Smart Food Swaps for Improved Health | Washington, DC Dietitian

A friend recently pointed out an article about how to save 100 calories from your day. Some suggestions were helpful, others not quite as much. Instead of focusing on calories, I recommend making healthier swaps in your food choices. Not only will you reduce calorie and sugar intake, but you will still be able to enjoy your favorite foods while increasing protein and nutrients. Below are my top healthy swaps:

Switch to lean meats

Lean meats such as chicken, turkey and fish provide the same amount of protein as steak and other red meats, but are lower in calories and saturated fat. Try chicken fajitas, turkey chili, fish dishes, turkey or veggie burgers instead of beef, etc.

Choose low fat dairy and cheese

Switching from whole milk to low-fat dairy items can save you in the long run. Low fat cheese and dairy keeps protein intake the same, but decreases the amount of saturated fat, which can be harmful to heart health. Full fat is OK in moderation, but when possible choose low fat milk and yogurt, and low fat cheese for sandwiches and other cheesy dishes. 

Use banana or other fruit to sweeten foods

Using banana in your dishes provides a perfect amount of sweet flavor without the added sugar! Try banana instead of jelly on PB&J, add frozen banana to smoothies, use it as an ingredient in baking or try my favorite: Oatmeal. This oatmeal is free of any added sugar but tastes just as good. Simply chop up banana in plain oats mixed with milk and THEN cook your oatmeal. Whether it's in the microwave or stove top, the banana adds enough sweetness that it doesn't require any added sugars. Mix in some raisins, cinnamon, flaxseed and a dallop of peanut butter for a balanced breakfast.

Washington - DC - Dietitian

Use spices and herbs to flavor foods

Instead of using sugar try cinnamon, nutmeg and other sweet spices. Instead of using salt try pepper, chili powder or other flavorful combinations. This will provide extra flavor without added calories.

Make a Healthier Sandwich and Salad

Choose mustard or hummus over mayonnaise, choose whole grain bread and use bread instead wraps. Wraps provide similar amounts of calories and carbohydrates as bread, but since wraps are larger they hold more food, making it easy to go overboard with calories and fat. Instead of regular salad dressings, try vinegar and a small amount of olive oil. Or add hummus to a salad to make it creamier. For both salads and sandwiches use lean meats and go wild with the vegetables.

Washington - DC - Nutritionist

Drink Smart

Whether it's regular or alcoholic beverages, liquid calories can make a big difference in your health. If you aren't a water drinker, I suggest starting to become one NOW. All of those other beverages that claim to be life-changing really aren't. Water is all you need to be fully hydrated throughout the day. If you are an athlete or are exercise for more than one hour at a time, Gatorade or G2 can be helpful during workouts, but for regular everyday activities, water will do just fine. If you don't like water, try adding some fresh lemon or lime to your drink or try seltzer or sparkling water. When it comes to alcohol, try light beers and choose the drink that you will sip the slowest. 12oz of light beer, 5oz of wine and 1oz of liquor all have roughly 100 calories so choose what will work best for you.

It's All About the Portions

Even if you are eating healthy foods, if your portions are too large you will be taking in extra calories. If you usually have 3 drinks per night, switch to 1 or 2 and drink water in between. If you usually have 2 cookies, have 1. If you normally have 2 cups of pasta try having 1 cup and filling the rest of your plate with vegetables and lean protein. Making small reductions in meals and leaving some food on your plate can make a big difference in your health. Listen to your body, eat slowly and eat until you are comfortable, not stuffed. This is a good indicator of what size portions you really need.

Find alternate ways to relieve stress

In moments of emotional stress it can be easy to overeat, which can negate any healthy eating that you do. Try to focus on other ways to relieve stress such as walking, yoga, journaling, talking to friends, meditation, reading... or playing with puppies!

Washington - DC - Dietitian

Just sayin'...

Let's Give Carbs a Chance | Washington DC Dietitian

Carbohydrates. As a nation we love to hate them. They are the first thing to be eliminated from our diets and the first thing we blame for weight gain. Yes, carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, but like most foods it isn’t because they are bad for you, but because of the amount that we eat. Rice and pasta are healthy until we consume 3 or 4 cups at one time!

The fact is that carbohydrates from starches, fruit and dairy are essential for survival. They provide us with energy and nutrients and are our main source of fuel. When we are born we rely on carbohydrates from milk for the first few months of our lives. It is human nature to crave and consume carbs because we were intended to.

This topic is important to me because often times the first thing you hear when someone is on a diet is that they cut out carbohydrates, even though they are needed for survival.

Things are about to get technical while I explain the facts about carbs.

Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in our bodies and glucose is the only source of energy for the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Carbohydrate stores in the body don’t last long so the only way to replace them is by doing one thing: eating more carbs (about every 4-6 hours)!

When the body doesn’t get energy from carbohydrates it turns to the next fuel source: protein from your muscles. Protein gets taken apart and turned into glucose to provide energy, which weakens your hard-earned muscle mass. When muscle mass is reduced, your metabolism slows down which can lead to weight gain. This is the opposite of your goal.

Sadly, eating a high protein diet will not restore the lost muscle mass. When carbohydrates are sparse, the protein you eat is used for fuel instead of doing what it is intended to: building and repairing your muscles, hormones, enzymes and cells.

But what about fat? Our initial thought is that fat could be used for energy to help us lose weight, but that is not the case. Our main source of fuel is carbohydrates, followed by protein, followed by small amounts of fat. 

Yes, weight loss can be fast when we eliminate carbohydrates due to the “hydrate” in “carbohydrate”. Carbohydrates attract water so when we cut them out we initially lose water weight. This is not to be confused with losing actual fat mass. Once you start consuming carbs again it is likely you will gain that weight back.

To sum it up, carbohydrates are VERY important. They are the main source of fuel for our bodies. When we reduce carbohydrate intake energy comes from our muscles, which decreases muscle mass, slows your metabolism and can lead to long-term weight gain. Bottom line, include carbohydrates as part of a healthy, balanced diet for optimal health and performance.