In this category are foods rich in carbohydrates—the body’s main fuel supply—so we need a fair amount daily (despite what the low-carb/no-carb gurus say). The key is to keep portions moderate and skew strongly to the better choices. This can be tough for weight-conscious people: since white pasta, white potatoes and white bread are cheap and abundant, they’re often served in gargantuan portions.
Within this group, trade up to whole-grain versions—whole-grain bread, pasta, brown rice—as often as you can. Similarly, choose potatoes with skin on for more fiber and nutrients. You’ll feel fuller longer, since whole grains and fiber take longer to digest. There is also the significant bonus of getting a healthy boost of vitamins, minerals and fiber as well as antioxidants and other so-called “phytonutrients.” While the government guidelines urge you to “make half of your grains whole,” we say aim for making most, if not all, of your grains whole. The variety and eating quality of whole-grain products have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, making it easy to relegate the refined, “white” versions to special uses and occasions.
Load up your plate! Most of these nonstarchy vegetables are practically calorie-free, but packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients. There’s probably no better nutrition bargain in the supermarket. You’ve heard the “5 a day” urging to eat at least five servings of vegetables (and fruits) daily. Most of us don’t even come close, but more is even better. Studies suggest that a vegetable-rich diet with as many as 10 servings a day may help prevent cancer, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, and it’s also a smart weight-loss strategy. Consider “5 a day” a minimum. Just doing that will put you well on the way toward eating a lower-calorie diet.
Try to vary your vegetables, making sure you get a variety of colors—vegetable pigments are especially good sources of phytonutrients. Try dark green kale and broccoli, orange-yellow carrots, deep-red beets. Getting enough isn’t as tall an order as it sounds, since a serving is a mere 1⁄2 cup for most vegetables. Have a good handful of baby carrots and you’ve already had two servings.
Make it a habit to eat a piece of fruit in the morning, and at least a cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner. That’s “5 a day” without breaking a sweat.