Eat Right: Underappreciated Healthy Foods

Add delicious and nutritious vegetable side dishes to your heart healthy diet.

What's stopping you from eating right? Maybe you're too busy to cook (just wait until you hear our tips for fast easy meals!) or can't survive without sweets. No matter what your reasons for not sticking to a heart healthy diet, experts have a simple fix.

You don't need a nutritionist to tell you that your body looks and feels its best on a steady diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. That's a no-brainer. But even though you know better, you probably often come up with some reason to skip healthy foods in favor of less-nutritious ones. (In fact, one-third of adults say they routinely skip eating healthy foods in favor of less-nutritious ones, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association.) Maybe it's your crazy schedule, killer cravings, or the fat-packed holiday goodies that your mom sent home with you that are to blame.

But for every eat-right obstacle, there are easy heart healthy diet solutions. We asked nutrition experts to provide easy nutrition tips to help you find a way around the most common healthy diet hurdles- and give you practical advice on how to jump-start a healthy diet plan you'll want to stick to every day, no excuses.

"Vegetables taste so blah when I make them myself at home."

"The major mistakes people make when preparing vegetables are overcooking and underseasoning them," says Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D., an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California, and author of The Sonoma Diet. So whether you steam, sauté, or grill:

  1. Cut back a little on your usual cooking time (veggies should still have some crispness when you remove them from the heat).
  2. Toss them in what chefs' call a "finishing sauce," and season.

For a quick sauce for your vegetable side dishes, try this vinaigrette:

  1. Whisk equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a ½ teaspoon each of minced garlic and mustard.
  2. Top off your dish with a sprinkle of toasted almonds or pumpkin seeds or fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, or chives.

Next, discover how to make the right choices when creating fast easy meals.[header = Eating takeout? Here are heart healthy diet options for your fast easy meals.]

Healthy Diet Tips for Satisfying Fast Easy Meals

How many times have you said this? "I wish I had time to cook healthy foods, but takeout is the only thing that works with my insane schedule."

If you say that often, consider these heart healthy diet tips that will help you incorporate healthy foods in your diet, without hassle:

  1. Pick up healthy foods for your main course and add quick sides at home.
    Nutrition facts: On days dieters eat out, they consume 226 more calories and 10 extra grams of fat, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin.
  2. Try this smart twist: Head to the supermarket instead of the fast food restaurant. You'll find several heart healthy diet options.

Fast easy meals option 1: A cooked rotisserie chicken served with five-minute whole-wheat couscous and frozen vegetables you make at home. (If you're really time-crunched, grab veggies from the salad bar.)

Fast easy meals option 2: A grilled salmon fillet from the prepared-foods section with a bagged salad and quinoa, a high-protein whole grain that's ready to eat in 15 minutes.

Fast easy meals option 3: On a heart healthy diet plan and looking for something lighter? "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," says Malia Curran, a nutrition consultant for Whole Foods Market.

Nutrition facts: "Just steer clear of the ready-made casseroles, pasta dishes, and mayo-based salads," says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "They tend to pack in hidden calories."

Are you a busy mom? If so, keep reading to discover tips for fun healthy snacks for kids.[header = Fun healthy snacks for kids: choose delicious healthy foods for your family.]

Fun Healthy Snacks for Kids

You want to eat healthy foods. Really, you do, but you end up saying, "I can't help eating candy and chips. I keep it around for my kids."

Sound way too familiar? These nutrition tips should get you and your family on the right track:

"It's less tempting for everyone if you simply don't have all these foods available," says Marilyn Tanner, R.D., a pediatric dietitian at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Your kids should be eating the same healthy foods as you are."

She advises families to make slow, subtle changes from the usual suspects to healthy snacks (graham crackers over cookies, baked chips over regular, chocolate milk over soda - in general, just replacing sugary unhealthy snacks with fun healthy snacks for kids that are better for all of you. "Children are really good at adapting," she says.

Bonus nutrition tips: Then occasionally go out for real treats together, such as a shared piece of cake at a restaurant or a bag of M&Ms at the movies. "Reframe these foods as 'sometimes treats' you have on special family outings, not things that are constantly in the house," she says. Portion-controlled goodies, such as 100-calorie packs of cookies or fun-size candy bars, may work too-but only if you can stop at one.

