By Jessica Girdwain
vegetables, honey, cookies, butter, bread
Do you sometimes feel like you're being bombarded with hot-off-the-presses information about the best way to eat? (Gluten-free will help you lose weight! Swap sugar for agave! Fat-free is healthiest!) It's enough to make you think the heck with it and grab a bag of cookies. Deep breath: It's not nearly as complicated or restrictive as it seems. Ditch these old misconceptions and follow this simple advice. Photo credit: iStock/Getty/Shutterstock
Old rule: Eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
New thinking: Fill half your plate with produce at every meal. Photo credit: iStock
Of course it's ideal to eat your nine servings, but who can keep track? This new guideline, from both the Harvard School of Public Health and the USDA, is an easier, don't-have-to-think-about-it way to make sure you're eating enough of the good stuff. "Nothing is more important to lowering your risk of just about every ailment-especially cancer and heart disease-and staying at a healthy weight (or losing it if you need to) than eating lots of produce," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy. As for the other half of your plate? One-quarter should be lean protein (fish, chicken, lean cuts of pork and beef) and one-quarter whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, couscous).
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New thinking: Don't restrict gluten; simply eat more fresh foods. Photo credit: Getty
Gluten (a protein found in wheat) has nothing to do with weight gain, and simply switching from regular bread, pasta, rice, crackers and cookies to gluten-free products may actually cause you to add pounds. "The gluten-free varieties are often higher in sugar, fat and calories than regular versions," says Rachel Begun, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you're wondering why that friend who gave up gluten looks slimmer, it's probably because she cut back on high-calorie packaged foods like muffins, cakes and crackers-that's a smart move for anyone. If you do likewise, and replace these products with unprocessed, naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, lowfat dairy, nuts and beans, you will lose weight, too. "But that's because you're eating an overall healthier diet, not because you eliminated gluten," says Begun.
The only people who need to avoid gluten are those who experience symptoms when they eat it. See your doctor if you have bloating or abdominal pain (especially after eating) and suspect you have Celiac disease-a chronic, often debilitating condition in which gluten damages the lining of the small intestine so it doesn't absorb crucial nutrients from food. No matter what, if you decide to go gluten-free, visit your doctor first.
New thinking: Use small amounts of real fats, like butter or oil. Photo credit: Shuttershock
A swipe of butter alternative instead of the real deal on your morning toast to help cut back on calories and saturated fat is fine, but don't replace butter with substitutes across the board when baking or cooking. "A lot of my patients think the substitutes don't count, so they end up using a lot and eating more fat and calories than if they just went with the real thing," says Karen Klimczak, LDN, RD, at Mindful Nutrition Counseling in Chicago. Plus, the substitutes usually aren't much lower in calories and don't enhance the taste of your food, which may make them less satisfying and cause you to eat more. "Some of these products contain artificial ingredients that don't break down in cooking and may change the taste or texture of your food," she says. To keep calories in check, simply scale back. For example, if dinner calls for several tablespoons of butter, use half and replace the rest with broth to enhance flavor. If you're baking brownies or breads, substitute half of the oil or butter required with a pumpkin purée or applesauce-the taste and texture will be just as delicious, says Klimczak. But if it's a cherished recipe you make only once a year, keep it as is and savor every bite. Often it's feeling deprived of your favorites that leads to overeating and weight gain, not a little butter here and there.
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New thinking: It's OK to eat a variety of lean meats, including certain cuts of steak. Photo credit: iStock
Chicken is a slimming source of protein, but other meats (including dark) have big health benefits, too, and will help keep your diet interesting and satisfying, says Monica Reinagel, MS, LN, a nutritionist in Baltimore. "Pork tenderloin, filet and flank steak are all quite lean, and they actually contain more 'good' fats than chicken or tuna," she says. In fact, a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that eating 4 ounces of lean red meat per day (such as flank steak) as part of a healthy diet actually improved cholesterol levels. And while you're at it, have a piece of dark-meat chicken. Turns out, the leg and thigh meat have only about 35 more calories per 3-ounce serving than chicken breast. (But you should still skip the skin, which contains most of the saturated fat.) Another perk: Dark meat is a rich source of taurine, an amino acid that may help decrease heart disease risk in women with high cholesterol, finds a study from New York University School of Medicine.
