?
The cacao bean used to make chocolate is rich in flavanols that act as antioxidants, which protect against disease. While these findings have been supported in numerous studies, researchers continue to find more reasons chocolate has a positive impact on health. A recent study showed that good bacteria in the gut convert chocolate to compounds that combat inflammation, a major factor in chronic disease.
The antioxidants in dark chocolate may help reduce risk factors for heart disease and stroke. They have been found to protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from being oxidized, which causes plaque build-up leading to blood clots. There is also evidence that chocolate may lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and through the arteries.
What type of chocolate should I choose?
The darker and less processed a chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains. Milk chocolates are often heavily processed with added fat and sugar. According to University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, the milk in milk chocolate also binds to the antioxidants making them unavailable to the body. Choose bittersweet and semi-sweet dark chocolates that are at least 60 percent cocoa solids. Some health experts recommend 65 percent and higher.
How much chocolate should I eat?
The Cleveland Clinic suggests incorporating 1 ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week, but the Mayo Clinic also notes that 3 ounces of dark chocolate is the dose that some studies have found to provide health benefits. The problem is that this amount of chocolate can contain up to 450 calories, so keep this in mind when choosing a serving. Also, stick with solid dark chocolate. Extras, like caramel fillings, increase the calories and may reduce the overall health benefit.
If you are a coffee lover, you likely perk up when you hear that it improves health. But you may also wonder if you are doing damage when you hear negative reports. Research on coffee uncovers its benefits and also some dangers in having too much. Knowing both the pros and cons of drinking coffee will help you make the best choice for your personal health.
The Good and the Bad
Past studies have shown that heavy coffee consumption could lead to an increased risk for heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent studies do not show a connection between moderate coffee consumption and the risk for heart disease or cancer. Coffee has been found to boost memory, improve concentration, and decrease fatigue.
The antioxidants in coffee appear to be associated with its major health benefits. They may help to protect brain cells and reduce the risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. These antioxidants have also been found to make cells more sensitive to insulin, which improves regulation of blood sugar. Although, other studies have shown that the caffeine has the opposite effect on blood sugar, so the influences of regular coffee on insulin sensitivity may be more complicated.
Many of the negative effects of coffee drinking are due to the caffeine. There is evidence that coffee can increase blood pressure, increase heart rate, and decrease bone density. The caffeine in coffee can also lead to irritability, anxiety, stomach upset, and a lack of sleep. Compounds in unfiltered coffee could also increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Drinking Coffee for Health
So how much coffee is too much? Moderate consumption is defined as about four cups of coffee or 400 milligrams of caffeine. The negative effects of coffee are found with an intake of five or more cups per day. Some people have a greater sensitivity to the caffeine and some health conditions and medications influence coffee’s effect on the body.
If you are healthy and have not been advised by a medical professional to avoid coffee, enjoy it in moderation like you would any other food or drink. The negative effects become a greater risk when you begin to rely on coffee to reduce fatigue. This is because your system will build up a tolerance to the caffeine over time, meaning you will need to drink more and more to get the alertness you are seeking.
Also be sure to drink your four cups or less in the morning. While the lasting effects of caffeine vary from person to person, it takes about six hours for it to leave your system. Drinking coffee too late in the day can disrupt your ability to sleep, which will then cause you to drink more coffee the next day, and lead to an ongoing cycle of overconsumption.