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Tips & Tricks

  Flavoring Your Foods

Many people use salt and fat to season their foods. A healthier way to give your foods an added zing is to flavor them with fresh or dried herbs and with spices—from allspice to turmeric. You may find that the final product tastes so good that it doesn’t need any additional fat or salt.

When buying seasoning packets or a blend of herbs and spices, check the ingredient list to make sure that no salt has been added. In a jar of poultry seasoning, for example, there could be more salt than thyme, rosemary, or sage—in which case salt would be listed as the first ingredient.

Not sure which herb or spice to use? The American Heart Association has developed a list of spices and herbs and which foods to use them in.

   Selecting Healthy Fats

Fat is a concentrated source of calories: there are 9 calories in a single gram of fat, compared with 4 calories in a gram of protein or carbohydrate. That doesn’t mean you should completely eliminate fat—an essential nutrient—from your diet, but try to limit yourself to 1 or 2 tablespoons of healthy fats per day.

There are four different types of fats—monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fatty acids. In your diet, include the two healthy fats—monounsaturated (olive, peanut, and canola oils) and polyunsaturated (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed oils). Use small amounts of these oils when cooking, and look for them in the ingredient list when buying high-fat foods like margarine and salad dressings.

Avoid saturated fats, which are found in animal products like butter and lard and in coconut, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. Also avoid trans fats, which are used in some shortenings, margarines, fried foods, and commercially baked foods. A product is trans-fat free if its Nutrition Panel lists “0 g” trans fat and if the ingredient list does not include the words “partially hydrogenated oils.”

The American Heart Association has more information about these different fats.

  Eating Out

Keep the Plate Method in mind when you’re eating out. Most restaurant meals include very large servings of protein and starch items, smaller servings of vegetables, and limited fruit and dairy offerings. With some careful planning and by following some helpful hints, you should be able to apply the Plate Method when eating out. If the restaurant has posted its menu items on the Web, you might even be able to plan your meal selections before leaving home or work.
Choosing from the menu

  • Protein: Start with your protein item, since that’s how most meals are listed on the menu. Choose a protein food that’s been baked, broiled, boiled—anything but fried.
  • Vegetables: Order either cooked or raw vegetables (like a salad) with your meal. Ask that your sauce or salad dressing be served on the side. If the entrée comes with two side dishes, select vegetables for both.
  • Starch: Include one starch with your meal—a small roll, ½ cup of rice or pasta, or ½ cup of starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, peas, or corn).
  • Fruit: Order ½ cup of fresh fruit salad or a small wedge of melon.
  • Dairy: Ask for a small glass (1 cup) of milk (either 1% fat or skim).

Eating your meal

  • Remember that your restaurant plate will be much larger than the 9-inch plate used in the Plate Method. Therefore, use your visual tools (a closed woman’s fist = 1 cup; half of a closed woman’s fist = ½ cup; a deck of cards = 3 ounces of meat, and so forth) to estimate the number of servings on your plate (protein, starch, and vegetables) and in your two sides (fruit and dairy).
  • Protein and starch: Most restaurants serve very large portions of protein and starch items. As a rule of thumb, eat half of the protein and starch foods and put the rest in a take-home container. 
  • Vegetables: Rarely do restaurant vegetable servings exceed Plate Method recommendations. Feel free to fill up!
  • Fruit and dairy: Use your visual tools to estimate how many servings of fruit and dairy you’ve been given, and cut back accordingly.

   Using Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes—also known as artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners—are substances that provide sweetness without calories. The role of sugar substitutes in a healthy diet is to help you decrease your intake of sugar, because sugar adds calories and has minimal nutritional value.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the following sugar substitutes as safe for consumption (note these products’ trade names in parentheses):

  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett®, Sweet One®)  
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®)
  • Neotame and Tagatose (not available on the market)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N’ Low®, SugarTwin®)
  • Stevia (Truvia™ and PureVia™)
  • Sucralose (Splenda®)

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