Saturday, May 30, 2009

Healthier Eating Goes a Long Way

When I tell people I'm a vegetarian, they assume I eat tree bark and drink nettle tea. (Which I do, but that's a different story.)

I jest. However, people automatically assume I am a super healthy eater and that many of the choices I make would be too difficult to incorporate into their lives. What they don't realize is that a few easy steps can make their diets much healthier.

First of all, stop drinking as much soda as you do. Go ahead, count the number of times you drink soda in a week. Kind of shocking, isn't it? Chances are, you drink an average of one can of soda a day. Even if it's not that much, even one soda a week is loads of empty calories, lots of high fructose corn syrup and oodles of bubbles — at about 12 calories an ounce. A bottle is 20 ounces — so do the math.

Don't try to get out of it by using the "diet" argument because there are lots of chemicals in a diet drink that provide no nutritional value.

By the way, I'm not casting stones. I sometimes consume a can or two a week. However, I stop there — and so can you. Give yourself alternatives. I'd suggest you drink water, but I myself find that a huge snoozefest unless I'm parched and hot. I prefer cold or hot tea with lemon or honey (which David makes for me by the quart). When I dine out, I always ask for unsweetened tea with lemon.

Look for soda alternatives that suit you. Read the labels of whatever you drink and see if that "protein water" is worth the calories. Chances are, it's not. (Oh, and skip the Starbucks. It's too expensive, and it isn't very tasty, anyway. And my stars, the calories!)

Okay, so now you're drinking healthy. What comes next? Try going meatless. It's not that hard. Nearly every restaurant has a whole bunch of options: stir-fried vegetables with rice, pad thai, bean burrito, eggplant parmagiana, mu shu vegetables, cheese enchiladas, veggie pizza.

Unfortunately, many vegetarian options come smothered in cheese — but don't let them do it. Ask for half-cheese or (gasp!) no cheese at all. You would be amazed how good a grilled vegetable sandwich is when it's not buried in heavy, greasy cheese. Or even a "primavera" pizza with only a sprinkling of cheese. Or a white pizza.

You don't have to go meatless for every meal, or even for forever. Try it for a finite period of time, then evaluate it. Decide how you feel and whether it fits your lifestyle. Chances are, you'll be really surprised at how easy and good it is.

Reduce the amount of processed food you eat. Instead of eating pasta sauce from the jar, make your own with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and basil. Or saute garlic and spices in olive oil and stir it into your pasta. If you have a bread maker, use it — and compare your ingredients with those of your favorite store-bought bread (and be prepared to gasp).

Snack light. Have a handful of nuts instead of that candy bar — the fewer the total ingredients, the better the snack. An apple is portable, easy and tasty (and you can throw the core in the hedge for the critters when you're done.) Add a little low-fat cheese. (Let David talk to you about the benefits of low-fat dairy.) Or make it interesting with some homemade trail mix (light on the salt and sugar, and don't shy away from dried fruit).

Now, if you need the chocolate, have a kiss. Or a nugget. Take a single bite-sized candy bar, peanut butter cup, raspberry stick, licorice stick. What you seek is the taste and texture. Americans seem to think the more, the better — and it's not the case, especially with snacks. Simple, light — and good for you.

Finally, spend a week examining your diet: keep a food diary. Whatever passes your lips, solid and liquid, gets listed. Don't cheat. You'll be amazed how many M&Ms you carelessly pop in your mouth in a week.

Make it simple, make it tasty, make it easy — and make healthier eating work for you.
- Chris

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