Consumer Reports: Minor changes in your diet can improve your health

August 1, 2011

Whether you’re looking to trim your waistline, cut your cholesterol levels or just feel better, you’d probably like to eat more healthfully. As tempting as it might be to swear off entire food categories such as carbs or fats, you’ll do better by simply trading less-healthful choices for ones that offer greater nutritional value. Here’s a meal-by-meal guide to some smart trade-offs:

Breakfast

Favor fiber. If you normally eat 11 / 2 to two cups of a high-sugar cereal with 2 percent or whole milk, substitute a serving of whole-grain cereal with at least five grams of fiber and fewer than 10 grams of sugar. Choose skim milk, which is more healthful and has nine essential vitamins, as well as calcium and other minerals.

Turn up the heat. Hot cereals are another good choice. Oatmeal is high in fiber and has a low glycemic index (meaning it doesn’t tend to raise blood sugar acutely).


peach compote dessert (bigstockphoto/BIGSTOCKPHOTO)

Flip those flapjacks. For pancakes or waffles, use whole-grain mixes with three grams of fiber or more per serving. Spread a toasted waffle with nut butter and top it with slices of fruit and ground flaxseed.

Boost your dairy. Low-fat cottage cheese with sliced fruit is already a healthful breakfast, and you’ll get more than three times the calcium by substituting part-skim ricotta cheese.

LUNCH

Start out right. If you’re in a restaurant, order broth-based vegetable soup instead of appetizers such as chicken wings or potato skins. Doing so will help you feel fuller with fewer fat calories.

Craft a savvy sandwich. Pile it high with vegetables, and trade a kaiser roll for a whole-grain wrap with fewer calories and more fiber.

Go fish. In place of high-sodium, high-fat processed meats, mix canned salmon with dill and low-fat sour cream or mayo.

Pick poultry. At the deli, cut fat by ordering turkey bologna or turkey pastrami.

Veg out. Replace meats with hearty vegetables such as grilled eggplant, portobello mushrooms or falafel, made from ground chickpeas.

DINNER

Build a better burger. For cardiovascular health, reduce your intake of beef or fatty pork. Make a more nutritious meatloaf or chili con carne using ground turkey and reduced-sodium canned tomatoes.

Swap in seafood. Serving fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, provides anti-inflammatory nutrients, cuts calories and reduces total fats.

Power up pasta. Make sure the pasta is whole-grain. For sauce, use silken tofu instead of the artery-clogging Alfredo sauce.

SIDE DISHES

Make every bite count. Don’t butter your bread; dip it in olive oil.

Nix iceberg lettuce in your salad. Opt for greens such as spinach, which have antioxidants that might lower the risk of developing macular degeneration.

DESSERTS

Fix a fruit finale. In place of cakes or pies, serve pears poached in honey and vanilla, apple or peach compotes, berry crumbles with oat-nut topping, or fruit sorbets. Saute bananas in butter-flavored spray, then coat with sesame seeds, nuts or a bit of maple syrup.

Make over baked goods. When baking chocolate cakes, brownies, cookies or other treats, use cocoa (which is lower in fat and higher in antioxidants and flavor) rather than baking chocolate. To boost antioxidants and fiber, replace plain white cake with a sweet-potato muffin or zucchini bread.

BEVERAGES

Ease up on sugar. Limit your consumption of sodas and other sugary beverages, because they’re linked to a number of conditions, including metabolic syndrome, heart disease and gout. Replace them with diet beverages or water flavored with sliced lemons or cucumbers.

Sip wisely. Wine, in moderation, can benefit your heart. Men should have no more than two drinks a day; women, no more than one.

Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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