5 Ways to Make Unhealthy Food Healthy
You don't need to avoid all unhealthy foods to stay healthy. The best way to maintain nutritional wellness, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is to eat a variety of nutritious foods and allow for some wiggle room, which staves off deprivation. You can increase the healthiness of foods low in vitamins, minerals and fiber or high in sugar and unhealthy fats. For best results, seek guidance from a registered dietitian before making significant dietary changes.
Bake Meats and Remove Poultry Skin
Red meat, dark-meat poultry and poultry skin contain saturated fat and cholesterol, which contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risks. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends removing poultry skin, preferably before cooking. To avoid additional unhealthy fat and excess calories derived from fried foods, bake meats and poultry. Trimming visible fat before or after cooking can also help lower meats' fat content. Choose lean cuts of meat, such as extra-lean beef and chicken breasts, for added benefits.
Add Fruits and Vegetables
Most Americans consume too few fruits and vegetables, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and too many refined carbohydrate sources, such as enriched pasta, sugary cereals and candy. Fruits and vegetables provide simples ways of adding flavor and nutritional value to dishes otherwise lacking in nutrients. Add fresh or frozen spinach, peas and fresh or canned tomatoes to pasta dishes, for example, then consume a reasonable-sized portion. In doing so, you will consume fewer calories from pasta and more nutrients from fruits and vegetables. You can also add berries, raisins or banana slices to low-fiber cereals. For an even healthier option, choose a high-fiber, whole grain cereal instead of low-fiber varieties, such as puffed rice and corn flakes. You can also incorporate fresh or frozen fruit into desserts, such as ice cream and shakes.
Replace Salt with Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices, such as garlic, oregano and cinnamon, contain virtually no calories or sodium. To lower your salt intake, which is important for lowering your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, MayoClinic.com recommends seasoning dishes with low-sodium salt alternatives. Top low-fat or air-popped popcorn and baked potatoes with Italian seasoning, garlic or cilantro. Flavoring baked meats with herbs and spices decreases the foods' sodium, cholesterol and saturated-fat content associated with butter and high-fat sauces.
Incorporate Whole Grains
Unlike white flour and other refined grains, whole grains are not stripped of valuable nutrient content during food processing. The DGA recommends aiming for at least three 1-ounce servings of whole grains daily for overall health. Whole grains promote healthy weight control by increasing fullness after meals. They also promote digestive health. Serving a lean hamburger on 100-percent whole-grain bread is a healthier option than serving the same burger on a white bun. You can also swap out white rice with brown, low-fiber cereals with steel-cut oats and potato chips with air-popped popcorn for improved nutrient intake. When purchasing breads, pasta and other grain-based foods, choose items that list whole grains as the primary, or top-listed, ingredient.
Eat Less Meat and More Plants
Americans tend to go well beyond their daily protein needs while skimping on nutritious plant foods, such as legumes. The AHA recommends eating less animal protein at your meals and opting for more frequent or larger portions of vegetarian protein for improved cholesterol levels and overall heart-health. Legumes, including beans, lentils and split peas, contain rich amounts of protein and more fiber than other foods. To cut back on animal protein and boost your nutrient intake, prepare chili vegetables, beans and lean ground turkey rather than hefty amounts of ground beef and fewer beans. And rather than serving yourself a 6-ounce steak, cut the portion back to 2 or 3 ounces, then fill the rest of your plate with vegetables and a legume-based dish, such as three-bean salad or lentil soup.
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