Is it time to get out of your pajamas and back into jeans? Some of the foods we’ve been snacking on for the past few months can be problematic so let’s figure out how to make healthier versions of our favorite comfort foods that will help increase our energy, enhance our mood, improve our digestive health, lower our risk of serious disease, and help us get out pants buttoned.
Potato chips are among the top six foods that are connected to weight gain, and they are made of three simple ingredients: sliced potatoes, oil, and salt. Store-bought chips are usually fried at high temperatures that can trigger the formation of a chemical that is associated with aging and increased cancer risk and they are cooked in oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids that fuel inflammation, so if chips are your thing, it might be fun to try making a healthier version at home.
For homemade potato chips, toss some thinly sliced skin-on potatoes in a little olive or avocado oil along with your choice of seasoning, and bake them slightly overlapping on a parchment-covered baking sheet in the top half of a 425-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. If you allow the chips to cool in the oven, they will crisp up even more. The thinner you slice the potatoes, the crispier they will be, but the thinner they are the more likely they are to burn so if you used a madeleine to slice your potatoes extra thin, make certain to keep your eye on them when they are in the oven.
Bubbly, sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to weight gain, especially in school-aged children. Artificially sweetened beverages are no better, so slowly wean yourself sweet drinks with natural flavored sparkling water from the grocery store--you will be surprised to see how many flavors there are to choose from. Alternatively, fill a pitcher with filtered water, add some sliced cucumbers, mint, citrus fruit, ginger, or slightly mashed berries and put it in the refrigerator, then sip it throughout the day. Yum!
We can’t completely avoid sweets but most of us eat far more sugar than the daily recommended amount, which is 6 teaspoons for women, and 9 for men. Keep in mind that some flavored coffee drinks contain 15 teaspoons of sugar (or more), so strategize by identifying your “can’t-live-without list,” then limit them to twice a week. If you must have a treat every day, consider that 70% dark chocolate contains about a half teaspoon of added sugar per square and that a few squares of dark chocolate not only boost happiness and protect your heart, it can also help assuage your craving for something tasty.
Bread and pasta are the downfall for many of us, but we can opt for whole-grain versions and pay attention to serving sizes. A one-pound box of pasta actually contains eight adult-sized servings, and not two, three, or four. Look for veggie-added pastas that provide fewer calories, more fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. Or, mix pasta with veggies like chopped broccoli or riced cauliflower, then add your favorite sauce. Look for whole-grain bread, or thinly sliced bread for sandwiches, or cut back to half a sandwich along with a nourishing cup of soup to keep you feeling full and happy.
To help manage your waist, switch from red meats to seafood, organic poultry, or plant-based options. The best bet for weight loss is to replace at least some animal-based protein with pulses, an umbrella term for beans, lentils, peas, and garbanzos (chickpeas) that are affordable, filling, high in fiber, rich in nutrients, and naturally gluten-free. Replace at least some of the meat in tacos or enchiladas with veggies, and prepare hearty, nourishing winter soups with lentils, beans, or split peas.
Who doesn’t love bacon, sausage, pepperoni, and deli meats, but look for newer versions made without added carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites. Try substituting processed meats and sugar with plants—avocado on your burger instead of bacon, chopped veggies on your pizza instead of pepperoni, fresh fruit on your oatmeal instead of sugar, a make a sandwich with hummus and roasted veggies rather than ham with cheese. In other words, look for ways to boost nutritional value along with decreasing your exposure to sweets and fatty, processed meats.
If we are heavier than we would like to be, the truth is that we may have stopped paying attention to portion sizes or we have given up trying to think of alternatives to unhealthy habits that we have developed during the pandemic. Most of us can’t afford to invest in a brand new, larger-sized wardrobe this winter, so now is the perfect time to start eating better and shed a few pounds so we can close the buttons or zipper on our pants!
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