Easy Ways to Cut Back on Fat and Added Sugar
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Following a healthy diet means reducing excess fats and added sugars. Eating this way can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, numerous cancers, and other inflammatory conditions.
And – best of all – there are many simple ways to do it.
At the top of the list is focusing on whole foods and plant-based meals. Start with cutting out processed, fast, and fried foods to reduce your intake of saturated fats (and excess sodium). If you eat mostly whole foods, it’s also easier to avoid sugary sweets loaded with added sugars like high fructose corn syrup. When you reach for a packaged item, pay attention to the nutrition label.
If you currently prepare most of your meals and snacks, you’re off to a great start.
How you prepare your food is just as important as the ingredients you choose.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the mode of food preparation makes a big difference in terms of calories, fat, added sugars, and sodium,” says Michelle Pearlman, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the University of Miami Health System.
“There’s a big difference between steamed, baked, roasted, stir-fried, fried, grilled, and raw food recipes — even if the ingredients are the same.”
Let’s say you’re making salmon and broccoli for dinner. That’s a healthy meal, right? Salmon contains healthy fats (omega 3 fatty acids) and a good serving of protein. But, if you sauté the fish in butter, you’re adding a good deal of saturated fat.
Broccoli is a low-calorie food packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But, if you make the broccoli as part of a stir fry, you’re using cooking oil, which adds a few hundred calories from fat. Breaded and pan- or deep-fried dishes retain even more fat when they hit your plate.
To help you reach your weight and health goals, rely on cooking methods that limit oils, cream, and solid fats (like butter, ghee, lard, and vegetable shortening).
Air frying: prepare dishes with little or zero added fat.
An air fryer is one kitchen gadget that can take the place of your oven, stove, or toaster oven for many dishes ranging from salmon and broccoli to chicken wings and sweet potato fries. Cooking with an air fryer can help you reduce added fats and cooking time while delivering that satisfying crispy texture craved by adults and kids alike.
While this is not the only way to avoid excess fats, “air fryers are a great option,” Dr. Pearlman says. “Many of my patients who suffer from G.I. symptoms also struggle with their weight. Learning different ways to prepare budget-friendly meals that abide by everyday time constraints is very helpful to create long-term dietary and nutritional success but still allow you to enjoy your food.”
The next big step in eating healthy? Consume fewer added sugars.
The word “added” is important here because not all sugars are the same. Refined white and brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave, molasses, and maple syrup are all empty calories that can:
- spike your blood sugar
- contribute to inflammation
- raise your blood pressure
- add inches to your waist
These sweeteners are typically hidden in packaged desserts, baked goods, sodas, iced coffee beverages, energy drinks, and fruit drinks. Other sneaky sweets include yogurts, cereals, bread, and sweetened non-dairy milk.
Learn why added sugars are harmful to your heart.
Want a sweet treat with no added sugars? Try fruit
Turn to naturally occurring sugars in fresh and frozen fruits.
“Fruit is healthy as it contains vital nutrients, as well as fiber, which is important for the microbiome and gut health,” says Dr. Pearlman. “Remember, one fruit does not necessarily mean one serving. One large banana is often two to three servings. If consumed all at once, this can provide too much sugar, even though it’s natural sugar.”
Add fresh fruit to sweeten your favorite snacks naturally.
- Top your low/no-sugar-added cereal with fresh berries.
- Add sliced mango or peaches to unsweetened Greek yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
- Use half of a frozen banana to thicken and sweeten smoothies. When baking, replace refined sugar with unsweetened apple sauce.
- Adding orange juice and zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla extract can help replace teeth-aching sweetness with layers of aromatic flavors.
There’s no need to add concentrated sugars like honey and agave because the natural sugars from fruit and yogurt are more than enough.
“If you’re craving ice cream, one of my go-to frozen treats is a protein smoothie popsicle,” she says. “I enjoy making it with frozen berries, unsweetened cashew or almond milk, pea protein powder, a handful of frozen spinach or kale, and unsweetened Greek or almond yogurt. Blend it, then freeze it in silicone popsicle molds.”
If you want a fast and straightforward snack on a hot day, freeze small containers of unsweetened applesauce in advance and enjoy it instead of ice cream or sorbet.
Dr. Pearlman also recommends combining fruit with foods that contain a small portion of fat and protein.
“The fat, in particular, has the most significant influence on the rate your stomach empties the food,” she says. “Combining fat with fruit can delay gastric emptying and allow you to feel fuller longer. A great option is a small apple with a tablespoon of unsweetened almond or peanut butter.”
She warns that some fruits can trigger gastrointestinal upset for some people, and eating fruit in excess can raise blood sugar.
“If you struggle with abdominal bloating after you eat, it’s a good idea to avoid too much fruit in one sitting. If you regularly experience heartburn (acid reflux), avoid highly acidic fruits known to increase stomach acid production, like citrus.”
Eating healthy does not mean being vegetarian and never having dessert. With a few changes, you can enjoy lean animal proteins and naturally sweet treats in moderation.
“If you want to feel well, you need to eat well — not just today, but every day,” Dr. Pearlman says.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.