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Easy Ways to Shop and Eat Healthier

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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.

 

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