Interested in some low calorie salty snacks? Read on![header = Low calorie salty snacks: discover nutrition tips about your favorite snacks.]

Derailing your heart healthy diet with too much salt? Check out Shape's nutrition tips for low calorie salty snacks that cure that craving.

Nutrition tips: 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.

Nutrition facts: The salt in processed and restaurant food makes up nearly 80 percent of the 3,000-plus milligrams (mg) of sodium the average woman eats every day; the maximum heart healthy diet limit is 2,300 mg daily. "People are getting sodium in places they don't need it or even want it," says David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center at Yale University.

Nutrition facts: 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, while a large order of lo mein at the local Chinese place contains more than a day's worth!

Nutrition tips: When shopping for packaged healthy foods, compare labels to find the brand lowest in sodium – they will be better choices of low calorie salty snacks for a heart healthy diet. "If you start analyzing labels to choose lower sodium foods and if you cut your restaurant portions by half, you'll still have room in your sodium budget to sprinkle a little salt on foods," says Katz. "That's where you'll taste it most."

Curious about nutrition facts about fruits and vegetables? Keep reading![header = Heart healthy diet: keep healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables fresh.]

You know that fruits and vegetables are a key component of your heart healthy diet, but they go bad before you get a chance to eat them. What's going on?

Heart healthy diet tip #1: First, make sure you're buying the right amount.

Nutrition facts: "In general, fresh fruit and vegetables only keep about seven days, so pick up just what you need for the week," says Adel Kader, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of post-harvest physiology at the University of California, Davis.

Heart healthy diet tip #2: Store the fruits and vegetables correctly. Keep produce on the second or third shelf in your fridge-or, in some cases, in a prominent spot on your kitchen counter-instead of in the crisper drawer.

Nutrition facts: "Foods in plain view will catch your eye first, so they won't have a chance to spoil," says Ward. Mangoes, tomatoes, and bananas last longer unrefrigerated. "Other produce will stay as fresh on a refrigerator shelf as it will in the crisper," says Kader.

Nutrition tip: Kader also recommends keeping your produce in the thin plastic bags you find in the produce section. "These are designed to release moisture and gases that fruit and vegetables naturally emit; both accelerate decay," says Kader. And, since the type of gas fruit releases as it continues to ripen can spoil other neighboring veggies, store these healthy foods away from each other. If something starts to turn, remove it pronto or fungal spores will spread to the rest of the produce.

You want to eat healthy foods – but you just can't get through the day without something sweet! Check out Shape's nutrition facts about low calorie sweet snacks.[header = Low calorie sweet snacks: chocolate can fit in your heart healthy diet.]

I need chocolate!!! If you can relate to the feeling, discover how low calorie sweet snacks can fit into your overall heart healthy diet.

First, here's some sweet relief! If you can't survive a day without nibbling on something sweet, enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate.

Nutrition facts: An ounce of dark chocolate has just 150 calories, instead of your typical treat. "It's practically a health food," says Katz. Several studies have found that its flavonoids - a type of antioxidant-can lower blood pressure and improve circulation, two factors that may protect against heart disease and are needed in your heart healthy diet.

Additional nutrition facts: Dark chocolate offers about twice as many antioxidants as milk varieties. Just an ounce boasts more of these disease-fighting compounds than 1½ cups of blueberries (one of the most antioxidant-rich healthy foods), according to a USDA analysis.

Pure chocolate is the way to go whenever you crave low calorie sweet snacks.

Chocolate desserts like brownies and chocolate chip cookies may contain dark chocolate, but they're also loaded with butter and sugar, so they aren't really healthy foods and certainly not the best way to get your antioxidants, says Katz.

Nutrition tips: Look for a chocolate bar made with at least 60 percent cacao - the higher the percentage, the less added sugar it contains.

Nutrition tips: Don't like dark chocolate? You can get similar benefits from hot cocoa. Use natural cocoa; Dutch-processed versions (which will say "cocoa processed with alkali" on the ingredients list) have fewer flavonoids.

Wondering about the role of carbohydrates in healthy foods? Read on for great info about healthy carbs![header = Healthy carbs: find out how to balance carbs & protein in your healthy diet.]

"I'm a total carb junkie." If that sounds familiar, you'll love these facts about healthy carbs and proteins and how they fit into your healthy diet.

