We are so used to reading in magazines that our snacks should be 13 dry unsalted almonds, and our dinner should be one piece of salmon with steamed vegetables and rice, if we’re lucky.
I know I don’t eat like that, and I consider myself a healthy eater, so I’ll bet you don’t either. There are so many flavorful, colorful and fresh foods, and we shouldn’t be eliminating or restricting things from our diet. Magazines or websites that give meal plans may be good for people who need a strict guideline, but if you’re reading this, you probably know the basics. Here is a list of things to add or swap in your diet that you may not have been eating before:
Swap: If you are adding a sweetener to your coffee or tea, switch to a plant-based sugar like Truvia. These natural sugars have been used as sweeteners in Central America for over 200 years and you will notice that it is not as sweet tasting as the others. Refined sugar (no need to name drop, you know which ones) may contain aspartame and have no nutritional benefits. Another option is honey or agave nectar in place of artificial sweeteners
Add: Eating cereal or oatmeal for breakfast? Try adding flax seeds to the mix. You probably know that flax is good for you, but aren’t sure what it does. So many breads, crackers, and cereals boast that they have added flax to their mix. But why should you buy into the trend?
Flax seeds boost your fiber intake, omega 3’s and anti-oxidants, and are linked to reducing cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. All you have to do is sprinkle some flax in your bowl.
I could go on and on about breakfast adds and swaps — add raw oats to packaged cereals, mash a banana onto toast with peanut butter, swap a frozen waffle for a homemade muffin. Cook two egg whites plus one egg instead of two eggs.
Swap: I’m sure you know to eat the rainbow by adding more colored vegetables to your meals. And you probably know that salad dressing can wreck your salad. To get the benefit of dressing, I suggest either make your own and keep it simple (olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper), or use hummus.
Hummus is my favorite dipper for vegetables, on the side of a salad, or as a spread on a sandwich. It contains good fats (chickpeas and olive oil are the main ingredients), is a great source of fiber, and keeps your blood sugar at bay.
Add: One healthy fat at lunch is a great idea and provides the substantial feel that I need to feel full. Try a light cheese (Athenos makes a new crumbled feta), ½ avocado, or peanut butter on a banana or peanut butter with carrots (not weird, try it!).
Swap: Instead of eating a granola bar, try either baking your own, or buy a granola that is baked in fruit juice instead of oil. If you haven’t noticed how your bar is baked, fruit juice cuts the fat and calories more than in half. It still tastes the same with less fat. My favorite is Galaxy Granola’s Not Sweet Vanilla.
Add: If a granola bar or granola is a favorite snack, add Greek yogurt or fat-free cottage cheese and crumble your bar on top. For bonus, add blueberries. Adding a protein to a carbohydrate is a good thing even though you’re adding calories. Revisit my last column for more details about pairings.
Swap: Again, you know the usuals: Brown rice for white, or lean meat for fatty. Have you tried spinach swapped for pasta? If you can’t give up your pasta completely, try less pasta mixed with sautéed or steamed spinach, in addition to whatever you are putting on top. This is a favorite swap that even Grotto and La Griglia happily accommodate.
Add: If you are bored of the same foods for dinner, try something new! My favorite new foods I’ve added regularly are baked or microwaved sweet potatoes, and baked brussels sprouts or broccoli (don’t judge until you’ve made them right). Flavored cous cous is also a great addition. If you aren’t sure if you’ll like it, try using the new food as an extra side dish so you aren’t left with an incomplete dinner if it flops.
There are so many combinations and choices in the grocery store, but the hard part is learning what to choose to make your body happy. It is important to remember that deleting items from your diet isn’t necessary as long as you’re choosing the right foods.
And if you’re happy with 13 almonds as a snack, then your grocery list is simpler than mine.
Follow Marci Gilbert's quest for a healthier life at www.marcigilbert.com.