Easy Ways to Shop and Eat Healthier
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Fitness

Easy Ways to Shop and Eat Healthier

From buying the best packaged foods to following the only diet nutritionists still love, here's how to be a slimmer, happier, smarter eater.

Diet Rules That Really Work

Forget the latest diets -- the 2,000-year-old Mediterranean plan is what had food pros raving at their recent annual conference. Why is this eating program suddenly the new thing? Because studies show that it's even more effective than experts had thought, says Kathy McManus, RD, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In fact, when Greek researchers studied the eating habits of more than 20,000 adults for about four years, they found that those who ate a mostly Mediterranean-type diet reduced their risk of death from cancer by 24 percent and heart disease by 33 percent. (The American Heart Association's new Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations are similar to the Mediterranean plan.) And in a brand-new study of more than 3,000 men and women, those who most closely followed this program reduced their risk of obesity, a top risk for heart disease, by more than half.

When McManus conducted her own study of a Mediterranean-style diet, she discovered that those who followed it lost about nine pounds over 18 months, and one year later they had kept most of the weight off. Best of all, they got to eat delicious, filling foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole wheat pasta. Even fat is not forbidden: "We found that when people were allowed more of the 'good' kind, they lost more weight than people who were restricted to a low-fat diet," she explains.

Ready to eat food you'll love and ditch those extra pounds? Follow this sample menu from McManus, which is based on a 1,500-calories-a-day program, and you can expect to drop about five pounds in a month.

Breakfast

  • 1 poached egg
  • 2 whole-grain pancakes
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries (thawed)
  • 2 teaspoons almond butter
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup

Why it works: The egg is a good source of protein, which keeps you feeling full longer. The fiber-rich whole-grain pancakes are topped with heart-healthy almond butter, and the blueberries add powerful antioxidants.

Lunch

  • 1/4 cup three-bean salad
  • 1 cup dark salad greens (such as romaine or spinach)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar, such as balsamic
  • 1/2 cup hummus
  • 1 whole wheat roll
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 cup cantaloupe

Why it works: On this eating plan, 20 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. The healthiest choices are fish and plant-based proteins like the hummus and three-bean salad above. They contain disease-fighting phytochemicals that animal proteins such as beef and chicken don't have.

Afternoon Snack

  • 1 ounce nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, or pistachios

Why it works: "Nuts are one of the best ways to get heart-healthy protein," says McManus. They're full of monounsaturated fats that can help keep your arteries from becoming clogged.

Dinner

  • 4 ounces broiled salmon
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup broccoli and carrots, stir-fried in 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup cucumber salad mixed with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Why it works: Salmon is loaded with good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. And if you love carbs, you're in luck. On a Mediterranean-style diet, 45 percent of your total calories should come from healthy carbs. In this meal, the couscous is fiber-rich and contains plant-based protein. Other smart options: a baked sweet potato or brown rice.

This plan also lets you fatten up your vegetables with olive oil. That means they'll taste better, so you'll eat more of them. Studies show that veggies help your body beat disease and keep your brain from aging. The Mediterranean-style diet calls for about eight fruits and vegetables a day, which isn't as intimidating as it sounds. One serving is just one half cup, which means that you're getting three servings of produce in this meal alone.

Evening Snack

1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup frozen strawberries (thawed)

Why it works: "Low-fat and nonfat dairy, like yogurt, is a great way to get calcium, which your body needs for strong bones," says McManus. The strawberries also help boost your immune system.

 

The Best New Packaged Foods

Short of getting a food-science degree, how can you tell which foods live up to their health promises and which don't? We asked Jayne Hurley, RD, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., who evaluates and samples 400 to 500 packaged foods each month, for advice. Here, the claims you'll be seeing on food labels in your grocery store this year -- and the truth behind them.

"Made With Whole Grains!"

What it really means: A food has to have just 8 grams of whole grains per serving to make this claim. "That's less than one gram of fiber," says Hurley. "Unless the label says 100 percent whole wheat, you really can't trust it."

What to do: Make sure whole wheat flour is the only flour on the list of ingredients. (Unbleached wheat flour is actually white flour.) Smart, healthy picks include:

Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice It comes in its own microwavable pouch. Nuke it for 90 seconds, and you've got a whole-grain carb to go with dinner.

Kellogg's All-Bran Breakfast Bars They're high in fiber and low in calories -- not an easy combo to find in the slew of bars out there.

Kashi TLC Chewy Cookies When you're craving a cookie, you can't beat the one called Oatmeal Dark Chocolate, which has 130 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine Classics "These frozen entrees are made with brown rice and whole wheat pastas such as orzo, which I think gives them an edge over most everything else in the frozen entree aisle," says Hurley. Choose from such tempting meals as salmon with lemon dill sauce (4 grams of fiber) and chicken in peanut sauce (3 grams of fiber).

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic Whole Wheat Pasta "Some whole wheat pastas can have a gritty taste, but not this brand," says Hurley. "It's delicious."

"50 Percent Less Fat Than Regular Potato Chips"

What it really means: Lay's potato chips can now claim to have 66 percent less saturated fat since the company switched from cooking its potatoes in cottonseed oil to heart-healthy sunflower oil last year. The amount of saturated fat in the chips has dropped from 3 grams per serving to 1 gram. "Potato chips have never been that high in saturated fat," explains Hurley. But they can be high in calories.

What to do: If you need a chip fix, Hurley suggests the reduced-fat types, because they taste almost as good the regular ones for about one-third less fat. One ounce of Lay's Classic Potato Chips (15 chips) has 150 calories and 10 grams of fat, while 1 ounce of Ruffles Reduced Fat chips (about 13) has 140 calories and 7 grams of fat. Or you can eat baked chips, which have about 110 to 120 calories and about 2 to 3 grams of fat per serving. Just stick to the snack-size bags so you don't binge.

"50 Percent Light Cheese"

What it really means: Almost all cheese now comes in a slimmer version. But when more than half the fat and calories are removed, the flavor can really suffer.

What to do: Buy the reduced-fat brand that nutritionists uniformly adore: Cabot, from a small cheese company in Vermont. "Their 50 percent light cheese really nails it when it comes to taste," says Hurley. Cabot even sells bags of 53-calorie mini light cheese bars, which make great portable snacks. Our spy saw foodies toting them at the nutrition conference. Your other option: Use less full-fat cheese. "This is easier to do with sharp cheeses, such as Parmesan or feta," says Hurley. "They both have such a strong taste that you can feel satisfied using less."

"Helps Strengthen Your Body's Immunity"

What it really means: Almost all yogurt contains live active cultures, and many contain good bacteria known as probiotics, which can promote a healthy digestive tract. But now, new options like yogurt drinks and cottage cheese made with supposedly even more powerful probiotics are hitting the dairy aisle. The most recent entry: Dannon DanActive, a drink that claims to help boost the body's immune system, thanks to a specific strain of bacteria called L. casei Immunitas. "When study participants drank DanActive, their immune systems were stronger than those who didn't," says Miguel Freitas, PhD, scientific affairs manager at Dannon. Experts caution shoppers to check the sugar content of a product.

What to do: Read the nutrition-facts label, says Hurley. "A 6-ounce serving should have at least 20 percent of your day's calcium and contain no more than 1.5 grams of saturated fat." To keep calories at 100 or below, choose a nonfat plain yogurt or a light one with an artificial sweetener like sucralose, such as Dannon Light & Fit yogurt.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2007.

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