Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keeping Summer Foods Light

A few weeks ago we talked about how summer fun can lead to overindulgence (ice cream anyone?), and how important it is to take advantage of the nice weather by staying active.  This week, I want to talk about those overindulgences a little more, and see if we can’t make them a little less...indulgent.

I absolutely adore summer.  I look forward to picnics in the park and backyard BBQs almost as much as I look forward to Christmas. From the beginning of my weight loss journey I knew that no diet plan was going to keep me from enjoying a good meal, in the sunshine, among friends.  Since this was a tradition I was not going to give up, I had to figure out ways to make common summer cook-out foods a little more diet friendly.

Here are some of the ideas I have come up with for healthy summer swap-outs:

Instead of beef burgers on the grill...
try: salmon, mahi mahi, or portabella burgers

Instead of BBQ ribs on the grill...
try: grilled tri-tip roast, lemon-pepper chicken breasts or salmon

Instead of potato salad (~400 calories/cup in Reser’s*)...
try: tabbouleh, light broccoli salad, lentil/bean salad, grilled squash or couscous

Instead of coleslaw (~200 calories/cup in Publix*)...
try: asian slaw, cucumber salad, fruit salad or grilled vegetable salad

Instead of baked beans (~240 calories/cup in Bush’s Best*)...
try: bean salad or gazpacho

Instead of adding mayo or sour cream...
try nonfat yogurt

Instead of a hard lemonade (~220 calories/bottle in Mike’s*)...
try a wine spritzer (wine w/sparkling water)

Instead of lemonade (~120 calories/cup in Simply Lemonade*)...
try: unsweetened iced-tea or sparkling water with lemon juice

Instead of a Dairy Queen Blizzard (up to 1,500 calories*)...
try: a fudge bar, Dilly bar, small strawberry sundae or vanilla orange bar

During the coming months I will be posting some recipes I have developed for healthy summer foods.  I hope they will provide you with some new ideas for healthy dishes to bring to your family picnics.  Stay tuned!

*Calories info was obtained from

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Making Healthy Decisions (for Breakfast)

Everyday we face hundreds of decisions that affect our weight. We ask ourselves, should I: have another slice of pizza, take the stairs or the elevator, order take-out, ride my bike or drive, buy skim or 2% milk?  A lot of the time when we make decisions like these, we are not conscious of the fact that we are making decisions that affect our health.  We simply buy the 2% milk because that is what we always buy, or take the elevator because that is what everyone else is doing.  We don’t think about the fact that skim milk has 40 less calories/cup, and that if we poured 1 cup of skim milk vs. 2% milk in our cereal everyday we would save ourselves 14,600 calories (~4 lbs) a year.

On my weight loss journey I learned to become more conscious of the decisions I was making throughout the day.  I started by taking a look at what I was choosing to eat for breakfast. Since companies do such a great job making all breakfast items look like health food, I was truly amazed what I discovered when I took a magnifying glass to my breakfast plate.

In college I ate Lucky Charms with 2% milk every morning for breakfast.  Since there is virtually no protein in this cereal, I ate large portions to try to hold me over until lunch.  I was starting each day with 350-400 calories that were virtually ”empty”, and because of this, I was usually hungry just a few hours after breakfast.  Eventually I switched over to Kashi GoLean Crunch because it appears to be so healthy (it even says “lean” in the title).  Upon further examination, I found that the GoLean Crunch actually had 50 more calories per serving and 2 grams more sugar than my Lucky Charms.  I guess at least I was getting some protein and fiber out of my Go”Lean”.

At this point I really got serious.  I wasn’t going to fall for any more advertising traps.  What I wanted to find was something that had a lot of lean protein to keep my hunger in check, but didn’t contain a lot of calories or added sugars.  That is when I discovered nonfat plain yogurt.  Nonfat plain yogurt has 120 calories and 12 grams of protein per cup.  I found that the lean protein in yogurt filled me up a lot longer than the typical high-carb breakfast.  I started out eating just one cup of plain yogurt every morning, but now I eat a half cup of yogurt with a small serving of high fiber cereal (I like Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal, which is similar to All Bran).  The high fiber cereal helps to curb my cravings for carbs, and the fiber helps keep me full until lunch.

I love weekend brunch, and although I don’t go regularly, I knew that I couldn’t give it up altogether.  My celebration brunch is blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, bacon, some breakfast potatoes and a cup of orange juice.  Unfortunately, I discovered that the sides on that meal alone amount to about 800 calories (including the maple syrup and the pat of butter on top of the pancakes).  That isn’t even counting the main dish!  The other downside of this meal is that it makes me really full, so my activity level tends to be low the rest of the day.  