New thinking: Cut back on high-salt, packaged foods. Photo credit: iStock
Yes, eating a diet loaded with salt can increase your chance of developing high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. "But a few shakes of salt on a home-cooked meal every once in a while isn't the issue," Reinagel says. "The big problem is that 75% to 80% of the sodium in our diet comes from packaged, processed foods." The USDA advises adults to limit their salt intake to 2,300 mg a day, and if you're at increased risk for high blood pressure--you're African-American, are over 50 and/or have diabetes or kidney disease-you should aim for 1,500 mg or less a day. To help rein in your salt consumption, go for whole foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains) as often as you can, and choose wisely when it comes to store-bought products, says Reinagel. Pick ones labeled no-salt, low-sodium or reduced-sodium and aim for no more than 600 mg sodium or less per packaged meal, including frozen dinners. When you're shopping for snacks and sides (like whole-grain crackers and pretzels, baked chips, rice and frozen vegetables), try to stick with items containing no more than 150 mg sodium per serving.
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New thinking: Eat less of the sweet stuff, no matter the source. Photo credit: Getty
"Sugar is sugar is sugar. One type isn't much healthier than the other," says Reinagel. Agave, honey, cane, raw or brown sugar-natural or not, if you eat too much, you'll gain weight. So it's best to cut back on any type and use it sparingly (no more than 2 tsp. in your coffee, tea or cereal). The same guideline goes for artificial sweeteners: They're much sweeter than real sugar, so you need less, and they appear to increase cravings in some people. Limit yourself to one or two artificially sweetened products or one to two packets of sweetener daily.
Old rule: Eat the fat-free version.
New thinking: Go with regular or reduced-fat instead. Photo credit: Bruno Crescia Photography/Getty
Fat-free might sound like the healthy choice, but it's actually less nutritious. "Fat-free foods often contain chemically based fake fats-which your body doesn't digest all that well-or extra sugar, which can spike your blood sugar and make you hungrier, causing you to overeat later," says Klimczak. "Eating some fat is also important because it helps you feel satisfied, so you're more likely to eat less." Full-fat treats can satiate you more psychologically as well. In one study, when people were told they were drinking a lowfat milkshake, they said they felt less satisfied than those who were told they were having an "indulgent" shake-even though the two drinks were identical.
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If you're trying to watch your calorie and fat intake, choose low- or reduced-fat versions of foods you eat daily (like yogurt, cheese and granola). But when it comes to occasional treats-a scoop of your favorite ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie-go for the full-fat version. Just make sure you keep portions reasonable. For example, a fist-size scoop of ice cream or a cookie that fits comfortably in your palm is a good rule of measure.
New thinking: Eat only when you're truly hungry. Photo credit: Thinkstock
Many experts caution that if you don't eat every few hours, your metabolism will slow down and stall your weight loss efforts. But there's really no evidence that this is true or that frequent eaters are slimmer, says Klimczak. Some people find it easier to keep their calories in check if they have three square meals and two small snacks. In fact, if you feel like you should eat more often throughout the day, you may be more prone to overeating. Plus, "when you give your body some time to metabolize nutrients and then feel hungry, you may help your body become more sensitive to insulin and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes," Klimczak says. The best timing strategy: Eat often enough so that you do not become so hungry that you end up bingeing or making bad food choices. However often you need to eat to stay on an even energy keel is fine-whether that is three portion-controlled meals plus two snacks, four meals and one snack or six small meals. This will keep your calorie-burning engines stoked all day. You make the call!
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JESSICA GIRDWAIN is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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