|Food Smarts: The Choices Are Yours
Being Food Smart is not about denying yourself certain things or forcing yourself to eat something you hate. It's all about choices! Once you have the information you need, you have the power to choose good food that will help the way your body looks, feels, and functions. Here are some of the choices you can be making:
Choose variety. It's easy to get caught in a pattern where you just eat your favorite foods -- or the most convenient foods -- over and over. But your body needs a variety of foods from all the Food Pyramid groups to get the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Instead of having the same thing for lunch every day, mix it up!
Choose whole grains. Breads, cereals, pasta, and rice should make up a big part of your diet, because they provide the carbohydrate energy your body needs. Whenever possible, choose whole grain foods rather than white ones. Because they use more of the grain, these foods have more of the good stuff. For instance, instead of white bread on your sandwich, ask for wheat. Don't like wheat? Try a few different kinds. There are so many varieties out there that you're likely to find some type of whole grain bread that tastes good. The same goes for rice; try brown, long grain, or basmati rice instead of white.
Choose fresh. It's very important to choose fruit and vegetables in meals and snacks. Whenever you can, eat the fresh-picked versions instead of ones that are canned or processed. The more a fruit or vegetable is left alone and unchanged from the farm or orchard, the better it is for you. When you can't get the fresh stuff, frozen vegetables can be good, and canned fruits can last you until your favorites come back into season.
Choose fiber. Fiber is important for good digestion, so it's important to eat plenty of foods that are high in fiber, like fruits and vegetables. Here are some ideas:
- At snack time, grab an apple or pear instead of a cookie. Too boring? Put some peanut butter on your fruit for extra protein!
- Have a salad as the main part of your lunch or dinner, instead of as a small side dish.
- Instead of a milkshake, try a whole-fruit blended smoothie.
Choose low-fat. Too much fat can be bad for your body, so try to avoid foods that are high in fats, especially saturated fats and trans fats. For instance:
- Pick your salad dressing carefully! Salads are great as meals, side dishes, and even snacks, but we can easily make them less healthy by adding thick, high-fat dressings. Instead of gloppy Ranch or creamy Italian, use balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or try a brand of low-fat dressing.
- Skip the fries. They're very high in fat. Instead, have a baked potato, salad, or serving of fruit. Most restaurants will let you substitute something healthier for fries any day.
- Try it baked. Instead of fried chicken with the skin on, try a baked or broiled chicken breast with no skin. It'll have fewer calories and less fat. This is true of other things too, like baked chips instead of deep-fried potato chips. Remember: frying adds extra oils and fats, and these are things we should only be eating in small amounts.
- Choose mustard over mayo. Mustard is tasty and low-fat, while mayonnaise is very high in fat and calories. Pick mustard for your burgers and sandwiches, and use low-fat or fat-free mayo in your tuna fish salad.
- Choose low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk. Chances are, you won't notice a big difference in taste; if you do, you'll eventually get used to it.
- Go easy on the butter and margarine. Do you like to drown your breakfast toast or smother your movie popcorn in lots of yellow stuff? This just adds unneeded and unhealthy fat to what used to be a good food. If you can't live without some butter on your food, experiment with how little of it you really need.
Remember: As we're growing, we do need some fat in our diets, and these can be found in many foods we eat anyway, including meats, milk products, nuts, and even avocadoes. It's the ADDED fats, like butter and oils, that we should only be eating in small amounts.
Watch the sugar and salt. We all like a little added sweetness or spice in our food; it's what helps make it so delicious! But keep these things in mind:
- Sweets are costly. Not in dollars, but rather, in calories. Some people refer to them as "empty calories" because they don't offer our bodies anything nutritious. Just like you might save expensive purchases for special occasions, make ice cream, candy, and chocolate something to have once in a while instead of every day.
- Pssst-there's sugar hiding everywhere! Look at the back of a soda can. Is high fructose corn syrup or sucrose near the top of the list? These are other words for sugar, and if they're listed first or second, it means your soda is bursting with it. Instead of a sweet soda, mix some seltzer water with fruit juice (especially cranberry or grapefruit); it tastes great and is better for your body (and teeth)! Another place to look for hidden sugar is in frozen or pre-packaged foods, like TV dinners and canned pasta meals. Check your freezer and cupboards and count how many sugar-filled foods there are in your home.
- Say "no salt, please." From popcorn to fries, you probably eat a lot of salty foods when you're out of the house. If you ask for no salt, you'll be making whatever you eat a little bit healthier. At the grocery stores, pick out "low sodium" (sodium is another word for salt) crackers, chips, and snacks. At the dinner table, taste your food first instead of automatically pouring the salt shaker over it. Maybe it's delicious already!
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