To paraphrase my mother, the road to health is paved with good intentions gone wrong. Especially when it comes to food.
We try so hard every day to follow all the latest suggestions on what to eat, and what to ban from our refrigerators. (Choosing so-called health foods that aren’t actually healthy, for example.) Yet misunderstandings abound.
Here, 7 common food mistakes you’re probably making as you read this.
1. You don’t take advantage of food combinations.
Combining foods for maximum nutrient absorption is one of those dietary “secrets” that nutritionists wish we all understood. For example, add orange or grapefruit slices to a spinach salad (or drink orange juice along with it) and you boost the iron absorption from the spinach. Other combinations, like beans and legumes with rice, became diet staples over the ages because together they aid absorption of nutrients.
Better choice: Simplify the concept of food combining by following the color plan. Make sure a meal has at least three colors, along with one healthy fat to aid absorption. Another simplification strategy: focus on blood sugar. Carbohydrates by themselves turn directly to sugar in the bloodstream, but accompanied by protein they provide the prefect balance of short- and long-term energy.
Tip: Every time you plan a meal – even a snack — think about whether you’re balancing food groups. Example: Toast = bad. Toast topped with almond butter = good.
2. You’re the barbecue king.
Congratulations – your house is the destination of choice on hot summer days. But watch what you’re putting on that chicken to make it so finger lickin’ good. The first or second ingredient in most popular barbecue sauces? Sugar.
Better choice: Make your own marinade using spices, fresh herbs, and ingredients like wine, soy sauce, lemon juice, and vinegar.
Tip: When using barbecue sauce, brush it on rather than pouring or dipping the meat in sauce. You’ll use much less sauce and still get plenty of flavor.
3. You eat your vegetables with dip.
Carrot, cucumber, and red pepper sticks are a perfect snack — until you dip them into a tub of spinach dip or ranch dressing. Just two tablespoons of dressing can add 145 calories and 15 g of fat.
Better choice: Make your own dip byt mixing salsa, spices, or curry powder into nonfat Greek yogurt, which has double the protein of regular yogurt.
Tip: If there’s a dip you love too much to banish, pour a tablespoon or two in a bowl, and limit yourself to that much, rather than dipping straight out of the container.
4. You drink diet soda.
This one’s totally counter-intuitive. After all, you gave up your Mexican cokes for Coke Zero at New Year’s as part of your effort to cut sugar. So isn’t that “healthy”? Yes, to a point. Diet soda does indeed have zero or few calories, and yes, it makes you feel full. Temporarily. But for some reason (scientists have many theories, but still don’t know why) drinking diet soda is connected with weight gain, rather than weight loss.
Better choice: Buy juice and carbonated water and combine them in a ratio of one fourth juice to three fourths water. Or cultivate an iced tea habit – make your own or choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened brands.
Tip: For a cold summer drink that’s as refreshing as soda, make homemade “light” lemonade by adding fresh lemon juice to water, sweetened with honey, agave syrup, or stevia. Add fresh mint leaves for extra fresh flavor.
5. You cook with olive oil – but don’t measure how much.
Thanks to endless publicity about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, we all know that olive oil is a monounsaturated “good” fat. Olive oil can help lower LDL cholesterol and is thought to be brain healthy. What you likely don’t know is how caloric it is. Just 1/4 cup of olive oil has 470 calories and as much as 55 grams of fat.
Better choice: Instead of drizzling or pouring olive oil, use a brush to lightly cover meats and veggies. In a frying pan or stir-fry pan, use a paper towel to lightly oil the pan before adding the ingredients. This way you keep control of how much oil you use.
Tip: You can always add more olive oil later, but it’s hard to subtract once it’s in the pan.
6. You fancy up salads with two many frills.
Lettuce is good for you, so are greens. And you can add as many carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, and onions as you want. But when you start sprinkling on the blue cheese or feta, the walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or sunflower seeds, and the dried cranberries. Suddenly your salad packs more fat and calories than that portion of lasagna you denied yourself.
Better choice: Limit yourself to two tablespoons of high calorie additions, then look for healthier ways to jazz up your salad, such as adding orange or grapefruit slices, or avocado.
Tip: Know your serving sizes. One “serving” of walnuts is just 7 or 8 halves, and has 180 calories.
7. You switched from frozen yogurt to ice cream.
Ice cream is not only high in fat, it’s saturated fat, the kind that’s worst for your cholesterol levels and overall health. Frozen yogurt beats ice cream on this front, as long as you choose fat-free or low fat flavors. (I don’t know about your local yogurt shop, but mine always seems to have delicious flavors that aren’t low fat, and then a measly one or two fat-free types in boring flavors like vanilla.) Unfortunately, what frozen yogurt lacks in fat, it makes up for in sugar. And once you get started on the gummy bears, chopped up heath bars, and sprinkles, you’re sunk.
Better choice: Sorbet or Mexican-style paletas (frozen juice bars), which are made from fresh fruit and are fat-free. The more actual fruit, the less added sugar, the better.
Tip: Some frozen yogurt and ice cream shops now post the calories and fat content in each flavor. If your local joint doesn’t do this, talk to the manager and ask if this information can be made available.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.