Ask Dr. Klodas: How can I make this healthier?
Living healthier doesn’t mean we have to revamp our entire lifestyles. In fact, approaching lifestyle change with a huge overhaul will likely prevent us from accomplishing our overall health goals. Because massive lifestyle changes are hard to maintain and we’re likely to quit. That’s why I advise anyone looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle to start with small, sustainable changes.
If you’re not sure what this means, this week I am responding to customer-submitted meals and questions about how they can make their dishes healthier and how easy it can be.
I don’t always eat breakfast, but I’m trying to make sure that I do since I find that I snack less during the day when I do. For breakfast, I have my Step One bar, fruit, and iced coffee. I wonder if I’m having too much sugar with this meal. I probably use about 1 tablespoon of creamer in my coffee, but nothing else… how can I make this healthier?
Dr. Klodas: Unlike added sugars in highly processed foods, sugar in fruit arrives as part of a natural package that includes fiber and a multitude of beneficial nutrients. This means it typically causes fewer sugar spikes - and therefore fewer sugar crashes. The added sugars in this picture appear fairly minimal and come from the creamer (I’m assuming it’s sweetened but that might be in error), and a minor amount from the dark chocolate and even less from the cranberries in the bar. All other sugars in the pictured foods come from whole fruits. This meal is overall quite sound. Probably the only thing I would do is remove the creamer (even if that’s not sweetened, it’s unlikely to be contributing any health promoting nutrients).
We typically have burger night at my house every other week. It’s a turkey burger, but I usually top it with bacon, along with lettuce and tomato. On the side, I have some oven-baked fries… how can I make this meal healthier?
Dr. Klodas: The most obvious way to make this meal healthier is to lose the bacon. I’m really really sorry to have to say that because we all know bacon tastes delicious! But bacon is also a rich source of saturated fat - which is doing nothing to help your cholesterol levels - and, as a processed meat, it’s increasing inflammation inside your body and contributing to an increased risk of cancer. Think about using sliced avocado instead. Avocado can help highlight the flavors of the other burger components and deliver satisfying, healthful fats.
Another tweak is to reduce the amounts of fries and pickles and add in raw, grilled or roasted vegetables. They will help cut back on the sodium and increase the variety of nutrients you’re consuming. Plus some carrot or cucumber slices can add another layer of texture to your meal.
Finally, the white bun delivers little nutritional value for the calories. If you’re watching your weight, eliminating it could be considered. Otherwise, switching to a whole grain bun will help increase fiber intake.
I’m back in the office and often times my employer provides us with lunches. Most of the salads aren’t the healthiest, but I try to choose a salad over the pasta and pizza that’s on the menu… how can I make this salad (that I almost have weekly) healthier?
Dr. Klodas: First of all - it’s great that you’re choosing the salad over the pizza and pasta! That’s already a better choice. But looking at the salad, the standout is the fried chicken. You could try to remove as much of the breading as you can while you’re eating the salad or commit to leaving some of the chicken behind. I would especially set aside the pieces that are more breading than chicken.
I also wonder if there’s a way to request different salad/lunch options that are even healthier. Your employer is obviously trying to create a better workplace environment. Creating one that also helps support employee health would be a win-win for everyone.
Dr. Klodas again: The tweaks to these meals are not massive nor do they require anyone to give up what they’re eating completely. Maybe the only burger update is a different bun. Win! Maybe only two forkfuls of breaded chicken are left behind. Win! Maybe the tablespoon of creamer becomes a couple of teaspoons. Win! We nudge our health trajectories every day, at every meal. And every nudge (even if it’s small) in the right direction is meaningful. So every time you make a better decision - even if it’s not perfect - give yourself a pat on the back! Better matters - because better adds up.
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