Diet goofs to avoid - Detroit Free Press

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Sometimes a carrot stick is just a carrot stick. But for many of us, it's a crunchy, bright orange vehicle for decadent dip -- blue cheese, perhaps, or a nice herbed ranch.

And as you dunk your sixth or seventh spear into that delicious dressing, you might tell yourself, "Well, at least I'm eating a hearty serving of veggies right now." True -- but you're also consuming quite a lot of salt, fat and calories.

Wrecking our otherwise healthy food picks along with our waistlines is often beyond our control. When you smell, see or even think about highly palatable foods -- ones that are high in fat, sugar or salt -- your brain can trigger the release of dopamine, the reward-seeking neurotransmitter. Just walking by a Krispy Kreme can cause your brain to send the "eat me" signal loud and clear. So in a way, you can blame the dopamine surge for forcing you to eat that glazed doughnut.

The fact is, it's possible to stop your pleasure-seeking brain from making menu decisions -- you just need to know what to look for and be knowledgeable about what counts as a pitfall. Check out these common acts of food sabotage, plus our easy strategies for steering clear of them, even in the face of temptation.

1. The sabotage: You plunge your celery into peanut butter or creamy dip.

While it may seem like a good idea to watch "Parenthood" with a plate of crisp crudités on the coffee table in front of you, that jar of peanut butter sitting right next to it can spell trouble. Sure, peanut butter provides healthy fat and protein, but it also has 94 calories per tablespoon -- so this seemingly healthy snack can tip the scale in the wrong direction. And 2 tablespoons of creamy dressing provides 145 calories and 15 grams of fat. Eating just 100 calories more each day can translate to about a 10-pound weight gain over the course of a year.

The solution: If you're dying to dip, mix fat-free plain Greek yogurt (it has about twice the protein of regular yogurt) with salsa or zingy seasonings such as horseradish or curry powder. Prepared hummus or black-bean dips coat raw veggies with protein, fiber and flavor; just check the labels because fat and calories can vary among brands. Finally, beat boredom by introducing new vegetables into your rotation, such as crunchy jicama or radishes that offer a naturally peppery bite.

2. The sabotage: You choose "healthier" sweet potato fries as a side dish.

Besides the beta-carotene (a disease-fighting carotenoid that our bodies convert to vitamin A) that's responsible for their vibrant color, sweet potatoes provide vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and fiber -- all for about 100 calories in a medium potato. But when you fry these and other vegetables (hello, broccoli bites and zucchini sticks), the fat and calorie counts skyrocket. Not only that, but a study in the Journal of Food Science found that certain vegetables, like zucchini, actually lose some of their antioxidant power when fried.

The solution: A baked sweet potato is the worry-free choice (mash in 2 tablespoons of a creamy fat-free dressing for extra flavor); eat the skin and you'll also get at least 4 grams of fiber. If you're just not satisfied with a baked spud, buy a bag of oven-ready frozen fries with no more than 0.5 grams saturated fat per serving.

3. The sabotage: You sauté your heart-smart fish in glugs of olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is high in "good" monounsaturated fat -- the kind of fat that can help lower LDL cholesterol -- but it also has about 477 calories and 54 grams of fat per cup.

The solution: When grilling or broiling, use a pastry brush or nonaerosol pump to lightly glaze food with oil. If you're making a stir-fry, wipe a paper towel dipped in olive oil around the wok before adding ingredients -- or better yet, use a nonstick skillet. You also can make your sautés sizzle with wine, soy sauce, chicken broth, or 100% carrot, tomato or vegetable juice. And try poaching your fish in low-fat broth or watered-down orange juice; the fillets will soak up some of the liquid, which will make you feel fuller.

4. The sabotage: You top your veggie-laden salad with cheese and nuts.

The virtue of a salad starts to wilt when you add more than one calorie-dense topping, such as cheese, nuts, dried fruit or croutons. Cheeses can register high in bad saturated fat, and a small serving of walnuts (about 7 pieces) can add up to about 185 calories and 18 grams of fat.

The solution: Here's an easy-to-remember ratio for g entrée salads: Three-quarters should be fresh fruits and vegetables, and the last quarter should be a combo of lean protein, like chicken, plus a complex carbohydrate, such as wheat berries or quinoa. Then allow yourself two tablespoons of calorie-dense items. For major nutrition impact with minimal calorie load, forgo dried fruit in favor of fresh pomegranate seeds; they're potent in polyphenols.

5. The sabotage: You stir flavored syrup, whole milk or whipped cream into coffee and tea.

Sipping coffee or tea plain isn't the problem. But major calories and saturated fat come with added ingredients such as sugary syrups, honey, whipped cream and whole milk (1% and 2% aren't much better). For about the same 450 calories in a large Iced Mocha Raspberry Latte at Dunkin' Donuts, for instance, you can eat two slices of Pizza Hut's hand-tossed pepperoni pizza. And while honey may seem like a natural, healthier alternative to sugar, the fact is it has 21 calories per teaspoon versus sugar's 16.

The solution: For a low-cal, lower fat drink that feels like a sweet treat, choose coffee beans in tempting flavors such as chocolate almond, hazelnut or white chocolate, rather than using syrupy mix-ins, and lighten your coffee with fat-free milk. Teas, too, come in sweet vanilla, berry and tropical fruit blends. And whether you use Splenda, sugar or honey, limit yourself to a teaspoon.

25 Sep, 2011

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