Simple tricks to curb cravings, save time, and make a permanent healthy change
Excuse: "Vegetables Taste So 'Blah' When I Make Them"
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Solution: The major mistakes people make when preparing vegetables are overcooking and underseasoning. Whether you steam, sauté, or grill, cut back a little on your usual cooking time (veggies should still have some crispness when you remove them from the heat). Then toss them in what chefs call a finishing sauce and season.
For a quick sauce, try this vinaigrette: Whisk equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a half teaspoon each of minced garlic and mustard. Top with a sprinkle of toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, or fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil, or chives.
RELATED: You won't believe how good these five quick and easy vegetable recipes taste!
Excuse: "I Have No Time to Cook"
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Solution: Pick up a healthy main course (think rotisserie chicken or grilled salmon) and add quick sides such as five-minute whole-wheat couscous and frozen vegetables at home. Steer clear of ready-made casseroles, pasta dishes, and mayo-based salads, which tend to pack in hidden calories.
Want a lighter meal? Try a whole-grain roll and a broth-based soup from the deli counter (it's lower in sodium than canned soup because it doesn't need salt as a preservative), then toss in extra veggies or canned beans at home. On days dieters eat out, they consume 226 more calories and 10 extra grams of fat, according to a 2011 study published in Obesity.
Excuse: "I Keep Candy and Chips Around for My Kids and Can't Help Eating Them"
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Solution: Your kids should be eating the same healthy foods you are, and it's less tempting for everyone if you don't make junk food readily available. Incorporate slow, subtle changes such as choosing graham crackers over cookies, baked chips over regular, or chocolate milk over soda, or occasionally go out for real treats together such as a shared piece of cake at a restaurant or a bag of M&M's at the movies. Portion-controlled goodies like 100-calorie packs of cookies or fun-size candy bars may work too—but only if you can stop at one.
Excuse: "I Love Salty Foods"
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Solution: Don't stress about the sprinkle of salt you put on your baked potato or on a bowl of air-popped popcorn. Just try to avoid the mountain of salt hidden in processed and restaurant food: It makes up nearly 80 percent of the 3,000-plus milligrams (mg) of sodium the average woman eats every day; the maximum healthy limit is 2,300 mg daily. Excess sodium can raise your risk of heartburn, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Two tablespoons of salad dressing, for example, may have as much sodium (up to 505 mg) as 3 ounces of potato chips. When you're shopping for packaged foods, compare labels to find the brand lowest in sodium.
Excuse: "Every Time I Buy Fresh Produce, It Goes Bad Too Quickly"
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Solution: In general, fresh fruit and vegetables only keep about seven days, so first make sure you're buying the right amount. Then store them correctly: Keep produce on the second or third shelf in your fridge in the thin plastic bags you find in the produce section. These are designed to release the moisture and gases that fruit and vegetables naturally emit and that accelerate decay. Since the type of gas fruit releases can spoil veggies, store them away from each other. If something does start to turn, remove it pronto or fungal spores will spread to the rest of the produce. And remember that some produce, such as mangoes, tomatoes, and bananas, last longer unrefrigerated.
Excuse: "I Can't Survive Without Something Sweet"
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Solution: Have an ounce of dark chocolate, which has just 150 calories, instead of your typical treat. An added benefit: Several studies have found that the flavonoids in dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and improve circulation, two factors that may protect against heart disease. Dark chocolate also offers about twice as many antioxidants as milk varieties and just an ounce boasts more of these disease-fighting compounds than one and a half cups of blueberries (one of the most antioxidant-rich foods), according to a USDA analysis. Look for a bar made with at least 60 percent cacao—the higher the percentage, the less added sugar it contains.
Excuse: "I'm a Total Carb Junkie"
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Solution: As the brain's main source of fuel, carbohydrates are a must. But the refined carbs you're probably having (like bread and sweets) aren't very satisfying, so they're easy to overeat. Plus they trigger a release of insulin that can quickly drop blood sugar and make you feel hungry and tired.
What to do? Add protein to each meal and snack. Because it's digested slowly, protein will keep you fuller longer than refined carbs, which should help you eat less overall. Good protein sources: lean beef, poultry, cottage cheese, eggs, soy nuts, beans, and canned salmon or light tuna.
Excuse: "I Know It's Good for Me, But I Don't Like Fish"
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Solution: Not all kinds of seafood have a strong flavor or smell. With just 150 calories, a baked four-ounce piece of fish supplies more protein than a burger and more potassium than a banana. And fish is one of the few sources of omega-3 fatty acids that help protect your heart and your memory. Tilapia, cod, flounder, and sea bass meld well with other flavors, so if you like what they're seasoned with, chances are you'll like these varieties.
One-pan prep to try: Brush fish with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and bake alongside fresh sprigs of herbs like rosemary and parsley, and boiled red potatoes. Also consider incorporating fish as part of a dish rather than making it the main course. For instance, substitute flounder for chicken in a chowder or toss tuna onto a big green salad.
Excuse: "I'm Too Time-Crunched to Pack a Healthy Lunch"
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Solution: Brown-bagging is a smart healthy eating strategy because it helps prevent spontaneous splurges and keeps your calories and fat in check. If you truly can't find time to do it daily, try doing it weekly—just supersize your lunch bag. Throw in a box of fiber crackers, a few cartons of lowfat yogurt, individual packets of peanut butter, several 1-ounce portions of reduced-fat string cheese, one vacuum pack of tuna, one bag each of baby carrots and snap peas, apples and bananas, a small bag of almonds or walnuts, and several packages of low-sodium instant soup. Or try these quick and healthy lunch recipes—they take less than 10 minutes to whip up!
Excuse: "High-Fiber Foods UpsetMy Stomach"
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Solution: It's essential to make the effort to eat more fiber since it may reduce cholesterol levels—and help keep you lean because high-fiber foods are low-cal and filling. Your body should adapt to extra fiber within two to three weeks. You also probably won't get any symptoms if you up your intake in 5-gram increments—that's about the amount in two slices of whole-grain bread, 1 1/2 cups of strawberries, or 3/4 cup of most high-fiber cereals—to work your way up to the recommended 25 grams daily. Drinking plenty of water to keep things moving through your digestive system will also help you avoid discomfort.