As the brain's main source of fuel, carbohydrates are a must. Here's more information about the role that healthy carbs do – and don't – play in your healthy diet.

Nutrition facts: "Chowing down on mammoth bagels or cookies can trigger cravings for even more carbs - and that can pack on the extra pounds," says Ward. The refined not so healthy 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."

Nutrition tips: By adding protein to each meal and snack, you'll prevent the "sugar crash."

Nutrition facts: "Because it's digested slowly, protein will keep you fuller longer than refined carbs, which should help you eat less overall," says Ward.

Nutrition tips: Incorporate lean beef and poultry into your meals.

Nutrition tips: If you're not a meat fan, try cottage cheese (with more protein per cup than a hamburger), eggs, soy nuts, beans, and canned salmon or light tuna.

Speaking of tuna, read on to discover more about healthy fish recipes![header = Healthy fish recipes: find tasty ideas for your balanced heart healthy diet.]

You know fish is good for your balanced heart healthy diet, but you haven't yet found any healthy fish recipes that please your taste buds.

Fortunately, not all kinds of seafood have a strong flavor or smell. Here are some tips and facts to help you choose the best fish for your palate.

Nutrition tips: Try the less fishy types in a variety of healthy fish recipes before writing off seafood for good. After all, it's one of the best heart healthy diet foods.

Nutrition tips: A baked four-ounce piece of fish has just 150 calories and supplies more protein than a burger and more potassium than a banana. Fish is also one of the few sources of omega-3 fatty acids that help protect your heart and your memory.

Nutrition tips: "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," says David Pasternack, chef at Esca seafood restaurant in New York City and co-author of The Young Man & the Sea, a book full of healthy fish recipes.

Healthy fish recipes:

Option 1: One-pan prep: 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.

Option 2: 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.

Need advice on healthy office lunch ideas? Keep reading![header = Healthy office lunch ideas: brown bag your way to a heart healthy diet.]

"I'm too time-crunched in the morning to pack a healthy office lunch."

Consider these nutrition facts. They may change your mind!

Nutrition facts: Brown bagging is a smart healthy lunch idea because it helps prevent spontaneous splurges and keeps your calories and fat in check.

Nutrition facts: If you truly can't find time to do it daily, try doing it weekly-just supersize your lunch bag: "I give my clients a list of must-have items to buy on Sunday and bring to the office on Monday so they can throw together easy work lunches during the week-saving them loads of calories and money over fast food or vending machine fare," says Keri Glassman, R.D., a dietitian in New York City. On her grocery list are these items for your healthy office lunch ideas:

  • a box of fiber crackers (like Ryvita; $3 in supermarkets);
  • a few cartons of low fat yogurt;
  • individual packets of peanut butter (try Justin's Organic Classic; $6 for 10;;
  • several one-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;
  • several packages of low-sodium instant soup.

Finally, do you find yourself wondering about how to increase fiber in your heart healthy diet? Wonder no more![header = How to increase fiber: discover the benefits of fiber in your healthy diet.]

"I know I should learn how to increase fiber in my heart healthy diet, but my stomach gets upset when I eat high-fiber foods."

Nutrition facts # 1: A big dose of fiber can shock your digestive system, thanks to gas-releasing bacteria that break down fiber in your intestines.

Nutrition facts # 2: "Your body adapts to extra fiber within two to three weeks and you probably won't get any symptoms if you up your intake in 5-gram increments," says Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Nutrition facts # 3: That's about the amount in two slices of whole-grain bread, 1½ cups of strawberries, or ¾ cup of most high-fiber cereals. "So if you were eating about 15 grams of fiber daily, raise your intake to 20, wait a couple of weeks, and then up it again to 25, which is the recommended amount," Slavin explains.

Nutrition facts # 4: One way to avoid discomfort when you've learned how to increase your fiber intake is to drink plenty of water to keep things moving through your digestive system.

It's essential to make the effort to learn how to increase fiber in your diet, especially heart healthy diet plans, since it may reduce cholesterol levels and help keep you lean because high-fiber foods are low-cal and filling. Plus, "there's some evidence that a high-fiber diet can block 1 percent of calories from being absorbed by the body," says Slavin. "That's the equivalent of losing 2 pounds per year without really trying."

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