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Healthy Choices

For Better Living 

By:Sandra R. Cain

Are you confused by the terms dealing with choices in foods that are nutritious and healthy? If so, you’re not alone. It seems that almost daily we are hit with new terms and research that totally disagrees with what you heard previously.

There are some basic guidelines for making healthy food choices which include the following:

  • Reach and stay at a reasonable weight, watching the calories you take in relation to those you burn off.
  • Be careful of serving sizes, and preparation methods you choose in foods you fix at home and foods you choose when eating out.
  • Be careful not to add unnecessary calories by adding sugar.
  • Avoid adding salt to foods or choosing foods high in sodium.

These guidelines to healthy choices deal with personal habits, such as fitness, time and regularity of meals, and calories, the measure of food energy and the energy your body burns. Calories burned is based on body weight and the level of physical activity. The way a food is prepared has a great deal to do with the number of calories it contains. Mushrooms, for example are a low calorie food, but when sauteed in butter they change to a high calorie food. The type of fat is also a health concern. While fats, as a general rule, contain 9 calories per gram, some fats are healthier choices than others–omega three fatty acids, found in fish products have been shown to lower blood pressure and your risk of heart disease and stroke risk. On the other hand, saturated fats found in animal products or products containing coconut or palm oil can raise the risks for these diseases.

Fats are needed for reproduction, proper growth and good health, and metabolism of Vitamins A, D, E, and K. When eaten in excess, fats are unhealthy. Eat smaller servings of meat. Eat fish and poultry more often. Choose lean cuts of red meat and prepare meats by roasting, baking or broiling. Trim off all visible fat and skim off any that is rendered in the cooking process. Be careful of added sauces or gravy. They often add unnecessary calories. Remove skin from poultry to rid yourself of most of the fat in poultry products. Avoid fried foods, and avoid adding fat in cooking. As you choose foods, choose fewer high-fat foods such as cold cuts, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, butter, margarine, nuts, salad dressing, lard, and solid shortening.

Another place you can reduce your fat intake is in selection of dairy products.  Drinking skim or low-fat milk, eating yogurt, and reduced-fat versions of cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and other dairy products are ways to accomplish this.

We hear a lot about fiber in the diet. Fiber aids in digestion, may prevent constipation and decreases your risk of some forms of cancer. Choose dried beans, peas, and lentils more often. Eat whole grain breads, cereals, and crackers, but read the label to be sure you are getting the whole grain product, and not just color and carbohydrates. Eating more vegetables–raw and cooked will also increase your fiber intake. Eating whole fruit in place of fruit juice gives you additional fiber too. Get a variety of higher fiber foods by trying foods such as oat bran, barley, bulgur, brown rice, and wild rice.

While only about one-third of the population is actually salt sensitive, we don’t know which of us are and therefore reducing the content of salt in the diet is another healthy way to improve our diets. This can be done by reducing the amount of salt you use in cooking or you can leave the salt shaker off the table to avoid adding additional salt. As you choose foods, avoid those that are high in salt such as canned soups, ham, sauerkraut, hot dogs, pickles, and foods that taste salty such as cheeses, soy sauce and ketchup. To avoid both fats and salt, eat fewer convenience foods and fast foods.

Sugar adds calories to foods but very little or no nutritional value. Sugar is a necessary ingredient in the baking process, for moisture retention, browning, and tenderness. But adding sugar to vegetable dishes or beverages often is simply for taste and consequently adds calories–often referred to as “empty calories.” Avoid regular soft drinks. One 12 ounce canned drink has nine teaspoons of sugar. Avoid eating table sugar, honey, syrup, jam jelly, candy, sweet rolls, fruit canned in syrup, regular gelatin desserts, cake with icing, pie, candies and other sweets. Choose fresh fruit or fruit canned in natural juice or water.

Source:  N.C. Cooperative Extension

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes

1 can (6 ounces) unsweetened pineapple juice

½ cup golden raisins

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup sliced almonds

Scrub and pierce sweet potatoes.  Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until tender.

When cool enough to handle, cut each potato in half lengthwise.  Scoop out pulp, leaving a thin shell.  In a small bowl, mash the pulp with pineapple juice.  Stir in the raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Spoon into potato shells.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through. 

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