Better Broth & Noodles
Stock up on: Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Toss: High-sodium broth
Cooking side dishes with broth is a great way to amp up the flavor without adding a lot of fat or calories. But one cup of the regular stuff contains up to 40 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake. Choose broths that are lower in sodium — 450 milligrams per serving or less — and use them in mashed potatoes instead of butter or half-and-half; you'll save about 230 calories and 24 grams of fat per batch, says Jessica Fishman Levinson, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. Or swap butter or olive oil for broth in rice recipes and cut up to 36 calories and 5 to 6 grams of fat per serving. Broth also adds zing to steamed veggies. Just sub it for water and cook as usual.
Stock up on: Buckwheat noodles
Toss: Refined pasta
Trading up from white pasta to whole wheat is good, but choosing soba, made with buckwheat, is even better. These noodles are high in fiber (3 grams per 2 ounces), and they're an excellent source of plant protein (about 8 grams per cup cooked). "Buckwheat noodles are so filling and satisfying, you're less likely to eat oversize portions," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The F-Factor Diet. They're also loaded with magnesium; choline, a mineral that helps keep your brain healthy; and antioxidants, including rutin, which may lower blood pressure.
Stock up on: Hearty whole grains
Toss: White rice
During processing, white rice is stripped of up to 90 percent of its B vitamins, 60 percent of its iron, and most of its fiber and essential fatty acids, Zuckerbrot says. Eating whole grains will provide you with as much as 8 grams of fiber per serving and can reduce your risk for heart disease by roughly 20 percent. Bust out of the brown rice rut with bulgur, wheat berries, and farro. Cook these grains as you would rice (simmer, covered, over low heat) and add them to soups, salads, and stir-fries.
Store It Right
Make a clean sweep. Wipe or rinse cans, jars, and bottles to reduce the chance of harmful bacteria sneaking into your food. (Only about one-third of us do so, according to Joan Salge Blake, RD, professor of nutrition at Boston University.) If a can has dents, cracks, or a bulging lid, throw it out.
Bread Crumbs & Salsa
Stock up on: Panko bread crumbs
Toss: Regular bread crumbs
Not only do they contain half the calories of the Italian kind — 110 versus 220 per half cup — but "because panko bread crumbs are lighter and coarser, they tend to absorb less oil and fat," Levinson says. They also stay crisper after cooking, making them perfect for breaded chicken, meat, and fish dishes. Plus, panko has about one-tenth the sodium of many regular bread crumbs.
Stock up on: Salsa verde
Toss: Ranch- and onion-dip mixes
Each half-cup portion of this salsa contains just 60 calories and counts as a serving of vegetables. It's made with green tomatillos, a great plant source of the B vitamin niacin, which helps keep your cholesterol low.
Healthier Chocolate, Artichoke Hearts
Stock up on: Cocoa powder
Toss: Chocolate chips
Sweet treats don't have to be off-limits, even if you're on a diet. Instead of high-calorie, high-fat chocolate chips (a half cup has 560 calories and 32 grams of fat), add 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to cookie, cake, or muffin batter before baking. Voila, the chocolaty flavor you crave for just 37 calories and 2 grams of fat.
Stock up on: Artichoke hearts
Toss: Green olives
Eat just four olives and you've consumed about 2 grams of fat. Artichoke hearts give you a hint of the same salty flavor with zero fat. Ounce for ounce, they contain more antioxidants than any other vegetable (and about 50 percent more than blueberries). They can taste briny straight from the can, so rinse first. Put them in salads and stews and on pizzas, says Jody Adams, chef and owner of Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Or add artichokes to a fresh tomato sauce and serve over pasta.
Beans & Tuna
Stock up on: Dried beans
Toss: Canned beans
Canned beans are convenient, but they can cost twice as much per pound as the dried kind and have 50 times the sodium. Soak dried beans in water overnight, drain them in the a.m., and freeze what you don't use. They'll last up to six months, and no defrosting is required, says Leanne Ely, author of the Saving Dinner cookbook series. A 1-pound bag of beans yields 5 to 6 cups cooked.
Stock up on: Chunk light tuna packets
Toss: Canned albacore tuna
The chunk light variety has all the nutrients and protein that fancier white-meat tuna does but about one-third the amount of mercury. Don't like the darker meat? Opt for brands of albacore that use troll- or pole-and-line-caught fish, like Wild Planet, suggests Elizabeth Brown, RD, a nutritionist in Houston. These fish are much younger and smaller, which means they've had less time to accumulate the harmful heavy metal.
Flour & Oils
Stock up on: Whole wheat flour
Toss: Half the 5-pound bag of white flour
An easy way to get more fiber in your diet is to substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the white flour in recipes. "Each quarter cup will add an additional 3 grams of fiber to the dish, but you won't taste the difference," Zuckerbrot says. And since it makes cookies, cakes, and breads denser, you will feel fuller and be less likely to reach for seconds.
Store It Right
Freeze your flour. Whole-grain flour has a shorter shelf life than refined versions because the essential fatty acids it contains cause it to spoil faster, says Brown. To keep it for up to six months, store whole-grain flour in the freezer. You don't have to thaw it before using; the fatty acids prevent the flour from hardening.
Stock up on: Canola and olive oils
Toss: Vegetable oil
Canola oil is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. "It has a mild flavor and a high smoking point, so it's ideal for sauteing and stir-frying," says Natalia Hancock, a culinary nutritionist for Rouge Tomate restaurant in New York City. When making salad dressing, cold dips, or spreads, reach for olive oil. It's an excellent source of oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat, which research shows suppresses hunger.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2010.