I’m interested in eating more healthfully and hopefully losing a few pounds, but I don’t want to track everything I eat or count calories. Do you have any general tips that could help?
Many people do find that keeping a food log helps them lose weight, but if you’re not interested in doing that right now, yes, of course you can take other steps. Here are some tips:
- The Harvard Medical School suggests cutting back on carbohydrates, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks and from refined-carbohydrate foods, including many types of bread, cereal, pasta, snack foods, and French fries and other types of fried potatoes. Instead, choose water or unsweetened beverages, and whole-grain foods that offer fiber and other nutrients. Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
- Pay special attention to portion sizes, even if you’re eating something you consider to be good for you. A study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people tend to eat more of a food if it’s labeled as “healthy,” even if it has the same number of calories as similar options.
- Similarly, don’t assume cutting fat is always healthier. Some low- or no-fat food products replace the fat with added refined-carbohydrate ingredients — not necessarily a benefit. And, research has shown a little fat, such as that in dressings or avocados, helps the body absorb nutrients in leafy greens. Instead, focus on limiting saturated fat and eliminating trans fat, opting instead for unsaturated fats.
- Eat a wide variety of produce, whole grains, and beans and other legumes to get a broad range of nutrients. In particular, choose fruits and vegetables of many colors, especially green, red, yellow, orange and dark purple. The pigments in colorful produce contain vitamins and phytochemicals that are linked with a lower risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
- Incorporate more fish and small amounts of nuts into your diet. They are good sources of protein and healthy fats, and Americans tend to not get enough of them.
- Never shop for groceries on an empty stomach. A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, provided compelling evidence supporting what you probably already know: People tend to choose more high-calorie foods if they shop when they’re hungry. Eat first and you’ll be healthier for it.
What has been the effect from the ban on trans fats in New York City restaurants?
Restrictions on the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils at restaurants in New York City appear to have slashed the amount of trans fat that their patrons consume.
First, some background: Both saturated fat and trans fat increase blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, so health officials have long looked for ways to reduce such fats in the diet.
Trans fat has a far more negative effect than saturated fat. It’s estimated that an increase of just 2 percent of total calorie intake from trans fat — the equivalent of 40 calories in a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, or 4.5 grams of trans fat — increases the risk of heart disease by as much as 23 percent.
Some of the trans fat we consume comes from milk, meat and other natural sources, but most of it is from partially hydrogenated oils — widely used because they improve the texture, shelf-life and flavor stability of processed foods.
When the Food and Drug Administration mandated in 2006 that trans fat amounts be listed on Nutrition Facts labels, many products were reformulated to reduce or eliminate trans fat. But meals from restaurants and other food-service establishments make up about one-third of the American diet. That’s why New York City and some other localities decided to put restrictions in place.
A study of lunches purchased at New York fast-food restaurants before and after the ban took effect found trans fat consumption decreased considerably, from almost 3 grams per meal to about a half-gram.
Interestingly, other research has found that Americans’ blood cholesterol levels have dropped from an average of 206 in 1988-94 to 196 in 2007-2010, and levels of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol have dropped from 129 to 116. While no one can be certain what is causing the decline, researchers believe the decreased consumption of trans fat certainly has played a role.
To reduce trans fat in your diet:
- Read labels. Foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving will say “0” trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels. Also look at ingredient listings. Foods with “partially hydrogenated” oils contain at least some trans fat.
- When eating out or buying foods at bakeries or other places that might not provide a label, inquire about use of partially hydrogenated oils. And, before going to a chain restaurant, visithttp://www.calorieking.com or a similar website to look up nutrition information on menu items.
- Even better: Set a weekly goal to eat out less, and prepare food at home with healthy ingredients.