When you’re managing your diet, it would be handy to have a nutritionist standing over your shoulder. But most of us don’t have that luxury.
Jennifer Anderson, a registered dietitian with Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute and the program coordinator at Novant Health Wellness Center in Matthews, knows how tricky it is to understand nutrition, particularly if you’re cutting back on carbohydrates to manage your weight.
In another story, Anderson helped us understand the role of carbohydrates. With so many popular high-protein diets these days, such as keto diets and the Atkins diet, it can be easy to think all carbohydrates are the enemy.
But complex carbohydrates, including beans, whole grains and vegetables, provide nutrients you need and fiber that helps you feel full.
To make it easier, Anderson shared her favorite tips for cutting carbohydrates, especially sugar, while still getting nutrients and fiber.
1. Watch out for sweetened and alcoholic beverages, and keep juice servings small. Sodas, sweet tea, juices and alcoholic beverages can be very high in sugar – a carbohydrate – and calories. And while juice sounds healthful, the fruit’s fiber, which helps you feel full longer, has been removed, leaving you with a lot of sugar. Stick to eating the fruit itself instead, which provides a slower release of carbohydrates and more sustained energy.
2. Check for hidden sugars. Read the food label and look for “added sugar.” The lower that number is, the better – and a single digit is best. You shouldn’t have more than 10% of your calories from added sugar in a whole day. For example, if your target is 1,800 calories per day, you should consume no more than 45 grams of added sugar. Added sugars are in a lot of foods, even ones we think are healthy, such as yogurt. Some sweetened yogurts are higher in sugar than ice cream.
3. Pay attention to portions. A serving of a carbohydrate should be about 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice; 1 cup of milk; 4 to 6 crackers; 1/2 cup of a starchy vegetable, such as potatoes; or a piece of fruit about the size of a tennis ball. Using smaller plates, bowls and cups can help us better manage our portion sizes.
Registered dietitians help us make good choices.
4. Explore vegetable alternatives. Doing things like swapping ground cauliflower for rice or using zucchini noodles for pasta can save a lot of calories while increasing the fiber, which can help with appetite control. Mashed potatoes that are half cauliflower taste so close to the original that most people can’t tell the difference.
Be careful, though, when you choose processed foods that claim to be healthier because they’re made with cauliflower. A “meat lover’s pizza” on a cauliflower crust isn’t better for you: “Pizza is still pizza,” Anderson said. Check the label and make sure you’re not just getting a little cauliflower and a lot of flour.
5. Choose better snacks. Instead of reaching for a box of crackers or a bag of chips, get a piece of fruit (not too big!) or cut-up vegetables. Anderson likes to buy a party platter of vegetables – everything is already cut up, and you can see it when you open your refrigerator. If you can’t use it all before the vegetables start to wilt, add them to soup or freeze them to use in a stir fry later. Choosing more whole foods and limiting processed snacks can provide you with more nutrients and save a lot of calories, since processed foods often have added sugars, fats and salt.
6. Choose whole grains whenever you can. Whole grains contain more fiber and nutrients (iron and B vitamins) than refined grains, which can help you feel more satisfied with the carbohydrates you do eat. Start your day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal, for instance. Look for the word “whole” as part of the first or main ingredient to make sure you’re really getting a whole grain.
7. Finally, try to control your environment. If you don’t bring it in the house, you can’t eat it. If you have to buy candy for a special occasion, pick something you don’t like: “At Halloween,” she said, “if you buy mini candy bars, you’ll eat them. Buy something you don’t like instead.”
Rosemary garlic potato-cauliflower mash
Making mashed potatoes with a mix of potatoes and cauliflower gives you the same creamy comfort as the classic, with a lot less calories. Leaving the peel on the potatoes increases fiber, too. Jennifer Anderson
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and unpeeled, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 4 cups cauliflower florets (from about 1 large head of cauliflower)
- 2 cups unsalted or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup 2% or nonfat milk (or use a milk alternative, such as a nut milk)
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons Smart Balance butter
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped