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What would the holidays be without a little overindulgence? Let’s face it, food takes centre stage during times of celebration. Holiday weight gain can take up to five months to lose, and most people just carry it over into the next season. Over time, this leads to adult onset weight gain and the decline in metabolic rate as we get older doesn’t help. Slow and steady wins the race – successful weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.
There is mounting evidence to suggest that it is sugar, more than dietary fat, that is the most likely culprit for packing on the pounds. Dietary fat, when eaten on its own, doesn’t trigger weight gain. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar. The problem with low-fat diets is that fat is often replaced by sugar, which makes the “low-fat” offerings in the food aisle unkind to the waistline.
Changing dietary habits for most people can be quite challenging. We, after all, are creatures of habit. It is much easier to make small changes than it is to make drastic changes. Every food choice does make a difference, especially when it is repeated. Food is so much more than just nourishment and achieving a good balance is the key. Following these easy food swaps will not only help to trim those extra inches, but also improve your health.
1. Eat at home. Cooking at home is good for you. Food prepared at home is more nutritious and has fewer calories, fewer sugars, fewer carbohydrates and less fat. It also has been shown to contain more fibre, calcium and iron. A typical restaurant salad main course will average 1000 calories! Be kind to your waistline and your wallet by eating in and packing your homemade lunch.
2. When it comes to coffee, keep it simple. Drink coffee instead of the hyped-up coffee-like drinks (or should I say desserts? which can stack up to 900 calories) you find at the specialty coffee shops. Black coffee has no calories, so even with a tablespoon of heavy cream and sugar, you will save yourself up to 800 calories.
3. Be fruit-wise. Have a whole piece of fruit, instead of dried fruit, fruit juice or a fruit smoothie. For example, you can choose between eight dried apricots or four whole peaches for 100 calories. Juice (with no sugar added) concentrates the sugars at the expense of fibre – it takes two to four oranges to make one cup of juice. Fruit smoothies are even worse, usually have 300 to 400 calories and average around 70 g of sugar.
4. Drink smart. When it comes to alcohol, it is better to drink hard liquor (rye, gin or vodka – all of which have zero sugar) with a low calorie/sugar mixer or a 5 oz glass of wine (which range from 0.9g to 1.5g of sugar, depending on the variety, not including dessert wines) over sugary cocktails (which can range from 1-68 g of sugar per drink and up to 600 calories) or beer (while low in sugar, contains 12 g of carbohydrates up to 600 calories, depending on the kind).
5. Go a little nutty. Choose nuts over croutons (processed carbs) on your salad for that satisfying crunch as well as appetite-curbing essential fatty acids. Instead of snacking on a granola bar, reach for a handful of nuts. While the calorie count is the same, the latter has no sugar, added protein and fibre as well as a variety of health benefits including weight loss and increased longevity.
6. Choose the best chocolate. Dark chocolate is truly a superfood. One of the best sources of dietary antioxidants, it is loaded with nutrients that have numerous health benefits such as improved heart heath, better cognition and cancer prevention. Dark chocolate contains fibre as well as a number of minerals necessary for good health and its reduced sugar content makes it much harder to overindulge than its milk chocolate counterpart. The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits – aim to eat chocolate that is at least 85% cocoa.
7. Be condiment-conscious. Make your own homemade vinaigrette with lemon juice or vinegar and oil and heart healthy olive or avocado oil and use a mister to spray your salad, or alternatively dip your fork in the dressing (on the side) before piercing your salad vegetables. Readymade dressings are not only high in calories, but often contain questionable ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Other swaps in the condiment category include choosing mustard or flavored hummus over mayo in sandwiches and low fat plain yogurt over sour cream for dips. When eating pasta or soups, always choose ones with a tomato base over ones made with cream.
8. Switch starchy grains for vegetables instead. Grated cauliflower is a great substitute for rice, and mashed cauliflower (or other lower carb veggies like rutabaga and turnips) makes a great stand in for mashed potatoes. You can also use either to thicken soups without the cream. Spiralize zucchini or carrots for colorful noodles for your pastas and stirfries.
9. Always buy unsweetened whenever possible. Whether it is almond/cashew milk or yogurt, forego the presweetened varieties and instead buy the unsweetened version. Sweeten to your taste with stevia (I prefer the stevia glycerite which even comes in flavors), xylitol or low sugar fruits (like berries).
10. Snack smart. You can choose between nine potato chips (do you know of anyone who can eat just nine?), three cups of air popped (not microwave) organic popcorn, ½ cup of roasted chickpeas or two cups of cut up veggies like cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers. All of these are about 100 calories as snack options, and the last three contain fibre which helps keep you satisfied.