You may think you're making all the right choices, but these dietary pitfalls can get the best of the healthiest eatersBy: Holly C. Corbett
After years spent adjusting your diet—limiting added sugar, swapping whole milk for skim, bypassing deep-fried dishes—you may consider yourself a pretty healthy eater. But even the most nutritious types can be plagued with lagging energy, hunger pains, or a scale that just won’t budge. Susan Kleiner, RD, co-author of The Good Mood Diet and The Power Food Nutrition Plan, shares how to correct common food mistakes to fine-tune your current eating habits and feel your absolute best.34 Little health tips every woman should know
Just because you’re not eating candy bars doesn’t mean your diet isn’t high in sugar. Some common foods that seem healthy—such as yogurt, kefir, smoothies, and whole grain cereals—can have as much sugar as is recommended for an entire day. “It’s typical for a container of yogurt to contain 24 to 30 grams of sugar,” says Kleiner. The RDA for a 1600-calorie diet is only 22 grams, or 6 teaspoons. Whole grains have no sugar, but it’s common for otherwise healthy cereals such as Kashi or granola to have between 15 and 20 grams.
Food Fix: “Think about what you want to spend your sugar budget on. A piece of fruit has about 15 grams on average, but it’s also packed with vitamins and nutrients,” says Kleiner. Opt for cereal with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving, or plain yogurt. Then toss in fruit for sweetness to get more nutritional bang for your buck.
“Many people are so focused on eliminating fat that they eat many “fat-free” items,” says Kleiner. “If you’re getting less than 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat, you may experience mood swings and not feel satiated.” Diets with less than 25 percent of calories from fat have been shown to increase anger and anxiety, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. And it could even sabotage your weight loss efforts: Sixty percent of brain mass is made of healthy fat, so depriving yourself may even trigger the body to hoard any type of fat and make it tougher to lose weight, says Kleiner. “Plus, eating a lot of fat-free foods is apt to leave you unsatisfied and craving something more substantial, which may make you overindulge at dinner or reach for a late-night snack.”
Food Fix: To fatten up your diet the healthy way, try adding a side to your meal of steamed spinach, broccoli, or other veggies, (we like the Birds Eye Steamfresh bags) drizzled with olive oil or tossed with sliced almonds. Another option: Mix low-mercury canned tuna, such as Fishing Vessel St. Jude, with greens and 2 Tbsp reduced-fat olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Egg yolks are one of the main sources of choline, the most abundant neurotransmitter in our body. The nutrient is vital for brain, liver and nerve function, as well as for memory and transmitting nutrients between cells. “Americans are consuming only about one-third of the choline their body needs, and much of this can be traced to forgoing egg yolks,” says Kleiner. “If your reason for banning yolks is concern about cholesterol, new studies show that yolks do not raise cholesterol levels.” Plus the yolk contains about 40 percent of the egg’s protein as well as lutein, which keeps eyes healthy.
Food Fix: Women should aim to get 425 mg of choline a day, and adding egg yolks to your diet is one of the best ways to meet that goal. Two large eggs have about 250 mg. Other sources are chicken liver, codfish, and wheat germ.
You may be in a mad rush to get out the door in the morning, but waiting until 10 a.m. to have breakfast when you wake at dawn results in flagging energy later in the day. Your brain runs on glucose, which dips if you haven’t eaten in awhile, making you feel foggy, less equipped to deal with stress, and more likely to cave when cravings strike. “Plus, the simple act of eating could raise your metabolic rate by as much as 10 percent,” explains Kleiner. “You’ll actually burn more calories by having breakfast first thing.”
Food Fix: To save time, make a grab-and-go breakfast the night before: Try hard-boiling protein-packed eggs, or making smoothies to store in the fridge by blending a cup skim milk, 3 ice cubes, and 1 1/4 cup frozen strawberries or blackberries.
Eating healthfully doesn't mean skimping on calories. “A lot of people don’t eat after they exercise because they don’t want to add in calories after they just burned some,” says Kleiner. “But you should eat within 30 minutes of working out to deliver nutrients to your muscles so they recover faster and to help control your appetite later on.”
Food Fix: Replenish depleted energy reserves by having a snack of about 150 calories that contains diary, such as a small cup of chocolate milk or cottage cheese with fruit. “Dairy is high in leucine, an amino acid needed for muscle growth and repair,” says Kleiner.
Relying on low-calorie energy bars, frozen entrees, and other processed foods throughout the day may be convenient, but they’re not exactly nutrient dense. Most are also low in antioxidants and fiber, and may be high in sodium. Moreover, if you’re filling up on them, chances are you aren’t getting the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. “Getting less than nine servings of produce could mean you’re low on magnesium and potassium,” says Kleiner. Magnesium plays a big part in carbohydrate metabolism, and potassium may prevent age-related muscle loss to help keep metabolism high, finds a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Food Fix: Plan ahead by having snack options on hand that are heavy on produce and light on processed foods. Produce-rich snacks that don’t take time to prepare include a half a cup each low-fat refried beans and salsa with 1 ounce baked tortilla chips; a quarter-cup hummus with baby carrots; and a handful of dried apricots with 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds. At mealtimes, try stirring spinach into soups or pastas; and add a cup of black beans to chicken dishes.
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