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U of I: No such thing as 'bad' food

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:18 a.m. CST

If you are struggling to keep your New Year’s weight loss resolutions alive, March is a great month to get back on track. It’s National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme, “Enjoy the taste of eating right,” reminds us that we all have different food preferences. The challenge lies in making the foods we like nutritious so we don’t feel as if we’re depriving ourselves.

“ People need to lose the idea that there are two categories of food; good food and bad food,” said U of I Extension nutrition and wellness educator Natalie Rodakowski. “When we put foods into these categories, we become so restrictive that we crave bad foods and our weight loss goals become unachievable.”

So it’s time to find a way to make the “bad” foods on your list healthier while making the “good” foods on your list taste a little better. Taste will always trump nutrition; but this practice gives all foods in either category a level playing field in the game of food choices.

“ For example, let’s take a basic favorite food category like desserts, and everyone’s least favorite food category, vegetables, to see how we can enjoy the taste of eating right,” she said. 

Ways to make desserts healthier

It’s hard to maintain a healthy routine when your sweet tooth makes its presence known at 7 p.m. There’s nothing wrong with craving a cookie now and then, but something has to give! If you get creative in the kitchen, desserts don’t have to spoil all the hard work you put in that day.

Fruits can be a delicious dessert . Haven’t had any fruit today and its already past dinner? Fruits are naturally sweet and might curb your craving. Try putting your favorite artificial sweetener on strawberries or add raspberries to vanilla ice cream.

Recipe substitutions can go a long way .  Instead of eggs, use egg whites to reduce the amount of cholesterol in baked goods. Substitute half a recipe’s sugar with an artificial sweetener to reduce the sugar content and retain the sweet flavor. You can also substitute half the flour in your recipe with whole-grain flour. Finding a substitute that works for your baking might take some experimentation, but you don’t have to use all healthier options. Just find one that leaves your treats still tasting delicious.

Try dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is actually good for you! It has several chemical compounds and antioxidants that can affect your mood and cognitive health. Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week also helps lower your blood pressure.

Add walnuts to your cookies. Walnuts are a great way to get Omega-3 essential fatty acids, especially if you don’t enjoy fish oil or seafood. Omegas 3s have been linked to the reduction of cardiovascular disease.

Add chocolate to your milk. Who says you can’t be a kid again? If you’re craving chocolate, add a little chocolate to your milk to get your craving under control while also getting your vitamin D and calcium for the day.

Ways to make vegetables taste better

Children and adults tend to turn up our noses at the sight and smell of vegetables. Let’s face it, they have a bad reputation, and you may think they don’t taste as good as their other “vegetable” friend, the french fry. Try thinking outside the box when it comes to our green enemies. The way you prepare this essential food group can make all the difference in your vegetable intake.

Spice them up! Try adding herbs in place of salt. Garlic, basil, rosemary, chives, or parsley—the options are endless. Herbs will bring your vegetables to life!

Add cheese. Just a touch of parmesan or melted cheese might do the trick. Be careful not to overdo your cheese and veggie combos because cheese calories can add up.

Dip your raw vegetables. Raw vegetables are a little difficult to eat alone. Choose a light or low-fat dip when snacking or eating them as an appetizer. Again, make sure your vegetable isn’t drowning in a sea of ranch dressing. Just a little will do the trick.

Hide the vegetables. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you can’t see them, they aren’t there. Try adding kale into your smoothies or veggies into your baked goods! If you don't like the taste of many vegetables, incorporate them into soups or casseroles Each bite will have many flavors and you’ll taste more than vegetables.

Olive oil. Just a spoon full of olive oil will help the vegetables go down! A couple of tablespoons of olive oil helps herbs stick to vegetables and is a healthier alternative to butter. A favorite way to eat baked asparagus is with olive oil, garlic powder, and a touch of parmesan cheese.

So rip up your good and bad foods list and find small, simple, realistic ways to have your cake and eat it too. As part of the National Nutrition Month campaign, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website includes a variety of promotional tools, recipes, tips, games, and helpful resources designed to send the message of healthy nutrition. To learn more about how you can enjoy the taste of eating right, visit www.eatright.org.

To learn more about University of Illinois Extension programs in your county, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/. University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems.

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