Now that I am more breakfast conscious, I no longer order the sides. Instead, I go right for my favorite part, the blueberry pancakes.  I also remove the pat of butter from the cakes and use only half of the provided syrup portion (these two things alone save me at least 200 calories).  I still enjoy my breakfast, and my husband doesn’t have to roll me home afterwards :).

I used breakfast choices as an example, but you can apply the same concept to any aspect of your life.  All it takes is a little bit of honest reflection on your current habits, and some research into healthier alternatives
.  Weight loss involves understanding and accepting the differences between what we are doing, and what we should be doing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Weight Loss Pantry Staples

The topic for this blog entry was inspired by a comment that a reader left on my post “Unhealthy Health Foods”.  The commenter spoke about how she had dwindled her grocery list down to about 10 items that she trusted, and was slowly adding back in well-thought-out items.  I loved this comment because it made me think about my own weekend dance at the grocery store, and how it has evolved over the course of my weight loss.

Looking back, I can now smile at some of the awkward grocery phases that I went through on my weight loss journey.  One that I remember vividly was when I would only eat canned soup for lunch. This lasted for months.  I would walk around the store with my shopping basket filled to the brim with soup.  Come to find out that I was carting around enough sodium to kill a small animal. This is a learning process, and it takes a long time to educate ourselves (and our palates) as to what is going to make us healthy.  We will make mistakes (thinking about that canned soup again), but we will learn from them.

In general, I tend to stick to the outer edges of the grocery store where the fruit, vegetables, meat, bulk bins and dairy are kept (I just have to watch out for the bakery, which is so thoughtfully placed right next to everything that I need).  I add variety to my diet by trying different vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Although my grocery list is ever evolving, there are a few items that have become standard in my kitchen.  I find that these are the items that really help me to maintain my weight loss.  Perhaps you may find them useful as well!

Nonfat Plain Yogurt-  This is my absolute, number one standard. I have eaten it for breakfast pretty much every day since I began this journey.  I have found that it is a great source for lean protein, and the perfect way to start my day.  I also use it as a topping in place of high fat items like sour cream.

Cooking Spray-  I use this in place of butter and bottled oils when I am cooking.  It really works to prevent sticking, and works especially well when making oven roasted vegetables.  

Well-Stocked Spice Rack-  Low calorie cooking has a reputation for being bland, and therefore unsatisfying.  I fix this problem by adding a lot of herbs and spices to my cooking.  

Hot Sauce- Just in case the herbs and spices aren’t enough, I always have a bottle of hot sauce handy to give a dish an extra kick.

Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar- A balsamic vinegar that has been aged becomes syrupy and sweet.  Its flavor becomes very concentrated during the aging process, so only a little bit is needed to add intense flavor to low calorie dishes.  At only 20 calories a tablespoon, it makes a great substitute for salad dressing (you will only need about 1-2 tbsp for an entire family size salad).  I like Napa Valley Naturals Grand Reserve.  You can get it at Whole Foods on sale for about $7.50.  It sounds pricey, but the bottle will last you forever.  It is also a great low calorie topping for chicken, vegetables, etc...

Popcorn Kernels- Air-popped popcorn is my go to snack when I am having cravings for carbs, or just need to munch.  It is high in fiber, which makes you feel full, but very low in calories.

Baby carrots-  Carrots are another one of my favorite low calorie, healthy snacks.  I find the crunch, and the natural sugars, to be very satisfying.  I prefer the baby kind because they are super convenient.  If something healthy is easy, I am more likely to grab that than a few mini Snickers bars.  I always have a bag of these little guys in the fridge, ready for snacking.

Peppermint tea-  When I first started watching my weight, I drank a lot of Diet Coke.  I drank it because I thought it fixed my sugar cravings, and stopped me from nibbling on sweets.  After my dentist told me that the acidity was ruining my teeth, and I read more about the questionable effects of artificial sweeteners, I stopped drinking it.  I started drinking more peppermint tea (hot and iced), and found that the refreshing flavor calmed my cravings and caused me to drink more water.  As an added bonus, the peppermint oil released in the tea helps to reduce stomach bloating, where Diet Coke actually increases stomach bloating.

What are the go-to items on your grocery list?  I love your comments, and look forward to hearing your ideas/suggestions!