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With all of the “low” this and “non” that products on grocery store shelves, it’s easy to think that making over your meals is all about what you’re removing from your diet. And if you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve probably relied on some of these lower-calorie choices as substitutes for old standards. But every health pro knows that adding in foods with greater nutritional value is just as important as cutting out excess fat, sugar and calories. Below, five swaps that will help you increase body-boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as you update your eating habits:
To benefit: Your figure
Swap out: Nonfat sour cream
Add in: Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
This ultra-creamy yogurt is rich in protein (13 grams per cup versus eight in the sour cream), which, according to a 2007 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, helps you feel satisfied after a meal — more so than carbohydrates or fat, helping you to eat less overall. Plus, it has the same creamy texture as sour cream but has only about one-third the calories.
To benefit: Your joints
Swap out: Light cold cuts
Add in: Canned salmon
The heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon help counteract inflammation, which contributes to arthritis and joint pain (among a host of other health problems). A serving of canned salmon, an inexpensive and tasty source of omega-3s, has only 80 calories. Prepare it like you would canned tuna, and use in place of cold cuts in your favorite sandwich or salad.
To benefit: Your gut
Swap out: 100-calorie snack packs
Add in: Air-popped popcorn
Popcorn eaters get more than twice as many whole grains, giving them more than 20 percent more fiber in their diet than people who don’t eat popcorn, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) data. Fiber not only helps you feel full, but is essential to keeping your GI tract regular. And popcorn is a low-calorie, high-volume food — for the same 100 calories you’ll get in a teensy snack pack, you can have three cups of popcorn (just don’t douse it in butter!).
To benefit: Your brain
Swap out: Diet soda
Add in: Unsweetened iced tea
Black, green and white teas (hot or on ice) can help get you through an afternoon slump. All three varieties (though not herbal teas) contain a compound called L-theanine, which studies have shown improves attention when consumed along with caffeine, another component of tea. What’s more, the diet soda you’re drinking to save calories may actually be hindering your weight loss. In one study from the University of Texas Health Center, scientists found that for every diet soda consumed per day, the risk of being overweight or obese increases by 41 percent. Researchers speculate that the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks throw off your ability to regulate calorie intake.
To benefit: Your heart
Swap out: Low-fat ice cream
Add in: Frozen fruit plus dark chocolate chips
Fruit is not only rich in antioxidants — which help protect your cells from damage that can lead to heart disease (as well as certain cancers) — but people who eat it in abundance have a lower risk for high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, than people who don’t, according to research from Japan. Top your new cool, sweet treat with two tablespoons of dark chocolate chips and you also get a dose of flavonoids — compounds that help keep your blood vessels relaxed, ensuring your heart gets the blood it needs to stay healthy.
Try This! Use chopped mushrooms in place of ground beef in foods like lasagna and sloppy joes weekly for one year and you could lose six pounds.
By Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS